The digital transition is right around the corner, so make sure your motorhome’s TVs are ready for the change.
By Jim Brightly, F358406, Technical Editor
Beginning at midnight on February 17, 2009, motorhome owners who have analog TVs and receive programming from local TV stations in the United States using an over-the-air antenna will require a digital-to-analog converter box for each TV set in their coach if they want to continue to watch free over-the-air broadcasts.
This transition will not affect owners of motorhomes that were built with digital television sets or those who have replaced their analog TVs with modern digital sets (all televisions and other TV receivers were required to include digital tuners by March 1, 2007), nor will it impact owners whose motorhomes are equipped with satellite dishes and receivers. If you hook up to a campground’s cable TV system when parked, you will not need to use the converter box(es) until you unplug, as the cable TV signal already will be digitized.
Why is this change from analog to digital TV taking place? A couple of reasons exist. For the consumer, digital TV provides a clearer picture and better reception. But the changeover also will free up analog frequencies that can be used by emergency services (police, fire, ambulance, etc.) and cell phone and broadband networks.
When the digital transition occurs, all high-powered local broadcast TV stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, the CW, MyNetworkTV, and others) will turn off their analog signal and broadcast in a format that can be received only by a digital tuner. The converter box essentially changes the incoming digital signal picked up by your roof antenna and converts it to a signal that your analog TV can understand. Converter boxes are available at many national retail chains and also can be purchased online and by phone. A list of retailers can be found at www.dtv2009.gov, the consumer Web site set up by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
At this Web site “” or by calling (888) 388-2009 “” folks can sign up to receive up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be applied toward the purchase of one or two converter boxes. (Full-timers must apply by phone, because a physical address is needed.) Since it can take from eight to 12 weeks to receive your coupons after requesting them, you need to do this as soon as possible. A coupon application also can be downloaded from the Web site and mailed to TV Converter Box Coupon Program, P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000, or faxed to (877) 388-4632. See www.fmca.com/motorhomerights/updates/2008/0308_us_tv.asp for more information. These coupons are good for only 90 days after they are mailed to you.
For Americans who live in remote areas “” and those of us who enjoy traveling to remote areas “” a situation may occur where broadcast TV is provided by low-power TV transmitters that are not among the broadcasters required to switch over to digital format. Why might that concern you? Because many of the converter boxes don’t have analog pass-through capability; they simply convert digital signals to analog and reject any analog signals that need to pass through unconverted. If you buy a box without pass-through capability, you’ll have to plug the box in to watch digital TV, and then unplug it to watch channels broadcast in analog from low-power stations. The list of available converter box models found at www.dtv2009.gov also indicates a selection of boxes that are capable of passing analog signals through to the TV.
Winegard offers two digital-to-analog converter boxes, which plug into the existing cabling system in motorhomes. They are the RC-DT09 and RC-1010, both of which enable RVers to receive local DTV stations for free. The RC-DT09, which qualifies for the $40 government coupons, converts digital over-the-air signals and provides an analog TV with analog signals. The RC-1010 is the same as the RC-DT09 except that it has an HD tuner for HDTVs that do not have a built-in ATSC HD tuner. The RC-1010 model is not eligible for the government converter box coupon program.
Winegard and Camping World are cooperating in a campaign to ease the conversion for RVers. Camping World technicians will give you a free evaluation if you’re not sure how your motorhome is equipped, and will install the necessary equipment for you. Never having seen a converter box before, I drove my 1999 type A motorhome to Camping World in Henderson, Nevada, to ascertain the difficulties involved in installing the device.
What I found was that installing a converter box is easier than a VCR, since you don’t have to program the box. I had my converter box installed in the same cabinet as the antenna booster and antenna circuit splitter. Since I have two televisions, I’ll need to install a second converter box, which I can do myself, as soon as I receive my coupons. I will have to leave my cabinet door open while watching TV, because the converter box becomes the tuner and its remote needs a clear view to operate. (You may want to drill a hole for the cables and mount the box to the bottom of the cabinet.)
To install the converter box, simply disconnect the coaxial cable from the antenna to the TV and attach it to the input connector on the converter box. Attach the included coaxial cable from the output of the converter box to the input connection on the TV. (If you use a splitter to run the antenna signal to multiple TVs, unplug the cable going into each TV and plug it into the input on the converter box, then use the coaxial cable from the box to your TV.) Plug in the converter “” you’ll now need 120-volt-AC power whenever you watch TV “” and follow its instructions on programming the channels (you’ll need to do this at each new location). That’s it. You’re done! Sit down and enjoy the clarity and crispness of digital TV.