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Digital Television

Wednesday, 10 December, 2008

Update 01 April 2013: After years of watching television over the air, and less and less over time, around April 2011 I gave away my television, antenna and the very converter box mentioned here to a physically and financially disabled friend whose TV had gone the way of all things. I have yet to secure a replacement. After nearly five years of regular use, the converter box is still working. The 2002-model TV is also working. The buttons on the front are not as effective as they once were, but the remote has yet to be lost. To whoever made this humble converter, you did an excellent job.

Update 04 February 2011: This entry is still getting hits, but is hopelessly out of date. Please regard the following as sort of general principles to tuning digital TV.

Update 25 June 2009: If you are in Austin, Texas,  KTBC, the Fox affiliate, is not yet operating at full power. Until November (est.) they are protecting KLRN channel 9, broadcasting on channel 8, out of San Antonio. Near Zilker Park with a not-so-bad antenna, they barely come in. The reception is somewhat better north of the river. If you are not in Austin proper, you may as well forget about them for a few more months.

I broke down, and sent away for my coupon. On the next trip to Target getting Pepsis, toothpaste and a soft six-inch Domokun in a Santa hat, I picked up a Venturer/RCA/AVC Multimedia (depending upon the side of the packing box at which you look) STB7766G1, “Digital-to-Analog Converter Box”. It was $39.99 and the coupon covered everything but sales tax.

This unit includes a remote control and an RF Cable, a coaxial cable you don’t have to screw into position, to connect the box to the TV. As you might imagine, you connect your antenna directly to the box’s F connector. Most folks would opt to use RCA-type audio-video plugs, I would think, but they do not have a TV purchased at the Fry’s Boxing Day sale many years ago.

The installation was idiot proof.

  1. Little end of the power supply into the box.
  2. One end of the included RF cable into the box’s connector labeled “out”.
  3. Unplug the antenna from the TV, then attach the other end of the RF cable to that hole.
  4. Connect the antenna to the only connection on the back of the box which fits it.
  5. And I almost forgot this when I installed it, plug the big end of the power supply to the mains.

I now want to stop hearing about how confusing and difficult this transition is going to be. Most of the rest is not unlike setting up your television in the first place.

My converter box uses channel 4, not unlike an Atari, Nintendo or Commodore. Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I went ahead and cleared the TV’s memory of all stations and manually added channel four which is not used in this area. I presume reasonable people will not do this.

Switching it on, I hit the menu button. All the defaults are acceptable, but the broadcasters are doing some funny things. Basically, you scan for channels and tell the machine whether you want closed captions and you’re done. The default aspect ratio is “auto”. That is, the box decodes whether the signal if 4:3 or 16:9 and sends the signal to the TV in either letterbox or full-screen mode.

The broadcasters around here have a nasty habit of transmitting 4:3 shows with black bars on the ends to make a 16:9 image. This means leaving the converter box in “aspect ratio: auto” means most channels during most of the day are seen with black bars top, bottom, left and right. You do see the entire image, but at about 50% size in the center of the screen. I fear I may have to consistently change the aspect ratio settings for a satisfactory image. Then again, based on a few hours of viewing, true 16:9 channels are quite rare.

This box has a built-in signal meter. Because of the nature of the digital image, you cannot simply watch the screen in order to point the antenna properly. Thanks to AntennaWeb I know that all my regional digital-television stations are on the same hill and less than six miles away. With AntennaWeb’s information I tuned to my weakest signal, KTBC-DT whose analog station is by far my strongest signal, and watched the signal meter while I fiddled with the UHF antenna until it peaked. This was not difficult because all the digital stations blast into my part of town.

Although we have had digital television in Austin for ten years, the adoption rate has been quite slow. Most televisions around here are attached to some kind of subscription service. During this same time, the number of low-power stations has exploded. These stations are home shopping services, Spanish-language networks, and Christian programming. Until recently I did not know LPTV stations are not required to shut down their NTSC transmitters in February. Here is the rundown of stations I can receive in my home in both formats. This is not expected to change any time soon.

Before or Analog After or Digital
call channel affiliation call channel affiliation
KQUX-CA 11 MTV Tr3s [sic] (see 32)
KADF-LP 20 Azteca América
local weather “WeatherVUE”
KTFO-CA 31 Telemundo
KGBS-CA 32 MTV Tr3s [sic] (see 11)
off air, until recently NBC Weather Plus
KNVA 54 CW, MyTV on delay KNVA-DT 49
CW, MyTV on delay
KAKW-TV 62 Univision. Poor signal due to distant transmitter.
Totals: 11 channels
6 primarily English
5 primarily Spanish
Totals: 10 channels
10 primarily English
2 weather maps

The old pinko in me cannot help but to see a cultural divide. Since it’s been a while since I’ve actually gone channel surfing, I do not know what happened to our Telemundo affiliate. In strong contrast to the hype surrounding ATSC, I have gone from 11 television channels to 10. Of course, among stations I can both watch and comprehend, I have gone from 6 to 8.

I cannot help but notice nine vacant channels. The subchannels of almost every broadcast channel are either filler or vacant with the exception of our PBS and CBS stations, and each of those have at least one unused co-channel. Univision, allegedly on channel 13 (maps to 31.1 Edit 7 January 62.1, thank you Jason.), is completely gone. Why isn’t Telemundo on a co-channel of our NBC affiliate? (Edit 11 Feb: Telemundo is now on LPTV 31; 31 and 62 no longer co-broadcast. Thank you, Noah.) I cannot work out what would be a good match on the unused spectrum of the other channels, but like RTN a number of “networks” intending to be used as subchannel filler programming are either newly broadcasting or will be available before the end of the year. What little I have seen of these imply they are broadcasting reruns from the late fifties to the middle seventies, with token amounts of original programming.

In fact those second-tier channels may become the new UHF … horror hosts anyone?

How about a subchannel dedicated to the inexplicable Austin Music Channel or ACTV, our local analog to public access cable, since they are always moaning about the cable company which gives them clearance?

You know, I think I’ve had enough of the future for a while.

EDIT 20 December: The major flaw in my coupon-eligible converter box is the program guide. It displays only the present program and the next program for the presently tuned channel. This is acceptable to me. Other boxes provide up to seven days of information, if provided by the channels, and have a mode through which you can several, channel listings together.

  1. Wednesday, 10 December, 2008 17:11

    I was reading this interesting article, and I kept blinking my eyes. Then I was worried I was seeing spots for a second.

    That’s a neat “snow” effect you have there, but for a minute I thought I was having vision problems. 🙂

    I’m going to have to think about this digital conversion thing eventually… but I hate TV, so I’ll most likely procrastinate.


  2. EFM permalink
    Thursday, 25 December, 2008 22:48

    I am glad that your experience was a positive one…I also bought the same converter brought it home, disconnected the VCR and switched the wires to what seemed like it was logical, antenae in to converter, converter to VCR, VCR to TV…turned it on and got immediate snow…tried channel 4, snow….tried channel 3 — now it says no signal. So then I assume that there must be some problem with the VCR…so connect it directly to the TV without the VCR in between…same situation…so now I start checking to see if I need some different type of outdoor antennae…from most of what I read…there shouldn’t be a problem…so after several attempts…I have to say I am puzzled and frustrated…


    • Friday, 26 December, 2008 0:10

      Evidently, your converter box is getting through to both the television and VCR since it is telling you it cannot find a signal.

      Unlike good old-fashioned television, the channel allocations for digital TV, at least during the transition phase, are a great big mess. This is why every box needs to scan for locally available channels. The hardest part of setting up digital TV must be done automatically. The channels to which you are accustomed are still broadcasting the old TV, and the new TV is on other channels reasonable people cannot be bothered to memorize.

      Using the remote control press: Menu, Down, Enter. You’ll see what it is actually doing on the screen. I’m asking you to activate the “Scan Channels” command. Just about all the channels in your area should then be memorized by the unit. Due to some kind of post-space-age magic the channel number will appear on the screen as you expect, and the channels will still order the same way. In my town every station is actually on some other channel but according to the unit Fox is still 7, NBC is still 36, CBS is still 42 and so on.

      Until you “scan channels” the box just doesn’t know what to do.

      Then you can pump your details into AntennaWeb to see if you really need a new antenna. If you are in town (within 20 miles of your favorite stations), I will recommend the Terk TV-5. It’s the best indoor antenna for the money.


  3. Jason permalink
    Wednesday, 7 January, 2009 21:53

    I’m getting two additional channels you aren’t: 62-1 and 62-2, both Spanish (Univision is 62-1). However I have a large 66″ long antenna in my attic as opposed to a rabbit-ears antenna. I like MTVtr3s. I hope it goes digital or they stay analog (if LP).


    • Wednesday, 7 January, 2009 22:26

      Isn’t 62.X on still out of Belton? I have no hope of getting it not so far away from Zilker Park. Especially considering my mere not-quite-rabbit-ears antenna. The MTVtr3s stations are LPTV, so they should be around for a little while.

      What is Univision using on their subchannel?


  4. Noah permalink
    Wednesday, 11 February, 2009 14:27

    I’m not too far from you and I also get 51, which used to be Telefutura. But it seems Telefutura moved to 31 and now 51 is just some repeater for 54 (with louder audio!)

    A while ago KLRU used to have two additional subchannels, 18-2 and 18-3. One was programming aimed toward kids but I forget the other. I wonder why they cut it down to just KLRU/Create, and if they’ll ever go back to that earlier arrangement?


    • Wednesday, 11 February, 2009 17:25

      You have just informed me that 31 is no longer merely a translator for 62. (Although technically, I believe it was the other way ’round.) I no longer pay enough attention to the local-media world to know just what is happening. I discovered an evidently new LPTV on 47 which as I type is merely broadcasting a Windows XP Professional screen saver. On my TV, 51 is has been gone for some time.

      About PBS: The PBS Kids 24-hour feed was killed a little while back, Wikipedia says 2006. I read rumors that it had something to do with rights and royalties for all of the studios involved with the old programming they were using. PBS is running that PBS Kids programming on a subscription-television channel called Sprout about which I know little other than it is commercially supported. The old PBS YOU or “your own university” was killed around the same time, possibly due to rampant disinterest in the channel. I never actually saw it, but it was primarily university-credit courses.

      Evidently Create is programming controlled entirely by PBS and the only subchannel offering at this time.

      And I am still wondering why ACTV isn’t on somebody’s subchannel.


  5. Wednesday, 18 February, 2009 21:28

    converter box OK, TV OK, but VCR only records analog and not the new digital, which works OK with the convereter box. So for K-EYE, I get the old analog picture (blue page with conversion messages) when i try to record and not the actual tv show, which i can see quite well when i just turn on the TV and use the converter box. My vcr uses channel 4 and converter box uses channel 3. maybe ihave to manually put in channel 4 to the converter box? thanks for any any helpful thoughts.


    • Wednesday, 18 February, 2009 23:39

      Over the years, especially back when sending a signal from some kind of video appliance through an RF cable to a TV set was the only option, I attempted to communicate some of the fundamental ideas which make the thing work. This has never, not even once, been successful. I shall attempt again, but please know of my very poor record. By the way Doc, or reasonable facsimile, I’m “on the spectrum” so this may go on for a bit.
      I hope these words just might help others with similar questions.

      Radio-frequency wire transmission for such things as VCRs, SelectaVision discs, cable boxes, video-gaming systems and the first home computers operate under the assumption you have one device you want to look at on one television, and that’s it. The only other thing you would want to do with that television, in theory, is watch over-the-air programming. In practice you would turn to channel three or four and watch your gadget, then effortlessly tune all of your other channels normally.

      This was acceptable as long as you lived in a town with no signal on both channels three and four, and used only one newfangled thingamajig on one TV. By the early 1990s this all changed with the ubiquitous VCR, a cable box and occasionally a video-gaming system all going into the same television set. The cable-VCR combo was most common and the solution was to plug the cable-TV signal into the VCR, then use the channel selector in the VCR exclusively; the TV tuned to one channel, either three or four, all the time. The solution to the converter box dilemma descends from this idea.

      I remember getting panicked calls from friends and family at untoward hours of the night because the TV had somehow found its way a channel other than the channel four of my hometown (channel three was in use by a broadcast station) and “nothing worked”. This could not be explained over the phone, and sometimes required a round trip of several hours simply to switch the TV and not the VCR and not the cable box but only the television with a knob or display reading “5” from channel five to four.

      This is the primary reason RCA cables, the red, white and yellow wires used on DVD machines, are now the preferred method of connecting such devices. The twenty-first century promised to do away with all this, but here we are.

      Assuming you have a VCR of the vintage that it uses only the RF cable to communicate:
      Plug the converter box into the VCR as though it were the TV. That is, antenna to the converter box and the RF cable out to the VCR’s antenna connector.
      Connect the VCR to the TV normally. That is the VCR’s RF-out cable to the television’s antenna input.
      Both the television set and the VCR should be set to different channels; the TV stays on channel three and the VCR on channel four or vise versa.
      Converter box output should be set to the channel received by the VCR.
      The VCR output should be set to the channel received by the TV.

      This precludes the possibility of setting the VCR to record successfully on any channel other than the channel to which the converter box is communicating. Remember, the VCR always records from its singular channel. The converter box must be turned on, of course. I know of no solution to this. I do not know of a modern device to which you may merely record TV with the relative ease, and absence of subscription services like ye olde VCR. Well, not anything you can just show up at a store and buy, anyway.

      You may have devices which output or can receive signals with RCA cables. For both technical reasons I can’t remember right now, and ease of use this is the preferred method. These wires are for sale everywhere, Fry’s, Target, even H-E-B or Walgreens, if you are not the kind of person prone to storing the ones which come with your consumer electronics “just in case.”

      Any device using RCA-in would be set to “Line” or sometimes “AV” (usually on the remote control) instead of a television channel. This does nothing to relieve the annoyance of having to make certain the converter box is tuned to the channel you want to record before you leave the house.

      Finally, this does mean just to sit back and watch TV in the evening requires powering up three different machines. The TV, which does little but accept input from the VCR.The VCR which does little other than accept input from the converter box, which it can now reliably record.The converter box which is used to tune television channels, adjust the volume and so forth.It is an inelegant solution, but it does work well. Except for having to make certain your converter box is tuned to the singular channel from which you wish to record something on the VCR while you are away.

      I guess I should make a video about this, but I’ll have to find my VCR. I’m a bit fond of Hulu and You Tube for my TV fix these days.


  6. dave brisky permalink
    Monday, 8 June, 2009 8:23

    I have a SDTV an old VCR with a converter box and a indoor antenna. I have made all the necessary connections as you have explained. When I program the VCR to record a program when I am away I get audio but no video what am I doing wrong.


    • Monday, 8 June, 2009 9:01

      Either a connection isn’t very good somewhere or you’ve got a bad cable. It’s not sending enough signal. It happens. There is a remote chance that the output of the converter box isn’t quite strong enough, but this is very unlikely. The cable which shipped with the converter box should be between the box and the VCR. Of course, swapping the two RF cables, whatever the configuration, might do the trick. You may stop by your retail temple of choice and pick up a couple of cheap cables (or dig others out of the box if you have such a box) and this should tend to it.

      Oh yes, if you’re using RCA cables double check that all the ins-and-outs are exactly right. My inappropriate confidence in my ability to use RCA cables has cost me hours of twiddling. You may still have a poorly manufactured cable somewhere.

      Do be certain the TV is in fact tuned to the channel to which the VCR is broadcasting. It never hurts to check, and if its one over you may get these very symptoms.


  7. Wayne permalink
    Wednesday, 17 June, 2009 15:22

    Update to your 13 June 2009 Update:

    KTBC is not broadcasting on UHF 56 any longer. They shut down the UHF 56 transmitter and moved their broadcast over to the vacated VHF channel 7 (after shutting off the analog transmitter). Well, that’s what they claim anyway, I live in Georgetown and can no longer even recieve a bad signal, it’s as if KTBC just shutdown completely. I had been able to watch HDTV broadcasts from KTBC for over 20 months (since Fall 2007), but not any more. Why the KTBC management chose to shut off the good signal on channel 56 and replace it with a low power VHF signal on channel 7 is beyond understanding. Is somebody actually being paid to make such stupid decisions? Why would they even want to be on VHF when all the other broadcast TV is in UHF? Isn’t the goal of successful OTA TV broadcaster to try to reach as large of audience as your FCC license allows? Do KTBC’s sponsors/advertisers know that they have just cut off 10’s of thousands of potential viewers? Totally insane…


    • Wednesday, 17 June, 2009 16:30

      The truly insane part is that broadcasters in Austin focus primarily on “Central Austin” to the exclusion of the rest of the metro. They also appear to assume that everyone is watching via cable anyway, which isn’t so much a poorly formed conclusion as it is unprofessional. Although it doesn’t really mean much anymore, old-school TV guys think of VHF as prime real estate. Only VHF-low provides any technical advantages over the remaining television bands.

      What I have in lieu of proper understanding which is at least a year old now, KTBC was returning to Ch. 7 some time after analog-switch-off day. Working upon the assumption analog-switch-off day was in February, perhaps they have done exactly that. Later still, October-November, they would go to full-power. I no longer remember why this was so, but the only plausible technical reason is that they are protecting a temporary reallocation in Waco or San Antonio. Possibly KLRN who will be returning to Ch. 9 from 8 sometime before the end of the year.

      If it is any solace, KTBC is not coming in especially well in South Austin, either. At the moment, I wonder what the signal is like inside KTBC’s downtown studios. I’ll bet they have cable.


  8. Charles permalink
    Tuesday, 24 November, 2009 21:48

    I have the RCA STB7766G1 digital converter box. Till recently, all has been fine. Last week I was tweaking around a bit–rescanning my channels, closed captions options (there are so many, I don’t know what they all mean)–and then several stations would be blocked. Regardless of their rating. After a short while the screen goes black with the message: PROTECTED PROGRAM by TV-14, or TV-G, or whatever the rating for that show is. I have absolutely NO BLOCKS on any channel for any rating whatsoever. So why am I getting blocks for these channels? It’s funny–one station lets me watch “House” and “Two-and-a-Half Men” but another channel will not let me watch “Jepordy”! The News and other programs that have no rating are allowed, but on some channels I get nearly nothing if it has any kind of rating, from G to M.
    Please, any insights would be appreciated.


    • Tuesday, 24 November, 2009 23:46

      I shall take a wild guess here and presume you now have parental restrictions, without regard to your intention. Perhaps the cat rolled over on the remote just so.

      To my utter shock and surprise, I was able to locate my STB7766G1 user manual after these many months. The more I wish to keep something, the more likely I can make that something disappear. I shall endeavor to work out how to kill that block. This appears on pages 17-20, or the very back of my edition of the user manual.

      If you happen to read Spanish you may follow along here:
      With some effort, I have found a version in English. It is a PDF file. Which should immediately download to your computer:

      • With the remote control that comes with the device, press MENU
      • right arrow, right arrow to select “LOCK” menu at the very top of the screen
      • down arrow to position cursor on the input field
      • enter 8888 to unlock “parental control”

      This should clear the previous settings, whatever they are. If it doesn’t: arrow down to TV Rating – General and set it to TV-MA, then Movie Rating and set it to X. Unlike the television manufacturers, I shall presume you can hold your consumption of adults-only material to reasonable levels.

      If, in fact, the box shows no restrictions at all but somehow the machine continues to let you view next to nothing, you may require another box.

      If, as often happens, my advice is, as the young folks say, epic fail, the manual is above. Very good luck to you.


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