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FAQ: The Coupon Eligible Digital TV Converter Boxes (CECBs)

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
FAQ: The Coupon Eligible Digital TV Converter Boxes (CECB's) Updated 7/24/10

By AVS Member jtbell, updated by Ken H


About This Forum

This forum is for discussion of the digital-to-analog TV converter boxes that were eligible for the $40 subsidy coupons issued by the U.S. Government as part of the transition from analog to digital over-the-air (OTA) broadcast TV. The official name for these devices is Coupon Eligible Converter Box (CECB). Please note all CECB coupons are now expired and no longer accepted by retailers selling CECB's, although a limited selection of the boxes themselves are still available at retail, online and brick & mortar.

This forum was created in early May 2008 because discussion of CECB's was filling the former "HDTV Reception Hardware" forum, which has now been renamed the "HDTV Technical" forum. CECB's are not an appropriate topic for that forum because they do not have high-definition (HD) outputs, only standard-definition (SD).

Antennas and digital TV reception issues are similar for both SD- and HDTV, and are a well-established topic in the "HDTV Technical" forum. Therefore, if you have questions about antennas, you should post them in that forum. General questions about digital TV reception are also appropriate there. For local reception issues, you should also check the thread for your local area in the Local HDTV Info and Reception forum.

About This Posting

This posting is not intended as a complete reference to CECB's. It provides a brief introduction to them, with pointers to further information, and short answers to some questions that have commonly appeared in this forum. If you have suggestions, corrections, or updates, please feel free to post them in this thread, and I'll take them into account when I update this posting. If you have a general question about CECB's or specific models, you'd probably best post in one of the other existing threads, or start a new one, whichever is more appropriate.

What are CECB's for?

They allow old analog TVs to be used with over-the-air (OTA) broadcast digital TV (ATSC) signals, so that these TVs will still function after full-power analog (NTSC) signals cease in the USA on June 12, 2009.

What are the coupons?

A moot point, since all CECB coupons are expired and no longer accepted by retailers selling CECB's, but for those who were wondering:
To ease the pain of the analog-to-digital transition, the U.S. Congress allocated funds for $40 coupons, which were used to pay part of the cost of a CECB. Each household was eligible for up to two coupons. Each coupon was used for one CECB. The price of a CECB (before applying the coupon) varies from about $40 up to about $70, depending on the manufacturer and the dealer.

What CECB's are still available?

This topic tracks the most recent sightings of available CECB's and where they can be found: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1183648

Which CECB is best?

This forum contains much discussion about availability and features of various CECBs. Look for the manufacturer and model number in the thread titles, or use the forum search form. There is also a CECB best & worst poll (based on AVS member experences) topic 'stuck' at the top of this forum: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1029256

How do I use a CECB?

You connect your antenna to the CECB's coaxial RF (radio-frequency) input. Then you either

(a) connect the CECB's composite-video or S-video output to a matching input on your TV, using an appropriate cable, and set your TV to use that input, or

(b) connect the CECB's coaxial RF output to your TV's antenna input, and set your TV to channel 3 or 4, just like with a VCR.

In either case, to change channels you must leave the TV set the same way, and change channels on the CECB, generally using the CECB's remote control.

My HD-ready TV or monitor doesn't have a digital TV (ATSC) tuner. Can I use a CECB as an HDTV receiver?

No. A CECB must have only standard-definition (480i) output. It must be able to receive high-definition signals, but it must convert them to standard definition output.

See the Official AVS HDTV STB Synopsis for a list of true HDTV set-top-boxes: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=179095

Do any CECBs have HDMI/DVI or component-video or digital audio outputs?

No. A CECB must have an RF (coaxial) output, a composite-video (yellow RCA-type) output, and analog stereo audio (red/white RCA-type) outputs. It may optionally have an S-video output. It must not have component-video (red/green/blue RCA-type), HDMI or DVI outputs, or digital audio outputs.

I use Cable TV or DBS. Will a CECB do anything for me?

No. The analog TV shutdown on June 12, 2009 does not apply to Cable TV or DBS providers.

A CECB must decode only Digital TV over-the-air broadcast signals (ATSC), received with an antenna. Digital cable TV uses a different type of signal, QAM. So you cannot use a CECB to receive cable TV signals, regardless of whether they are encrypted or "in the clear". The Official AVS HDTV STB Synopsis indicates which HDTV receivers support "QAM in the clear". DBS uses a different type of signal also, and you must use the boxes they supply for any reception.

Some people find it useful to receive OTA digital broadcasts in addition to cable or DBS. It's often possible to receive OTA channels or subchannels that your cable company or DBS provider do not offer. Also, even if you do get the same channels via cable or DBS, the picture quality of Digital TV OTA broadcasts is often better (considering only standard definition here). Of course, this all depends on your local reception conditions and how good an antenna you have.

Cable TV providers will convert from analog to digital at some point in the future, but each company will handle the transition independently, on its own schedule. In the meantime, all cable companies will continue to provide local broadcast channels in analog format, by converting them from digital format. DBS providers DirecTV & Dish Network have always been digital format. If you are a Cable or DBS subscriber, and have problems with your service, please contact them at the phone number listed on your monthly bill.
post #2 of 18
Dont know if this goes here, or if it's an open thread for asking anyway, but if we have a CECB and dont use the RF-out, does it need to be terminated? I saw an "analog pass thru" kit over at WatchDigitalTV and, while I could easily make my own APT kit if needed, I noticed that on scenarios where they were using S-video or composite, they had the RF-out port terminated. Would it provide any better signal/picture by terminating it if unused?
post #3 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by nwiser View Post

if we have a CECB and dont use the RF-out, does it need to be terminated?

No. The signal coming out of the RF is so weak as to be non-receivable by nearby antennas.
post #4 of 18
This is probably another misplaced question, so please point me in the right direction if need be.

I have both Comcast cable (1 Comcast Box & 1 Comcast CableCard) and Direct TV (two units, 1 HD & 1 regular TV). Like many other folks, I have a couple of other TVs (analog) that have are cable-ready and get all the analog channels I pay for. So I'm wondering whether or not there's any CECB that will allow me to view "digital" (non HD) cable channels on those analog TVs? I know I could rent a box for each from Comcast... but I'd rather buy something for $50 foe each TV and be done with it instead of paying them $10/month for each box for eternity.

Just an afterthought... would a slingbox approach work?

Thanks in advance for the help .
post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by IronHorse View Post

So I'm wondering whether or not there's any CECB that will allow me to view "digital" (non HD) cable channels on those analog TVs?

No.  The key term there is "coupon-eligible."  Digital cable (whether HD or SD) is QAM, not ATSC.  Set-top boxes with QAM tuners exist, but the coupon program excludes them.
post #6 of 18
So my only options are; toss the TVs, pay comcast a rental fee for each box needed, or...? Can I buy a cable box that will give ma all the digital channels I'm paying for?
post #7 of 18
Maybe you should ask in the main HDTV technical thread?
post #8 of 18
Some cable companies broadcast ATSC over their lines, in which case a coupon box would work, but it's a very rare occurrence.
post #9 of 18
IronHorse, that's probably a question for ComCast. At work, we get a number of channels on conventional TVs and only need a cable box for the premium or subscription channels or those above the normal channel range.

Basically what they're doing is taking the digital signals and converting them back to ATSC so we don't need converter boxes locally.

Unfortunatley I don't have that option at home.
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by IronHorse View Post

So my only options are; toss the TVs, pay comcast a rental fee for each box needed, or...? Can I buy a cable box that will give ma all the digital channels I'm paying for?

IronHorse, FWIW, there are modest CRT TVs in the 14-20inch size range, and $80-$140 price range that have built-in QAM and ATSC tuners. While you might not want to pitch all your current TVs, it might be worth a $100 experiment to see what clear QAM channels you'd actually get on your cable system - if you have a spot for a small CRT TV and no aversion to one last investment in old technology! Maybe from a store with a no-questions asked return policy??
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by CasualOTAer View Post

IronHorse, FWIW, there are modest CRT TVs in the 14-20inch size range, and $80-$140 price range that have built-in QAM and ATSC tuners.

Yeah, they're cheap alright. Nothing but complete junk brands out there now for CRT's. From the ones I've seen, you'll be lucky if they last more than a year.

You might as well spend the money and get something better that will last.

He's already posed this question in one of the HDTV forums. He'd probably just be better off getting something like a Panasonic DVD recorder for each TV for now. He'll get the QAM and the NTSC tuner together in one, and that will serve as a cable box and be able to pick up everything they're giving him in digital and analog. Then just replace the TV's as they conk out. (Check the DVD Recorders forum for more info on the DVD recorders with tuners. Just stay away from anything made by Funai if you want to be able to depend on the QAM tuner.)

Of course, for that price he could just replace the TV's, but why buy that junk? (Durabrand, Emerson, RCA - ugh. You definitely don't want anything made by Funai, which a lot of those cheap CRT's are - you'll be lucky if you pick up all the digital channels you're supposed to). Might as well upgrade to HD then.

Either that, or I suggested getting wireless video senders. That's the only way he's going to get all the digital channels he gets with his cable box on the main TV on any of those other TV's, without renting their box.
post #12 of 18
You make some good points. I wouldn't have suggested it if he were going to use them for OTA reception. OR if he were going to use one for most of his watching. But, I thought they might do OK fed with cable QAM signals.

With the video senders option, he'd be limited to watching the same channel the main box was set to, right?

It sure seems like there are lots of folks interested in using CECBs outside the permissible parameters (for HD, for clear QAM, etc.) I guess a lot of folks just aren't interested enough to pay the $150+ for the existing STBs with those capabilities. I hope that the CECB makers take note and market some new HD STB options in the sub $100 range after next March.

But if they do that, who'll buy the leftover CECBs at full retail? Or even at half off???
post #13 of 18
I currently have timewarner cable in my house but two tvs dont have a converter box. I just have the coax cable on those two sets and am able to receive a few channels. Will I need to get digital converter boxes for those two sets?
post #14 of 18
If they are connected to the cable company system, they don't need an ATSC converter box. They only need an ATSC converter box when the TV's are connected to an antenna (OTA) and the TV's do not have an ATSC tuner (all previous OTA viewing was controlled by a NTSC tuner).

If they want to subscribe to TWC "Digital" services, then they will need to contact TWC for one of their "Digital" boxes.
post #15 of 18
.

Tips pertaining to $40 NTIA DTV2009 CECB coupon card usage:

Don't have a coupon yet? Go HERE: www.DTV2009.gov


1: Keep in mind that once a coupon is "used", the monies cannot be credited back to the coupon "debit" card like common sense would lead you to believe.

2: Once a card is used- you can only do a in-store exchange meaning that if you've received a defective unit (or one you just don't like) you will be restricted to whatever that store carries.

Workarounds:

1: Seeing how you are limited to whatever the store carries-
Buy the unit with CASH, run it a week or so to "BURN-IT-IN" - then return /repurchase with the coupon.

(Burning-in a unit refers to running a device to test stability- make sure it's not a lemon)


2: If you're considering several different units
Example=
Zenith DTT901 @49 via Kmart
Apex DT502 @59 via Best Buy

Buy BOTH WITHOUT the coupon, run the units side by side to find out what unit works best for YOU, then re-purchase with coupon. Otherwise you are limited to what that store sells in case you need to do a exchange.


PS: When unboxing a unit- be careful to not damage the packaging, unwrap the unit carefully so you can rebox it like factory so it can be re-sold if you are planning on buying multiple units and then returning.


One last thing- I mentioned running the unt(s) for a week or so to "Burn-them-In"...

A: As a consumer I'd rather buy a unit that has been "Burned-In" /tested and has carefully been reboxed than one that hasn't so don't feel bad about running the unit for a week or so.

B: In cases in which the unit proves to be defective- tape a note to the of the unit itself explaining what the box was doing..

As a suggestion tape the note to the bottom of the unit- so the store personal don't see it...
Two reasons for putting the note UNDER the unit-
(1)Might help the tech when it goes to the refurb center, and
(2), In cases in which the store "resells" defective items it brings "that" to light.


***

Link to official NTIA site for listing of latest approved units: https://www.ntiadtv.gov/cecb_list.cfm


TV Converter Box Coupon Program: What Retailers Need to Know (Acrobat PDF 270 Kb)
TV Converter Box Coupon Program: What Retailers Need to Know

Program Rules
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/rules.html


.
post #16 of 18
What is the best Converter out there??

I have a Sunkey, I'm thinking of getting a Insignia Brand at Best Buy this month..are they the best
post #17 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by MarioMania View Post

What is the best Converter out there??

I have a Sunkey, I'm thinking of getting a Insignia Brand at Best Buy this month..are they the best

it is highly favored by many, lots of people think it's the best. it is for me.
post #18 of 18
You may find that the Insignia doesn't do as well as your Sunkey SK-801ATSC. If you do decide on the Insignia at Best Buy, you would have the ability to return for the APEX DT502. The DT502 is very similar to the SK-801ATSC, except it has a metal case and includes many more desirable features and S-Video.

I have all three and prefer the DT502, with the SK-801ATSC a very close second.
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