No one knows exactly how the "subsidy" will work, yet.
We do know that "qualifying households" (whatever they are) will be eligible for one or two coupons that will count as $40.00 each, off the cost of each "subsidized" box. No one knows who will be handling these boxes yet. The coupons are supposed to be assigned to each recipient, to prevent trading or selling them (keeping them from becoming "cash" or "scrip").
The boxes can only output SDTV at 480i. But, the prototypes have many bells-and-whistles. They have composite video and left/right audio, as well as RF Channel 3 and 4 modulators.
They are supposed to have state-of-the-art chip sets (to allay the fears of broadcasters, who felt they might not work as well as the expensive boxes, making users less likely to use them). They also will operate with a SmartAntenna (another $80-100 for the outdoor unit), meaning they can be used in multi-site markets, and in areas prone to adjacent channel and FM BCB interference. They both do full EPG. The RCA includes an IR-Blaster and timers, so it can control a legacy VCR.
Set-up seems to be pretty fool-proof....Select your language, select regular or "smart" antenna, press "OK" and sit back for a few minutes.
All along, the Government has insisted that all of this competition is supposed to "tame" the Cable industry and it's rate increases. Without these boxes, I'm afraid most limited-income people people will simply call the Cable company in February 2009, and sign up for basic analog service. Then, what is to stop Cable from increasing their rates? And, when Cable goes all digital, those "legacy" sets will all need a rented Digital cable STB.
Without them, will many people have to forego their medications each month, in order to pay their Cable bill? Will the next "transition" in America have to be to "subsidized healthcare" so they can continue to pay their TV bills?
Maybe this is a good tradeoff in the long run.