NOTE: The DTV transition has been delayed until June 12, 2009!
Digital television brings with it, better pictures, better sound and more channels, but none of that is available if you don't make the transition along with your neighbors and local TV stations.
"They need to plan right now. So that they are ready for it, so they don't lose their television," said FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
There are three ways to prepare. You can buy a new TV that is digital ready, subscribe to cable or satellite, or get a digital converter box.
"You just need to purchase a converter box if you are using an older TV set that has an analog signal," said a person from Best Buy.
You spot those TVs by their rabbit ears or outside antenna. If the TV connected is more than a year old, it probably needs a converter box.
To help consumers, three DTV assistance centers officially opened, two in San Francisco and one in Oakland, where helpers will guide people step by step through the conversion process. It's a challenge that became harder after the government ran out of money for converter box coupons and with talk of delaying the date, there is more uncertainty.
"This can be a confusing process to negotiate and as we know it's getting more confusing every day," said Tracy Rosenberg, the executive director of Media Alliance.
Jackson Lee of San Francisco knew he needed to make the switch to digital television and make it quick.
What he didn't know is exactly how to do it, which converter box to buy, how to install it, or how to interpret the instruction manual.
Now, at San Francisco's Self Help for the Elderly Jackson and others are getting the answers they need.
"We find that by demonstrating the actual how to do it they can write notes and that will help them go back and install," said Anni Chung, from Self Help for the Elderly.
Then help your friends and neighbors, especially the elderly, with the transition.
Now keep in mind your antenna will need to pick up both UHF and VHF to receive all local stations. Your current antenna probably has that capability, but it is worth checking.
The analog signals received now come in well known patterns and areas, when the switch is made to digital, there could be minor differences, so you may need to adjust your antenna.
"It is always unusual to have snow in the Bay Area, but it won't be unusual in February if people aren't ready for this transition," said Adelstein.
The transition is a two step process in the Bay Area. First, set up the box as per its instruction as soon as possible. There will be a scanning phase where the box scans for and finds all the local stations. Then the second step occurs on February 18th, the day after the official digital start date. That's when channels must be scanned again. Why? Some local stations will be changing their digital locations, so your digital box will need to find them again.
Now if you have cable or satellite you may still need a converter box. Many homes have a spare bedroom with a TV that gets its signal off the air. Check yours to see if you have one.
Here are help numbers:
If you still have questions about the digital TV conversion, or how to get a converter box or coupon, call 1-877-388-5353.
You can also call 1-888-CALL-FCC for answers to your DTV questions or visit dtvanswers.com.
One more reminder: Viewers with converter boxes will need to rescan for channels on their converter boxes the first time they use their TV on February 18th.
Click here for our information on DTV. You may get some of your answers you're looking for here.