Digital TV Switch: Last-Minute Tips

No "American Idol"? No "Scrubs"? No late night comics to fall asleep to?

Millions of Americans who use "rabbit ears" or rooftop antennas to watch TV may find themselves staring at snow tonight when they try to tune-in to their favorite programs.

Despite a congressional decision earlier this month to postpone the transition to digital television to June 12, hundreds of the country's television stations will make the switch today.

That means potentially millions of Americans might need to give their television a minor operation before it's going display a clear picture again.

VIDEO: Digital conversion guide for your TVPlay

Of the nation's nearly 1,800 full-power television stations, 220 will have made the switch from analog to digital before Tuesday. By 11:59 p.m. tonight, another 421 will have terminated their analog signals, according to the Federal Communications Commission. (For a full list of the stations switching today, click here.)

But according to a recent poll from Nielsen research, more than 6.5 million U.S. households are not ready for the transition to all-digital broadcasting.

If you're one of those TV watchers suddenly without a signal, don't worry. Here are a few tips to get your set up and running in no time.

How To Make the Digital Switch

1) Before you panic and head out to your local electronics store, make sure your TV's not already digital-ready.

To help make the process a little easier, the broadcasting industry's DTV Transition Coalition created a searchable database to help you figure out if your television has a built-in digital tuner.

If you can't find it there, check your television for any labels or markings that indicate that it contains a digital tuner. Statements to look for include: "Integrated Digital Tuner," "Digital Receiver," "DTV," ATSC" or "HDTV."

Televisions that are 25 inches or larger, or were purchased since 2005, are more likely to have a digital tuner.

If your television was purchased before 1998 or is a smaller LCD set (15- to 18-inches) it probably has an analog tuner.

Also, TVs labeled as "HD-ready," "Digital Ready" and "Digital Monitor" may sound promising but don't necessarily contain a digital tuner.

From Analog to Digital TV

If you're still not sure if your TV has a built-in digital tuner, check the manual, other instructional materials or the manufacturer's Web site, or contact your consumer electronics retailer.

2) Once you know you have an analog television, weigh your options.

If you already have cable or satellite service, you're in good shape. But if you're only reliant on rooftop antennas or rabbit ears, you'll have to choose one of a few options to upgrade your TV for the new digital era.

In the $40-$70 range, a digital-to-analog converter box is the cheapest option, especially in this economy.

But if you're in the market for a new TV, anyhow, you could potentially find one with a built-in digital tuner starting at $200.

Or, for $20 or more a month (not including the cost of renting the equipment), you could subscribe to cable, satellite or other premium television services.

(For more information on your options, visit the government's transition Web site here.)

3) If you want to stick with your current TV and programming options, buy a converter box.

Walk into any consumer electronics retailer and they should be able to help you find an digital-to-analog converter box. They range in price from $40 to $70, but consumer advocates say you should be just fine with the lower-end models.

"Our reviews show that the cheapies are just as fine as the expensive boxes," Chris Murray, senior counsel for the Consumers Union, told

To help us make the transition to digital television broadcasts, the government created a program to subsidize the cost of the digital converter boxes. This allows each U.S. household to apply for two $40 coupons. However, on Jan. 4 the coupon program ran out of money.

The recently passed DTV Delay Act replenishes the coffers of the coupon program. But until it receives the additional funding, the program will not be able to accept requests to replace lost, stolen or expired coupons.

It's not too late to apply for coupons, but you'll be placed on a waiting list. Requests will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis.

If you received a coupon that has expired, the program advises you to check its Web site regularly to learn if and when it can accept requests to replace lost, stolen or expired coupons.

Check Your Television Before You Make the Switch

4) Prepare your television for its high-tech upgrade.

Before you start to install the converter box, be sure to unplug your television. The converter box should come with set-up instructions, but you'll need your analog TV, the antenna you've been using (either indoor or outdoor) and the coaxial wire that connects the antenna to the TV. The new converter box will also include a coaxial wire and a remote control.

To watch an ABC News video of step-by-step instructions on how to install a converter box, click here.

If you have trouble while connecting the converter box, go to or contact the FCC by e-mailing or calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (voice) or 1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY).

Once you've connected the television to the converter box and the converter box to your antenna, plug the converter box and television into a power outlet. After tuning the TV to channel 3 or 4, you can use the remote that comes with the converter box.

Using your remote, choose the "set-up" or "menu" button to navigate to the "channel scan" option. This will allow you to search for the digital broadcast channels that are available in your area. (The owner's manual for your converter box will have more instructions on how to perform a channel scan.)

5) Don't give up if it doesn't work right away.

"It might not be plug and play," Brian Lucas, a spokesperson for Best Buy, told "You might need to experiment with that signal."

If it doesn't work immediately, Lucas suggested repositioning the antenna.

Consumer Union's Murray said that most people shouldn't need an antenna upgrade. But if you're more than 25 miles away from a broadcast station it might be necessary.

If you plug your address into it tells you the channels that are available in your location and the type of antenna needed for reception.

6) If you upgrade to a new digital television, recycle your old one.

Electronic products are the largest source of lead in municipal solid waste, according to Consumers Union. Older monitors can contain four to eight pounds of lead on average and the plastics that house the sets contain toxic and environmentally-damaging flame retardants.

If older analog sets still work, consider using them for videos, DVDs or gaming. If you must toss them out, check whether your municipality offers electronic waste recycling programs.

The Electronic Industry Alliance's Web site and can direct you to local programs.

7) Finally, even if your local broadcasters aren't switching over to digital today, act now.

"It's a good idea to take care of this early," Best Buy's Lucas told "Setting it up now and getting that digital signal running will allow you to troubleshoot if you have to."