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What is a Digital Converter?

A digital converter may be used for satellite signals.
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  • Written By: K. Schurman
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2014
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    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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A digital converter box is a piece of electronic equipment that converts a television signal into a program that you can view on your TV. A digital converter box can involve converting digital over-the-air signals into a frequency the TV can display, or it can involve converting signals from satellite or cable providers into signals the TV can display. Any TV signal must be converted to a frequency that will work on the television, and the conversion sometimes occurs with tuners built into the TV and sometimes with converter boxes.

The use of digital converter boxes has increased partly because of the increase in the number of channels and services available from satellite and cable television providers. For many customers, a digital converter box, sometimes called a set-top box, provides access to items such as video on demand services and digital programming guides, in addition to standard programming. The computer equipment in digital converter boxes sometimes allows two-way communication between the customer and the signal provider.

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A digital converter box has become a must-have piece of hardware for many people who receive television channels through an over-the-air antenna. Beginning in February 2009, the Federal Communications Commission ordered all local television stations to begin broadcasting only in digital signals, ending decades of broadcasting analog signals. If a customer did not have a digital tuner in his TV, the customer either needed to purchase a digital converter box to receive the digital television signals or to purchase a new television containing a built-in digital tuner.

Essentially, the digital converter box takes the digital over-the-air signal and converts it to an analog signal that the old TV can display. Older televisions rarely contain built-in digital tuners. A digital signal is a series of zeroes and ones, the same as binary computer language, while an analog signal is a series of radio waves. A digital signal is clearer and sharper than an analog signal, most of the time. In most instances, when people use the term digital converter box, they are referring to this type of equipment for displaying over-the-air signals. With the converter box used to broadcast signals from cable and satellite providers, the term set-top box is used more often than digital converter box.

The size of a digital converter box depends on the functions it performs. A digital converter box that only converts digital over-the-air signals into a format that an old TV can display can be small, about one-fourth of the size of a laptop computer. Set-top boxes that include digital video recorder capabilities, meanwhile, are much larger, perhaps as large as two laptops stacked on top of one another.

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