Don't Throw Out Those Rabbit Ear Antennas

May 01, 2008
May/June 2008
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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As of February 17, 2009, when all the major TV broadcasters will begin to transmit using a digital signal, no one with an analog, rabbit-eared television set will be able to get anything without a digital-to-analog converter box. The switch from analog broadcast to digital has something to do with leaving the airwaves free for police and emergency responder radios, and also the fact that already, millions of digital TVs have been sold, bringing better-quality television to millions of people. If you have a digital TV, or pay for cable or satellite TV service, you’re good—you don’t have to do anything. But if you have an old analog set, you’ll need to buy a converter box costing about $50. But don’t fret, because your government has come to the rescue—with coupons worth $40.

Between January 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be able to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, for the purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is administering the coupon program and has a list of eligible converter boxes as well as information about getting coupons.

The entry of perhaps millions of digital-to-analog TV converters could add yet another widely used electronic device to strain the U.S. power grid, add to carbon emissions, increase our dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels, and so on—you know the drill. But thanks to the efforts of folks at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and other energy efficiency advocates, those converter boxes will run on as little energy as possible, especially during the 20 or so hours a day when no one is watching TV. The Department of Commerce has issued a ruling that eligible devices can use no more than 2 watts while in sleep mode, and that the devices will automatically go into sleep mode after four hours of inactivity. The four-hour delay will be set as the default mode at the factory, but users can adjust the delay time at home or disable the automatic switching to sleep mode.

Energy efficiency advocates decided not to push for low energy use when the converter boxes are on the “on” mode. “In advocating for the 2W standby and auto power down we chose not to include a maximum power use for the ‘on’ mode. That’s because the incremental annual energy savings would have been small compared to what we got by having the box have a low standby energy use,” says NRDC’s Noah Horowitz. Horowitz did note that Energy Star set a specification for converter boxes and it requires a maximum of 1W standby power, 8W maximum power when on, and a 4 hour auto power down. As they should with other electronic devices, consumers should look for converter boxes with the Energy Star label.

Best Buy, as well as other big box electronic stores have stocked up on coupon-eligible converter boxes. Best Buy listed one such device on the Web, under the brand name Insignia, for $59.99, although the boxes are only available in the store and the coupons are redeemable only at the store. So don’t throw away your old TV sets. You’ll be able to use them after February 17, 2009, but it will cost you about $10 or $20, plus the free coupon from the feds.

And keeping that old TV set may save you lots of energy ad money overall. The NRDC tested several types of televisions for energy use. They found that one 50-inch plasma TV will use approximately 680 kWh over the course of a year. An older, 34-inch TV will use approximately 200 kWh per year. At an electricity use rate of $0.10 per kWh, that’s a savings of about $50 a year.

—Jim Gunshinan

Jim Gunshinan is Home Energy’s managing editor.

For more information:

To find out more about the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) digital to
analog converter box coupon program, go to

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