If you rely upon off-the-air reception for TV entertainment when onboard your boat, you are about to experience a remarkable and welcome improvement in the number of stations you can receive and in the technical quality of what you see and hear. If your TV set is equipped with a digital tuner, then digital TV transmission improvements are available by just tuning to a TV station’s digital signal.
If your boat’s TV can’t directly tune in digital TV transmissions you will need to buy a digital to analog TV converter. The box costs about $60 but you will still be out of pocket only $20 to perhaps $25. To ease the pain of converting to digital TV, the U.S. government will send you up to two $40 coupons to offset the cost of two converters. You can obtain them by calling 888-DTV-2009 or from the Internet at www.dtv2009.gov. (The coupons expire 90 days from their date of issue.) You do not have to change your boat’s TV antenna to receive the digital transmissions. You will have to be digital ready by Feb. 17, 2009 since all terrestrial analog transmission will cease on that date. (Analog tuning sets connected to cable systems or to satellite receivers will not be affected by the change, the cable or satellite receiving units will continue to provide usable signals to your TV set.)
Once you are able to receive the digital signals, what you will see will please you. Depending on your location relative to local TV station transmitting antennas you will likely receive more stations at a signal quality worth watching (while signal quality improves, digital transmission does nothing for the quality of the programs). There are no snowy pictures with digital TV. Either the picture is clear and sharp or you will see a blue screen (occasionally the picture may break up into a mass of little blocks of color when the signal is on the boarder of being useful).
The effect on the number of watchable channels can be impressive. There are 15 channels that provide at least some signal coverage at my favorite anchorage in the Manatee River, south of Tampa/St Petersburg on the west coast of Florida. The boat’s mizzen mast-mounted amplified omnidirectional antenna usually provides useful images on nine of those channels, although some can be intermittent. Both of the digital/analog converters I used provided clear, stable images from 14 stations.
I tested two converters. One, sold by Best Buy under the name Insignia, is powered by 120 vac and consumes 7 watts (readily obtained from a miniature DC/AC inverter). The other, the Artec TA3 Pro was purchased on the Internet and is supplied with a 120V AC transformer whose 112V DC output powers the converter. Although a 12V power cable is not supplied with the unit, it’s not difficult to obtain a two-wire cable with the appropriate connector, just be careful to observe the polarity of the connector. Both units worked equally well on the boat. The Insignia showed slightly high signal sensitivity in a test using a rabbit ears antenna where the antenna was purposely adjusted to reduce the signal strength.
Connecting the converter box to the TV is simple. Plug the 75-ohm TV coax cable from your antenna into the antenna or RF input jack on the converter. The converter provides two ways to connect its output to the TV — a coax cable that plugs into the antenna jack on the TV or a three-wire cable (video, audio left, audio right) that plugs into the red, white and yellow jacks on the TV. Using the three-wire connection will provide better results than the antenna coax connection. (If you use the antenna connection you will have to tune the TV set to channel 3 or 4, choose the one that is not used in your area.)
All of the remaining initial setup adjustment instructions will appear on the TV screen and are easy to accomplish. You will be able to see various program guides and program-rating data screens. You may notice a slight delay when switching channels due to the system’s digital buffering process. Many stations will broadcast a primary program identical to their analog broadcast, plus one, two or three additional programs. For most stations the primary channel will provide images that track fast motion better than the programs being broadcast on the station’s sub-channels. (Stations are able to allocate their bandwidth to match their programming.)
Once your boat’s TV set is digital-ready, you will agree that your $20 to $25 expenditure was one of the best entertainment investments you have ever made — the food and drinks you consume while watching the ball game on your boat cost a lot less than at the stadium and you are where want to be, on your boat!