Please click here to go to the FCC website featuring ASL content on the DTV transition.

Issues of concern to deaf, hard of hearing and late deafened people in the coming conversion to digital television broadcasts.


On February 17, 2009, all television broadcasters in the United States will stop sending out traditional (analog) broadcasts and will switch to digital transmission formats. This has many advantages for both consumers and broadcasters. For consumers, the picture quality and sound quality will improve dramatically; for Deaf, hard of hearing and late deafened people, this shift has the potential to enhance their caption viewing experience.

Who will be affected?

While all consumers in the United States will be affected, the switch will happen automatically for most cable and satellite TV subscribers using supplier-provided set top equipment, since the signal conversion will be handled at the source rather than at the TV set. The switch will present problems for anyone who currently receives a signal directly from roof-top or set-top antennas or who, for some reason, is still using an analog cable box. Also, people subscribing to cable but having no cable boxes, and using traditional analog TV sets, will encounter problems.

What to do?

If you use roof top or set top antennas to receive signals on an older analog TV, have an analog cable box, or run the cable from your cable provider directly to your analog TV without using a set top cable box, you will need to purchase an analog to digital converter box. The government is issuing a maximum of two coupons per household, each at a face value of $40, to ease the financial impact of this purchase. Prices vary, but some large chains are currently selling converter boxes for as low as $45, which would mean that after applying the coupon(s) the final price would be $5 per unit or $10 for two.

Picture of digital converter box Digital Converter Box

What do you need to know about digital closed captions?

For Deaf, hard of hearing and late deafened people, the switch to digital broadcasting has the potential to significantly improve caption viewing, such as allowing you to change the font, size, color and background of the captions, provided that these conditions are met:

  • You buy a new HDTV with integrated ATSC tuner. This will allow you to watch digital broadcasting and receive digital captions using roof-top or even set-top antennas. You will be able to change caption size, font, color and opacity using the remote control for your TV. OR -

  • You have a digital cable or satellite set top box that features closed captioning capability. In most cases, this should allow you to use the set top box to change the caption font, size, color and opacity. OR -

  • You purchase a digital converter box for your existing analog TV which specifically allows you to change captions as described above. Since most sales people will not know this information, insist on seeing the product manual for the digital converter box and see if it says anything about allowing you to change the caption font, size, color and opacity. If it does, you can connect it to the TV, connect the input to the back of the converter box, and use the remote control for the converter box to change your captions. Please read this bulletin from the FCC for more information.

Picture of standard analog TV displaying line 21 captioning

Photo at right: a traditional analog TV picture with traditional closed captioning.

Neither the caption size, color or font can be changed; the background can be minimally adjusted by lightening or darkening it.







Picture of HDTV set showing much clearer definition and digital captions

Photo at left: a HDTV image showing user-selected caption font, size and background opacity.


The picture is also more clear, since high definition television sets display far more lines of resolution, which makes the picture much sharper.



I don't want to buy a new TV, and do not want my captions to change, I like the black on white and want to keep it that way

You can easily continue to watch captions as you always have simply by obtaining a digital converter box for your analog TV. In that case it is not important that you look for a converter that allows you to change caption size, color, font or opacity. Any digital converter box should do. If you think you might like to change the text size for easier viewing at some later point in time, it would still be a good idea to invest in a converter box that allows you to change caption font, size, color or opacity. Please view the bulletin from the FCC in paragraph 4.


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.