Where Is the Digital TV Tuner?

Tuners may be built-in or external

Old television on stand, in front of curtain
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Any television that you bought after March 2007 probably has a built-in digital tuner, although a few TVs were sold after that date without them. The digital TV tuner makes it possible for your television to receive and display a digital signal. All over-the-air broadcasts in the U.S. have been digital since 2009, so to watch TV, you need a TV set with a digital tuner to watch even free broadcast shows.

That tuner may be built into the TV, be an external digital TV tuner box connected to the TV or—in some cases—be built into a set-top box provided by a cable or satellite company.

Digital signals from cable and satellite companies are scrambled and require a tuner provided by the cable or satellite company to view them. In contrast, digital TV signals from broadcast TV stations are not encrypted and can be processed by your TV tuner.

Where Is the Digital TV Tuner?

When you are watching broadcast digital TV signals on an older analog TV, the digital TV tuner is in the DTV converter box.

When you are watching broadcast digital TV signals on a digital or high-definition television, then the digital tuner is inside the TV. An exception occurs if your digital TV is a digital monitor—there is a difference.

For cable and satellite subscribers, the digital TV tuner is in the set-top box that your provider gave you unless you are one of the few people who use a CableCard.

Then the tuner is the CableCard.

How to Tell if Your Older TV Has a Built-in Digital TV Tuner

If you aren't sure if your TV has a tuner, there are a few ways you can find out.

  • Check the owner's manual that came with your TV. 
  • Look on the front and back of the TV for a marking that indicates a digital tuner. It may say ATSC, DTV, HDTV, Digital Ready, HD Ready, Digital Tuner, Digital Receiver, Digital Tuner Built-in or Integrated Digital Tuner. Any of these is an indication that the TV has a built-in digital tuner. 
  • Locate the model number of the TV and check the specifications at the manufacturer's website.

About External Tuners

If you find out your television predates internal tuners and you don't have a cable or satellite set-top box that contains a tuner, you have no choice but to shop for an external digital TV tuner. There are plenty of external digital TV tuners on the market, some of which allow recording of digital content. Most big box and electronic stores carry a good selection.

External TV tuners require a strong signal to provide good TV reception. Digital signals are more sensitive to distance and obstructions than are the older analog signals. If you live in a remote area, you may be able to amplify a weak existing signal using an antenna made specifically for this purpose. If there is no signal at all, an antenna won't help. It also won't allow you to watch TV without a digital tuner, and it won't turn your old analog TV into an HDTV or Ultra TV

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