The poll, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, also found that more than a third of Americans living in households with TVs are unaware of the transition, which Congress has ordered to happen in February 2009. The findings indicate that the confusion could lead to people spending a lot of money for equipment they may not want or need.
"Based on these survey results it is now clear that the government and every media company that profits from consumers watching television must do whatever it takes to help consumers keep getting broadcast TV, without paying a dime more than necessary," Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, said in a statement.
Among those Americans who know of the transition, more than half believed erroneously that all TVs would need a digital converter box to function. In addition, 48% had the misconception that only digital TVs would work after 2009, and nearly a quarter believed incorrectly they would have to throw away all of their analog televisions.
Of the respondents who will have at least one TV affected by the transition, almost two-thirds don't know they are affected or are unaware of the transition, the survey found. Close to a third of Americans in households that won't have a functioning TV after the transition were unaware it was happening.
The confusion didn't end there. A third of the respondents unaffected by the transition planned to buy a converter box anyway, and 31% planned to buy a new digital TV with a built-in digital turner. Although purchasing a converter box is the most popular action planned by people aware of the transition, 73% are unaware of the government coupon available to offset the cost.
The survey demonstrates how the federal government's education program does not appear to be working very well. While the United States has allocated a total of $6.5 million in public education funding, the United Kingdom, in contrast, plans to spend $450 million on its public education campaign, Consumer Reports said.
By federal law, TV broadcasters will end analog broadcasts on Feb. 17, 2009, and begin sending signals in a digital format. The transition will affect millions of people who use analog sets to watch free over-the-air programming. In order to work, analog sets will have to be connected to a converter box, attached to a cable or satellite service, or replaced with a digital TV.