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DTV honesty

As readers will recall from last month's column, I've made my own commitment to the HDTV revolution. I keep looking for confirmation that I haven't made a mistake in supporting DTV. In my search for such confirmation, two items crossed my desk this month about DTV that gave me pause. The first item concerned the tests conducted by the FCC on DTV reception and the second was the announcement by The Consumer Electronics Association on the sale of DTV products. Unfortunately, rather than confirming my own decision and those of our industry, they scream of a lack of DTV honesty.

Let's first look at the recent FCC DTV reception tests. In an area where there's enough mistrust to start a war, you'd hope at least the FCC could bring some credibility to the DTV reception issue. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite has happened.

The multi-page report purports to confirm the reliability of DTV reception. It contains a number of charts and graphs, as well as plenty of words delineating setup and test procedures. However, buried deep within the document are a few nuggets that cast serious doubt on the whole test process.

First, the test authors admit to “moving the receive antenna as much as one-half mile from the intended measurement point.” What? That's like saying if you can't receive DTV in your own home, you'll just have to move to another house. One writer joked that it's like being told to put your TV set in the hall closet because that's where it works.

Second, the tests are purported to confirm that DTV reception is even more reliable than NTSC reception. Neat trick, considering other tests I'm aware of show exactly the opposite results. I've checked with more than a few early adopters, and no one I've talked with has experienced such amazing results. But then, this is the FCC we're talking about and who better to justify its earlier decisions by rewriting the laws of physics.

Finally, you just have to wonder how the FCC engineers can justify the testing of indoor antennas — outdoors. I don't know about you, but every set of rabbit ears I've ever used has been located inside — not outside — my home. And if I went to the trouble of building a 30-foot or even a seven-foot tower, I wouldn't put a set of rabbit ears on top.

Our next dose of dishonesty comes from the CEA. In a May 4th press release, the Association announced the sale of the “one-millionth DTV product.” My question is this: Where, exactly, are these one million DTV products?

Further supporting the purported rapid DTV adoption, CEA claims that more than 250 models of DTV products have been introduced in the last three years. Wow, that's a lot of DTV stuff. Being a skeptic, I dare anyone to define for me the term “DTV product” and justify the one million units number. If there really were 250 DTV products developed, about 200 of them must have already come and gone from the market. I have a friend whose two-year-old HDTV set couldn't be repaired because the manufacturer said it was already “obsolete.” That sure made him a happy early adopter.

So, let's review the state of DTV:

First, according to the FCC, we have perfect DTV reception, as long as you're willing to move your antenna up to one-half mile from your house. Second, viewers have a fantastic choice of some 250 DTV products, and one million of these products are already out there.

Do you believe all of this? I don't.

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