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Hollywood obsoletes six million HDTV sets

Once you reach 50, your eyeballs see things in a new light — often, a fuzzy light. Now, with Hollywood's and the FCC's help, everything you see on your new HDTV set may get fuzzy too.

While the FCC recently prohibited cable and satellite providers from down-rezzing OTA broadcast programming, the commission has not been so kind regarding non-broadcast programming. This leaves open a viewer's disaster for high-def networks, such as HBO HD, Showtime HD and Cinemax HD.

You see, Hollywood is threatening to withhold what it calls “high-value content” unless these and other networks down-rez their programming on analog interfaces. The threat came from retiring Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) president Jack Valenti, “The perpetual availability of content over unprotected high-definition analog outputs is not an option,” he said.

Hollywood claims that all those analog inputs on today's HDTV sets represent gateways for the illegal distribution of movies onto the Internet. The MPAA's goal is to force us early adopters to buy new TV sets with built-in DVI and HDCP interfaces to plug the so-called “analog hole.” I say, “What hole?”

The facts are that MPAA and its minions have never submitted any evidence that any analog HD content has ever been transmitted over the Internet. Valenti and his lapdogs cannot produce one iota of evidence that there is or would ever be an analog hole allowing so-called high-value content to flow from those YPrPb jacks directly onto the Internet. Their argument of an analog hole is totally specious.

Somehow, I just don't believe that anyone is going to lock up his or her Internet connection for a couple of days to download the latest HD movie. And, no matter how fast broadband gets, 10- to 20Mb/s isn't going to happen during the life of today's HDTV sets.

Yes, I can already hear you WM9 and MPEG-4 advocates saying, “But, but … new compression is just around the corner and someday it won't take such bandwidth to send these signals.” My response is that, for consumers, those compression schemes are years — yes, years — away. By the time that WM9 or MPEG-4 are doing HD on your desktop, today's HDTV sets will have been long dead.

Today's six million HDTV-equipped homes represent the early adopters, like myself, who believed in HD. We put our money on the line when this entire industry and the FCC was pleading for someone to invest in HD. Well, we did invest in HDTV and effectively launched an entire new class of service, benefiting consumers, electronics manufacturers and broadcasters.

I call on Chairman Powell to marshal his fellow commissioners and protect the American consumer. Chairman, you asked the American public to believe in DTV, and the six million HDTV sets we bought prove that we did. We've supported the U.S. transition to DTV with our money, and we must not be penalized for that investment.

Protect American HDTV investment by prohibiting the down-rezzing of content on nonbroadcast cable and satellite channels, just as you've done for broadcaster signals. Americans deserve nothing less.

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