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CEA Befuddled by Broadcast D-to-A Converter Initiative

In a wildly characteristic move that simply took a while, the Consumer Electronics Association formally registered its bewilderment over the broadcast lobby's effort to establish performance standards for digital-to-analog converters.

In comments filed Wednesday in the FCC's ongoing video competition Notice of Inquiry, the CEA "raised concerns about whether the digital-to-analog converter box being developed under the direction of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television would fulfill Congress's desire to have a low-cost converter box for consumers."

MSTV and NAB last week tapped LG Electronics and Thomson to assist in the development of D2A converters. LG and Thomson were two of a dozen companies that participated in a Request for Quotes issued by the broadcast lobbies in June. The effort is aimed at creating a cheap, remotely controlled, easy-to-use D2A converter with a smart antenna interface. MSTV chief David Donovan has been particularly adamant about D2A performance because there will be no long-term market for the product. Thus in many ways, the billions spent to create ATSC television comes down to the efficacy of first-generation D2As.

Nonetheless, the CEA said it was "puzzled by the need for the broadcaster converter box program."

"We must remain realistic about the features and functionalities that can be included, while achieving Congress's ultimate goal of affordability. Consumer expectation and demand for a simple, inexpensive product cannot be ignored," said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro.

Shapiro's position is that so few Americans rely on over-the-air television that there is no need for what his communications department called a "luxury" converter box. (The CE industry in all likelihood wouldn't hate to see the OTA contingent -- anywhere from 12 to 20 percent of American TV households -- move to cable and snap up some of those excess CableCARD-compatible sets.) The CEA projects that by 2009, less than 7 percent of U.S. TV homes will rely exclusively on OTA TV.

After a collective eye roll, the broadcast lobbies responded via NAB chief Eddie Fritts.

"CEA demonstrates again that it is out of touch with the realities of the technical challenges of DTV reception as well as two of its largest members," Fritts said. "NAB is proud to stand with CEA members LG Electronics and Thomson in their effort to ensure that all Americans have affordable and reliable access to local television signals both during and after the transition to digital."