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CEA Supports Hard Shutdown Date for Analog TV

The Consumer Electronics Association supports the efforts of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to set a hard shut-off date for analog TV broadcasting, according to the association.

CEA issued this statement supporting the staff draft released by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens and Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye. "Senator Stevens and Senator Inouye have taken a critical and necessary step to expedite our nation's transition to digital television in an effective and pro-consumer manner. CEA has long supported a hard cutoff date for analog broadcasts. A hard date provides certainty to manufacturers, retailers, consumers and all others with a stake in the transition. A hard date will foster innovation, strengthen America's security and begin the process to auction off analog spectrum to provide funds to the U.S. Treasury, while completing the DTV transition in a timely and understandable manner for consumers. We look forward to working closely with Senators Stevens, Inouye and members of the full committee as this issue moves forward. CEA will continue to work with all responsible parties to hasten the transition to DTV, including continuing our award winning consumer education efforts. We call on broadcasters, cable system operators and others to join us in working with Congress to set a hard cutoff date and educating consumers about the transition."

Working on the assumption that primary off-air TV viewing will decline to approximately 6.8 percent of total TV viewing by 2009, CEA questioned the need for what it called the "luxury digital converter box" being developed by the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television in reply comments filed in the FCC's Notice of Inquiry on competition in the market for the delivery of video programming.

A CEA press release said, "...CEA puzzled by the need for the broadcaster converter box program, since no manufacturer involved in the digital transition has suggested any problem with creating a simple analog-to-digital converter box. Indeed, many companies have announced plans to build low-cost converter boxes that will enable consumers with an analog-only television to continue to receive over-the-air television signals once analog TV broadcasts end. In addition, CEA notes that the converter box that NAB and MSTV envision includes many additional features that most consumers do not need or want. This will make it much more expensive than the standard converter box that will be desired by most of the consumers who choose to utilize their legacy analog TVs upon the end of analog broadcasts."

For those wondering what functionality will be required for the NAB/MSTV converter box, here is a list of the desired features from the NAB press release Due Date for Responses to the DTV-to-NTSC Converter Box RFQ Extended to July 30:

  • inexpensive
  • appropriately process all ATSC video formats
  • deliver video and stereo audio to NTSC receivers on either TV ch. three or four, along with a baseband composite video output with stereo audio
  • must have excellent front-end performance, including multipath and overload immunity
  • small and lightweight
  • easy to install and operate
  • transparent to the users; it should not require the reconfiguration of the consumer's existing in-home entertainment installation
  • be PSIP compliant and have a friendly menu guide
  • comply with closed captioning, EAS and the required parental controls
  • include a detachable antenna and a "smart" external antenna interface and interconnect cables
  • be operable by an included remote control

To me, most of these capabilities don't sound like luxuries, but the minimum feature set required to give consumers the same functionality they have on their analog TV sets. The only feature I see that could be remotely be considered a "luxury' is the desire for a "smart" antenna interface and interface cables. Combined with one of the newer 8-VSB demodulator chips, this could make DTV reception much easier, since the viewer would not need to manually adjust the antenna for reception of multiple stations requiring antenna repositioning.

NAB President and CEO Edward Fritts issued a brief statement in response to the CEA filing, saying, "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. 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."

While CEA has taken steps to assist broadcasters and off-air viewers with DTV, some of the recent CEA filings seems that they want to minimize free off-air TV viewing and to some extent are taking an anti-broadcaster approach to the digital transition. I can understand why consumer electronic retailers would want to steer consumers to DBS and cable digital services, for which they could to receive a commission, rather than off-air TV reception where there is no extra compensation and the purchaser is likely to complain to them (rather than to the cable or satellite companies) if they have problems. I would expect that consumer electronics manufacturers would urge CEA to be more supportive of off-air free TV, where they have the freedom to compete for a huge number of individual consumers based on brand name, features and price, rather than competing for business with few large cable companies or DBS operators.

I'm encouraged that at least two major companies are supporting the NAB/MSTV converter box. From the response to the RFQ reported in a previous RF Report, many more are interested in providing off-air converter boxes to consumers that meet these minimal feature and performance requirements. I believe that once consumers see how good over-the-air DTV looks, even on their old analog set, they will be more inclined to spend the extra money to buy a wide-screen, higher quality TV set with surround sound for the full HDTV experience.

I'd be interested in readers' comments on this issue. During a recent visit to Best Buy, an exhaustive search revealed only one Samsung DTV tuner hidden underneath a large projection TV display. It was marked down as a "close-out." However, one side of an aisle was devoted to a large display of DirecTV set-top boxes, some of which included an off-air ATSC tuner. Have you walked into an electronics store and asked about off-air DTV? What answers did you get? How hard is it to buy an off-air DTV tuner? I know from email that while many of my readers are broadcasters, a large number of technically savvy TV viewers read this report. Would you care if free off-air TV went away (not enough viewers to support it) and TV was limited to cable and satellite? Does it really make any difference how you receive your TV programming? Let me know. Drop me a note at