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Coupon-Eligible Converter Boxes Make Public Entry

Digital-to-analog converters for over-the-air DTV proved they really existed Tuesday as manufacturers connected the new boxes to old TVs and showed the results at a public exposition in Washington.

Among the companies displaying technology at the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) DTV Transition Expo at Commerce Department headquarters were LG Electronics, Thomson (under the RCA brand), Samsung, EchoStar and, from Silicon Valley, Broadcom.

The displays were part of a half-day of events including speeches and panel discussions organized by NTIA tackling the issue of the converter boxes and the nearly $1.5 billion worth of $40 coupons that consumers can start requesting Jan. 1.

LG hooked its box up to an old Zenith and RCA hooked its up to a vintage 1968 RCA set. Snowy images on some sets were attributed to the old tubes picking up plenty of electrical interference.

RCA touted its box as excellent for those senior citizens that many of the speakers at the event were especially concerned about. The small unit—like LG’s, closer in size to a modem than to a cable set-top box—can sit horizontally or upright and comes with a large-button remote.

The boxes include functions such as V-Chip control and interactive EPGs, but are limited by the coupon eligibility requirement from having more advanced functions. LG’s box used a $12 bow-tie antenna. RCA used a more advanced smart antenna, and Broadcom used a smart antenna from an antenna company it bought, Pause TV.

The companies have all submitted the boxes to the NTIA to gain eligibility under the coupon program.

The only company with a box already certified for coupon eligibility was not present. Digital Stream Technology, based in Korea, announced Friday its box had won NTIA’s nod.

The functioning converter boxes gave new hope that the boxes would be available as soon as possible after the coupon program begins Jan. 1. But even Digital Stream, with its certified box, has only said it will be available to consumers in “early 2008.”