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FCC Plans Examination of DTV Reception in Wilmington Test

Remarks made by FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps at a town hall meeting on DTV in Wilmington, N.C. Wednesday provided some insight on the information the FCC hoped to gain from the early shutdown of analog TV in that city.

“As hard as it is to believe this late in the process, there are still a lot of technical things we don’t know,” Copps said. “Engineers can run the numbers until the cows come home, but until you actually get out into the real world, you don’t really know how things are going to work.”

Copps had a number of questions he hoped the Wilmington test would answer, including signal robustness, how many viewers would need new antennas and whether indoors antennas would be satisfactory.

As RF Report has previously discussed, newspaper articles have appeared recently showing that consumers switching to DTV may not receive all the stations they currently receive on analog tuners. In some of the cases, the stations lost are out-of-market stations that were somewhat noisy, but still watchable on analog TV. The analog stations in some cases were on VHF, while the DTV service was on UHF.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, speaking at the meeting, noted that the switch will take place at the height of storm season and that viewers should be prepared for the digital change.

“They’re going to have to go out to buy a new digital battery-operated TV. And those are on the market right now,” he said.

An article on the WECT (News 6 in Wilmington N.C.) Web site, The FCC answers big switch questions in Wilmington, quoted RadioShack executives as saying they were trying to obtain a stock of battery-operated digital TV receivers for their stores. I hope the performance is significantly better than the first battery-operated DTV set from Insignia, which performed far worse than several ATSC USB tuners using only a whip antenna on the back of a laptop.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.