Lobbies Line Up on Converter Power Consumption

Eight on and one asleep, two at the most. That would be the wattage spec that five big lobbies agreed on for federally subsidized digital-to-analog converter boxes. The NAB, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Association for Maximum Service Television, the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council came to a mind meld on energy consumption to head off the possibility of having different standards in every state.

At issue is the power consumption of the digital-to-analog converters being developed to keep analog TVs from going dark when analog TV signals go away in 2009. The converters are now in the prototype stage, but millions of them are expected to get plugged into the power grid in the months before and after the analog shutdown. The federal government intends to subsidize converters to the tune of $40 each, but only those that meet certain criteria. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is in charge of figuring out that criteria, and the agency recently closed a three-month comment period on a set of proposed rules for the devices and their distribution.

The group of five sent statements to the Environmental Protection Agency and filed a late comment with the NTIA asking for specific guidelines from each. The EPA has been working on its Energy Star box spec, which would be voluntary for manufacturers who want that particular seal of approval on their devices. The group recommended that Energy Star certification require that a box use no more than 8 watts while it's on and 1 watt in sleep mode; plus automatically power down after four hours of inactivity. The auto power-down couldn't be messed with at setup, but later could be disabled or adjusted by those who want to bother.

To qualify for the $40 government subsidy, the group requested a minimum sleep mode consumption of 2 watts and the aforementioned auto power-down feature. No max power was mentioned for the on setting.

Both the EPA and the NTIA are expected to issue converter specs before the end of the year.