Microtune warns NTIA of non-compliant DTV converter boxes

Microtune, a Plano, TX-based maker of silicon TV tuners used in several NTIA-qualified DTV converter boxes, has raised a red flag with the agency responsible for administering the coupon program. It warns that some coupon-eligible converter boxes fail to meet the agency’s performance requirements.

In a letter sent to National Telecommunications and Information Administration on March 25, the company pointed out that the converter boxes, which did not use Microtune tuners and were tested at its lab, could fail to receive DTV signals in several major markets and have the potential to affect millions of U.S. TV viewers who will continue to view OTA television on their existing TVs via the converter boxes.

The methods used to conduct the tests and the tests themselves were reviewed and validated by an outside industry expert, according to Microtune.

“Poor or non-performing converter boxes could create lack of confidence not only in the digital TV transition, but also in other digital TV products as well," said company president and CEO James Fontaine.

The letter recommended the NTIA conduct its own converter box tests of models “most widely available in retail channels” to verify they meet the agency’s final rules for converter box performance. Further, it urged the agency to expand testing as part of this performance audit “to verify compliance across all television channels.”

According to the letter, “the non-compliant results observed in the boxes tested [by Microtune] will result in loss of television reception in large areas of many metropolitan areas throughout the United States.”

Some of the failures will be apparent right away, “but others will not be noticed until after February 2009, when broadcasters move to their final channel assignments,” the letter said.

The letter did not identify which converters failed to meet NTIA performance requirements during Microtune testing.

To read the letter, visit www.microtune.com/news/2008Articles/MTLetter.pdf.