Cord cutting, or dropping cable TV, has been a popular topic in the news; however, I only saw a few new products for conventional off-air TV reception at the 2012 CES. The hot topic this year was the connected TV or "smart" TV, running applications and displaying video streamed over the Internet and sharing cable TV video with portable devices over existing in-house Wi-Fi systems. For those not ready to replace their existing big screen TV, external boxes were available to provide some of this "connected" capability.
Many of the manufacturers of over-the-air devices popular with "cord-cutters" were not on the CES exhibit floor, or at least I was unable to find them. For the first time, I didn't see Winegard on the exhibitor list. The only outdoor TV antennas I found were in the AudioVox/Terk/RCA exhibit and at two Chinese companies' booths. The ones from Xinxidi Electronics, including a UHF log-periodic, looked interesting, but the company doesn't have a U.S. distributor as far as I could tell. DTV converter boxes were still on display in several manufacturers' exhibits, but you had to search for them. SiliconDust was there with its line of HDHomerun Ethernet DTV receivers, both for off-air and cable, but I didn't see any new devices.
Boxee, which introduced an off-air tuner accessory for its popular Internet set-top box, was not set up on the main exhibit floor. David Pierce from TheVerge.com got a look at Boxee at ShowStoppers during CES and reported on it in Boxee Life TV hands-on pictures. He wrote "We got a chance to try out the new device tonight at Showstoppers, and while it might not make us cut our cable, it should certainly be a nice add-on for those who already did."
In researching this week's RF Report, I did discover an interesting off-air device that I missed at CES: Simple.TV. Ryan Lawler has a write-up on it in Simple.TV: a combination DVR & Slingbox for the cord cutter set. He says, "The box includes an HD tuner and converts digital video feeds to MPEG-4 streams that can be accessed by other devices. While the Simple.TV box won't have any on-board storage at launch, it will allow users to connect their own USB-enabled hard drives or network-attached storage to record programming from available over-the-air or cable content." It appears that a $4.99/month subscription may be needed to take full advantage of the device.
Finally, conventional ATSC TV may be coming to tablets.
In the Rockchip booth, I saw a tablet displaying a signal from KPIX-TV that was being transmitted from a modulator in the booth. The sign under it said "ATSC-H," but I'm certain it wasn't equipped with an ATSC-MH demodulator. I wasn't able to get much information on it, but it appears the tablet was manufactured by YuanDao, manufacturer of the popular "Window N" line of tablets using the Rockchip processor and chip set. A Google search didn't reveal anyone selling this tablet with ATSC capability, but as competition grows in the low-cost tablet market, perhaps ATSC reception will become a selling point.
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.
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