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Sinclair gains support in fight for minimum DTV tuner requirements

San Francisco, Calif.-based engineering firm Hammett & Edison (H&E) has joined with the Sinclair Broadcast Group in its fight to win government-defined digital television tuner requirements that ensure reliable over-the-air reception of broadcasters' digital signals. Thus far the commission has not been receptive and, although a spokesman declined to comment, does not appear to be ready to act on the issue anytime soon.

KNTV tower atop Loma Prieta Mountain at the extreme south end of the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market.

Citing the lack of reception capability in much early-generation consumer equipment, last fall Sinclair filed comments with the FCC requesting the agency to mandate that electronics manufacturers include the improved circuitry necessary to achieve reliable reception of over-the-air DT signals in an effort to lower receiver costs. CE companies have resisted the request.

After conducting a series of reception field tests in January 2002 in San Francisco, Calif., and the northern San Francisco peninsula, H&E provided the Commission with a comprehensive engineering report last week, in support of the Sinclair Petition for Partial Reconsideration.

In the ruling, the FCC decided that beginning in 2004, large-screen TVs sold or imported into the U.S. must include a DTV tuner capable of receiving an over-the-air 8-VSB signal. This phased-in requirement will apply to TVs as small as 13 inches by 2007. However, the FCC declined to adopt any minimum performance requirements for the DTV tuner.

In November 2002, Sinclair filed a petition for partial reconsideration, asking the FCC to adopt minimum DTV tuner standards. The filing cites the All Channel Receiver Act (ACRA), which grants the Commission the authority to require TV receivers to be "capable of adequately receiving" all TV channels. Sinclair said in its communications that relying on the marketplace to ensure that DTV tuners provide adequate over-the-air reception would "jeopardize the digital transition and the future of free, over-the-air DTV."

The petition, which was signed by other independent broadcasters, including Pappas Broadcasting, also stated that "If the Commission does not act to protect the interests of those millions of viewers who cannot afford or simply do not wish to subscribe to cable or satellite, it is risking the disenfranchisement of a large segment of the American population."

H&E engineer Don Ericksen said the firm agreed with the Sinclair petition, but found it needed additional engineering documentation to make its case. H&E has filed its comments in support of the Sinclair petition, with documentation showing that minimum performance standards for DTV tuners are needed.

The company's measurements were made in northern California. Ericksen said his company found adequate DTV signal strength at two locations, but that a consumer-grade DTV receiver would not achieve signal lock on the measured DTV channel at some points, even though there was ample signal strength. H&E has determined that an improved DTV tuner could solve the observed interference problems.

"Our comments document that we were not able to achieve [channel] lock, due to brute force overload from FM stations and also from KQED-TV (NTSC Channel 9) three channels removed," he said. "We also documented an apparent case of image interference between KTVU-DT, [channel 56], transmitting from the Sutro Tower in San Francisco, and KKPX-DT [channel 41], transmitting from San Bruno Mountain, at Millbrae, Calif., on the San Francisco peninsula."

Ericksen said H&E's effects are designed to help move the DTV transition along by ensuring that consumers will be able to receive broadcasters' digital signals with an outdoor antenna. "Hammett & Edison took the time and effort to prepare and file these comments, which were not paid for by any client, because we think the DTV rollout will be affected if the current situation is not resolved," he said. "We cannot think of a worse ‘poison pill’ to the success of DTV than to allow bare-bones, marginally performing DTV tuners to be marketed; ones that only work in benign RF environments uncharacteristic of over-the-air, free TV signals."

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