Sinclair Pushes for DTV Tuner Standards

Sinclair Broadcast Group has filed a petition with the FCC asking the commission to define the performance standard for DTV tuners to ensure that customers can "adequately"' receive and view over-the-air DTV transmissions.

The Baltimore-based station group says that the FCC's recent DTV tuner mandate ¾ which requires that all televisions 13-inches and larger sold in the U.S. after 2005 include a decoder to receive DTV signals ¾ is flawed because it doesn't include performance standards for those tuners. Sinclair is basing its argument on the 1962 All-Channel Receiver Act (ACRA), which led to the integration of UHF tuners in TV sets. The commission cited the act in its August DTV tuner mandate, and Sinclair says that ACRA eventually led to noise figure and picture sensitivity standards. For DTV tuners, Sinclair is asking the FCC to adopt requirements for DTV sensitivity, dynamic range, selectivity and multipath tolerance.

Sinclair has long advocated tuner standards, and is well-known for its longstanding opposition to the U.S. DTV standard, in particular, the 8-VSB reception standard. The company led a number of broadcasters in petitioning the FCC three years ago to amend the standard to allow broadcasters to use both 8-VSB and the DVB-based COFDM standard ¾ a standard it advocated as offering better reception capabilities. The FCC denied Sinclair's petition in 2001, but the fight did lead to cooperation among industry groups to attempt to improve the standard.

During its petition fight, Sinclair angered consumer electronics manufacturers, which fought its efforts to amend the standard. In its petition to the FCC, Sinclair expressed skepticism over the CE industry's stance that the marketplace will promote improved DTV products. The company compared the CE industry's ability to promote adequate DTV reception to "allowing the fox to guard the hen house."

"The Commission cannot rely on the promises of equipment manufacturers that the 'marketplace' will ensure that Commission-mandated DTV tuners will provide reliable DTV reception. Equipment manufacturers have made no secret that they do not care about the quality of over-the-air reception, because, in their view, most consumers rely on cable or satellite," the petition read. "If manufacturers view over-the-air reception as unimportant and worthless, there can be little doubt that Commission-mandated tuners will be worthless as well."