Thomson to FCC: Make broadcasters transmit full DTV power and endorse plug-and-play

Thomson Consumer Electronics, manufacturer of television receivers under the RCA and GE brands, has called upon the FCC to expedite its approval of plug-and-play connectivity standards for cable-ready digital TV sets. The company also placed blame for poor over-the-air DTV reception with broadcasters that have a “lack of commitment” to full power broadcasting.

“We anticipate that the majority of consumers who will be shopping for HDTV sets will be expecting cable-ready products that work seamlessly with existing cable networks,” Thomson’s David Arland wrote to W. Kenneth Ferree, the chief of the FCC’s media bureau. “For this reason, it is imperative that the Commission rapidly adopt the HDTV plug-and-play agreement that is now pending before the FCC.”

Arland, director of public and trade relations for Thomson’s consumer products, said the fact that the vast majority of Americans receive their television from cable makes “HDTV-over-cable” functionality a critical element to “mainstreaming” the digital television transition for consumers, and thus speeding the transition toward a more rapid conclusion.

The terrestrial broadcast community, Arland said, is today providing only a minuscule amount of digital programming promotion on their analog channels or in daily program listing in printed format. “This represents an enormous missed opportunity to promote the digital TV transition and to educate consumers about their digital TV choices,” he said. “Particularly as the digital tuner/decoder mandate kicks in, it is essential that consumers have ready access to information regarding the digital programming options.”

As for improving over-the-air reception of DTV signals, Arland said Thomson has significantly improved the reception selectivity of its recent DTV tuners. Thomson’s latest tuner design, Arland said, will mark a 7 to 10 dB improvement over Thomson’s first generation products.

Multipath performance remains an important issue for over-the-air DTV and Thomson is investing more resources to insure constant improvement, he said. “We believe that promising new multipath cancellation technology from LINX Electronics will minimize the majority of multipath problems where received signal strength is sufficient. Thomson is planning to utilize LINX technology in future generations of digital TV receivers,” he said.

“Notwithstanding these advances in receiver capabilities and performance, accurate and robust reception is inevitably and directly related to the strength of the signal transmitted by the broadcaster,” Arland continued. “Regrettably, most local broadcasters are not transmitting their digital TV signals at full-power. In fact, the commission’s most recent figures indicate that only 25 percent of commercial broadcast stations are ‘on-the-air’ with a digital television transmission signal that covers their analog station service areas. This raises the prospect that a very significant number of homes that receive a station’s analog signal cannot receive that station’s digital signal.

“The availability of only a low-power signal can significantly hamper the ability of any terrestrial receiver—regardless of input sensitivity—to properly receive, tune, and decode digital TV signals. For example, with the prevalent use of low-power TV transmitters, there are instances where the adjacent channel interference ratios will be well in excess of planning factors used to design the receiver components. We designed our receivers assuming, appropriately, that broadcasters would fully engage in their responsibilities in this transition and send signals at full strength in compliance with the transition plan embodied in FCC regulations.”

Arland told the FCC that the issue is further exacerbated by spurious transmitter radiation. “Thus, the suggestion by many broadcasters that ‘insensitive receivers’ are somehow to blame for poor consumer reception of digital TV signals misses the real problem, which, Thomson respectfully suggests, lies not with receiver sensitivity but rather by a lack of commitment of the broadcasting community to transmit their digital TV signals at full power,” Arland said.

Thomson is suggesting that the FCC establish an interim deadline of July 1, 2004 (concurrent with the first digital tuner/decoder deadline), by which all broadcasters must transmit a digital signal of sufficient strength to serve their entire Grade A contour.

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