[opendtv] Boxed In Industries fear confusion over shutoff

  • From: "Manfredi, Albert E" <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2006 18:45:57 -0400

If the STBs are pluggable into the analog RF input of existing TV sets,
I can't imagine too many consumers that can't fathom that hookup. It
would be no different from the most basic of VCR or DVD player
connections, and those boxes have certainly not had a tough time on the

The important thing is to make them good, so consumers don't get put off
by inadequate performance.

The article says the NAB-sponsored STBs should be available in prototype
form by September? Excitement. I hope and trust they aren't limited to
an RF output, and that at least some of the models available will
include a timer. I'll bet those Thomson demods in their press release I
posted yesterday were aimed at these boxes.

The CEA opposes, I have to guess because they would rather everyone out
there just buy a new integrated TV set. I find that nearsighted, sorry
CEA. Besides which, if up to date ATSC STBs and/or recording devices
were readily available, which could double as STBs, perhaps this NAB
effort would not have been necessary. I'm happy to see the NAB is
carrying this through. I'd also expect a major NTSC shutoff advertizing
campaign to begin sooner rather than later, mentioning the availability
of these and other STBs.


Boxed In
Industries fear confusion over shutoff

by John Merli

WASHINGTON: As early as August 2006, consumers could first begin to see
notices at retailers that new NSTC sets will not be able to stand on
their own two feet, technically, after February 2009.

Last month, the Consumer Electronics Association announced that its
member manufacturers had agreed upon language for warning labels to be
voluntarily placed on all TV sets (and related packaging) that have only
analog TV tuners, as part of a broader consumer education initiative on
the DTV transition.

But like those sideview mirrors on the car that warn, "Objects are
closer than they appear," the once-extended analog cutoff date may also
be closer than it might seem, warns a growing number of industry and
consumer groups.


Now at only 34 months and counting before the Great Analog Switch-off,
key concerns center on the need to adequately alert the millions of
homes that rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcasts. By the time
engineers flip the switch to end analog transmissions forever on Feb.17,
2009, about two-thirds of all U.S. homes will have some type of DTV
service (not including basic cable converted to analog), said
Boston-based research firm Strategy Analytics. But overnight, literally,
a slice of the consumer sector will go dark. Some confusion seems

"Most who get their TV over-the-air are lower income and less
sophisticated. The idea that they'll have the technical ability to hook
up converter boxes is in question--even if those boxes are subsidized,
so look for a huge amount of confusion," warns Josh Bernoff, vice
president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "I expect digital
TVs to sell quite well over the next few years, partly because people
will think their analog TVs are obsolete--despite the fact that they
will continue to work just fine with cable and satellite boxes, VCRs,
and DVD players."

Recent research suggests that less than a quarter of the American public
is yet aware of a 2009 cutoff. Despite a congressional subsidy of $990
million earmarked for digital-to-analog converter coupons (and another
$500 million for a public awareness campaign) three years out, some
industry planners think it will be easy to fall behind, and warn of
other pending problems.

"Time is of the essence right now," said David Donovan, president of
MSTV (Association for Maximum Service Television). "We have been working
hard with LG Electronics and Thomson to develop a prototype, and we've
made significant progress. By this September, we hope to have a
prototype to put forward for consideration."

The proposed set-top converters would work with regular over-the-air

MSTV and NAB tapped LG and Thomson last October to each develop a
converter prototype to serve as a blueprint for future products. The
boxes would be sold by retailers to eligible households with
government-subsidized coupons worth $40 each. There will be a two-coupon
limit per household, with the chits to be distributed starting no
earlier than Jan. 1, 2008, and no later than March 31, 2009--less than
six weeks after the analog cutoff--unless the law is later amended. (The
original cutoff was scheduled for the end of 2006.) The law also
stipulates that two coupons may not be used toward the purchase of a
single converter box, and that all coupons would expire three months
after issuance.


Although it represents a relatively small percentage of consumers, a lot
of viewers will be affected. NAB and MSTV, for their part, say more than
20 million TV households (about 73 million TV sets) now rely totally on
over-the-air television. The Consumer Electronics Association,
meanwhile, says those numbers are far too high, and contends a growing
percentage of current NTSC sets are actually used primarily for DVD
movies and video games--not for over-the-air viewing.

CEA also does not recognize the MSTV/NAB push for set-top box
prototypes. "These boxes [would be] far too complicated for what would
be needed for simply converting analog to digital signals," said CEA
spokesman Jeff Joseph. He points to the law itself which calls for a
"standalone device that does not contain features or functions except
those necessary to enable a consumer to convert any channel broadcast in
the [DTV] service into a format that the consumer can display on
television receivers..." The law would permit the inclusion of a remote

Congress directed the NTIA to determine what makes a household eligible
for the $40 coupons, and to carry out the correlative public education

The agency is also in charge of defining precisely what type of D-to-A
devices will qualify under the subsidy program. One consumer electronics
maker noted that until those parameters are outlined, manufacturers
won't crank out the boxes. He said the NTIA was expected to issue some
sort of D-to-A rules by the end of March, but at presstime, an NTIA
spokesman said that process could take longer.

"We are just getting ready to consider all those issues," said Ranjit
DeSilva, NTIA director of public affairs. It could be longer than two
weeks. Once we get everything settled and we have the rules ready to go,
they will go up on the Web site."


MSTV and other technical groups are also worried about another problem
regarding over-the-air converter boxes: unlicensed out-of-band
interference. Donovan said MSTV is "deeply concerned" with two pending
Senate proposals (S.2332 and S.2327) that address unlicensed devices and
FCC regulations.

MSTV believes there are two severe interference problems. First,
out-of-band emissions, with MSTV pointing to Canadian studies using
proposed American FCC parameters that show interference could occur
within 78 feet of a DTV receiver (and applicable mostly to apartments
and townhouses). Second, Donovan said, existing interference-sensing
technology is not yet reliable.

"The key to an unlicensed model is to operate on 'so-called' vacant
channels," MSTV told Congress recently in a statement. "In the real
world, however, it is very likely these devices will operate on channels
that are currently being used for broadcasting. Spectrum-sensing
technology has never been tested in the TV band, and is not readily
available in the marketplace. Perfecting such technology is years away."

MSTV is providing a video demo of the out-of-band interference problem
at: www.mstv.org/static.html=20
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