CEA Disses NAB/MSTV Digital Box


The Consumer Electronics Association Wednesday questioned whether the digital-to-analog converter box broadcasters are commissioning would be the low-cost solution Congress is seeking.

It took the opportunity of its filing in the FCC's annual inquiry on video competition, to claim that the box being developed under the auspices of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) will include "many additional features that consumers do not need or want," that will make the box more expensive than it needs to be.

Congress is expected to propose a subsidy for a low-cost box ($50-$75) as part of DTV transition legislation being teed up in both Commerce Committees.

Suggesting the consumer electronics industry needed some help and guidance, NAB and MSTV put out a request for specs on a new box, and have whittled the dozen candidates to two manufacturers, LG and Thomson.

In its filing, CEA predicted that by the expected 2009 date for the switch to digital-only broadcasting, only 6.8% of viewers will be analog-only. "Consumer electronics equipment manufacturers, cable operators, terrestrial broadcasters, satellite broadcasters, and home media now are at the center of the market for the delivery of video programming," said CEA President Gary Shapiro, "but consumers soon will have these services available via telephone, mobile, wireless broadband and even power lines."

The CEA knock on the broadcaster box is no surprise. The two have been in a war of words over the transition since their planned joint-promotion of high-definition television turned sour several years ago. They are also on opposite sides of the chicken-and-egg debate over speeding the transition.

Broadcasters say: Build more integrated DTVs and more viewers will come. CEA says: Put on more programming and there will be more consumer demand for more sets with tuners.

Broadcasters say we need copy-protection technology (the "broadcast flag") before we start delivering all our content in easily-pirated digital form.

CEA responds: the FCC has no jurisdiction over post-transmission technology (a federal court agrees), arguing the flag would threaten fair-use copying and digital innovation.