'Early Show' Clear on HDTV, Fuzzy on DTV

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With the transition to digital broadcasting only 15 months away, legislators have been pushing broadcasters to make sure viewers get the information they need. And consumer advocates are keeping an eye on makers of high-definition TV sets to ensure they don't exploit the transition to “up-sell” viewers on pricey HDTV sets they don't need.

So let's hope they caught the “Hot Holiday TVs” segment on the Nov. 13 broadcast of CBS' Early Show, in which anchor Harry Smith interviewed David Gregg, senior editor of Behindthebuy.com, a Website for “non-techie, time starved, curious consumers.”

“In 2009, the television world is going all digital,” Smith begins. “That means you don't have much time to replace your TV with the rabbit ears.” So far, so good.

But as the two stand beside a quaint little rabbit-eared Sony, Gregg, an Early Show and shopping channel regular, proceeds to explain that “in 2009, the federal government, the FCC, has mandated that all commercially licensed broadcast stations are now required to broadcast in high-definition.”

“Wow!” Smith responds. The correct response, however, would've been, “Come again?” That's because the federally mandated transition requires the majority of broadcasters to broadcast in digital, not high-definition.

Gregg then explains that, “if you don't have an HDTV” after the transition, “you will need a converter box.”

Wrong again: Non-HDTV sets with a digital tuner can receive digital over-the-air signals just fine. It's the analog-only sets that need the converter box. And if you have digital cable, satellite or telco service, you're golden.

Gregg does get it right when he tries to explain the government voucher program for subsidizing those converter boxes. But Smith inexplicably laughs through the explanation before segueing into an on-set appraisal of several HDTVs ranging from $3,500 to “under $900.”

For what it's worth, a basic DTV set that'll work after February 2009 will set you back only a couple of hundred bucks.

At least one CBS viewer noted the problems with the segment and posted a response on CBSNews.com.

“Broadcasters will be required by the FCC to transmit in DIGITAL, not HD,” the viewer writes. “There is a big difference between the two. It would be like telling people that the law requires that you license your pet, when in fact they only need to license their dog.”

In an online response, Gregg acknowledges that the viewer's “observation about Digital TV signals is technically correct.” But he maintains that “the main objective of this segment was to address a possible TV purchase during the holidays” and that “using the term HD as a blanket reference to this digital broadcast changeover was intended to simplify an already confusing concept for most consumers to understand.”

The segment can be streamed at CBSNews.com, where the accompanying story provides the correct information on the transition. A CBS spokesperson says the network has no plans to broadcast an on-air clarification.

DVice Squad

Tech fans may have a new place to look up HD gadgetry.

On Nov. 27, Sci Fi Channel plans to relaunch its technology blog, Sci Fi Tech, as a standalone site called DVice. The site will mix consumer-focused reviews with an online show.

The show, also called DVice, will profile offbeat gadgets in normal situations (say, people on pogo-stick stilts jumping around Central Park) with normal gadgets in offbeat situations (like asking passersby whether one would look hotter with an iPhone or the new Palm).

Though not as popular as tech blogs such as Gizmodo and Engadget, Sci Fi Tech ranks 551 out of 112 million tech sites, according to blog ranking service Technorati. With a new broadband show and a push from the TV network, Sci Fi is hoping the relaunched site will become a force of its own.

The move fits into Sci Fi's efforts to grow its brand beyond the TV channel (it launched comic books earlier this year) and attract technology-oriented advertisers.

So, why no “e” in its name? “We wanted to stress the 'vice' aspect of technology,” says Craig Engler, senior VP of SciFi.com and Sci Fi Magazine. “It can be addicting—but in a good way.”

With John Eggerton and Anne Becker

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