Consumer electronics manufacturers who
want to bring mobile digital TV receivers to market this year say those plans
remain on track, now that the FCC has waived a decades-old requirement to
include full analog TV reception capability in those devices.
TV and mobile phone manufacturer LG,
computer giant Dell and computer accessory supplier Hauppauge had petitioned
the FCC for a blanket waiver (applying not just to themselves but anyone else
making mobile DTV devices) from the requirements of the All-Channel Receiver
Act, the congressional directive that stemmed from Congress' 1962 mandate that
all TV sets had to include UHF tuners as a way to ensure access to those
channels. An additional DTV reception requirement to the Act was adopted in
2002 to spur the transition to digital by requiring all TV sets, after a
phase-in period, to be capable of receiving digital ATSC as well as analog NTSC
The FCC retained the analog tuner
mandate because it continued, and continues, to allow low-power Class A
stations to broadcast in analog, and digital TV sets today continue to be sold
with NTSC reception capability. But LG, Dell and Hauppauge, along with a number
of vendors and broadcasters who filed supporting comments to the FCC, argued
that including analog tuners in new mobile DTV receiver devices such as cell
phones, PDAs, laptops, netbooks, dongles and car receivers would add
unnecessary heft and cost, drain their power more quickly and potentially even
hinder mobile DTV reception itself.
"Once you put analog in, you bump up
the power consumption, size and the cost quite a bit," says Hauppauge CEO Ken
Plotkin. "Analog adds somewhere around 50% to the manufacturing cost of the
LG pointed out to the Commission that
supporting analog reception would require a mobile DTV device to split, and
thus, weaken the signal, which could negatively impact mobile DTV reception.
Another concern with including analog reception, according to Dell technology
strategist James Clardy, was that the extra scan time required by the analog
tuner would hamper the overall user experience with small, mobile devices like
smartphones that are inherently ill-suited to receive low-powered analog
broadcasts because of their diminutive antennas.
"By and large, it would be a waste of
time," says Clardy, who notes that "consumer demand for analog is nil" in the
The FCC appears to agree. Last month,
its Media Bureau acting on its own authority--the commissioners did not
vote--concluded that granting the blanket waiver was in the public interest
because "it would facilitate the introduction of television receivers with
Mobile DTV tuners that are designed to be used in motion."
"It was good news, and I applaud the
Commission for moving so quickly through the process," says LG VP of Government
Affairs John Taylor. "It gives the clarity and certainty that manufacturers
need to move forward with rollout plans for the second half."
LG still plans to release a portable
DVD player with mobile DTV reception capability this year, as previously
announced. The company doesn't have a firm launch date yet for the product, but
it should hit stores in time for the holiday selling season, says Taylor.
The limitations on the waiver are that
the devices have to be designed to be portable and capable of receiving mobile
DTV signals while on the move, and that their manufacturers and retailers need
to clearly indicate to consumers that the devices are not capable of receiving
analog TV, through both packaging and in-store displays. Mobile DTV receivers
do not have to also include conventional DTV reception capability, but if they
don't, their packaging also has to clearly communicate to the consumer that
they can't receive normal DTV signals.
For their part, both Hauppauge and Dell
plan devices that will include both mobile DTV and conventional DTV reception
capability, mainly because they don't believe there will be enough mobile DTV
signals available in the near-term to make a mobile DTV-only product viable.
Hauppauge already makes $99 USB
dongle-type receivers that can receive both analog and digital TV signals and
plans to launch a similar product for mobile DTV this fall.
Now that the FCC has waived the analog
requirement, Hauppauge plans a device for laptop computers that will receive
both mobile DTV (formally the ATSC A/153 standard) and conventional DTV (ATSC
A/53). Plotkin says the device will probably launch in early November, in time
for the holiday shopping season, and retail for around $59.
Dell had initially planned to introduce
a netbook with mobile DTV capability this fall, but pushed back those plans due
to uncertainty over broadcasters' mobile DTV current plans (while a number of
large groups have formed a joint venture to create a mobile DTV programming service,
they haven't formally revealed their business plan). Now, it plans to release in
the spring of 2011 netbooks and laptops with built-in mobile DTV receivers
(Hauppauge is supplying the technology on an OEM basis), as well as
conventional DTV capability.
"We're very excited about
the progress [among broadcasters]," says Clardy. "But when you add up the story
of what's on-air today and what's committed on-air for consumption, it's not a
good enough story to take to the big-box retailers yet."