NAB Seeks Converter-Box Proposals


The National Association of Broadcasters and broadcast spectrum group Maximum Service Television Wednesday said they will take an active role in developing a low-cost analog-to-digital converter boxes.

NAB and the Consumer Electronics Industry have been in a war of words over the switch to digital. CEA has pushed a hard date, while NAB has argued that could disenfranchise viewers. At one point the two groups were planning to work together to promote the digital switch, but had a falling out and have been at loggerheads since.

Wednesday's announcement continued that war, implying that CEA members would need some guidance from broadcasters to insure they could produce low-cost devices that also worked well.

"In recent months there have been a number of manufacturers claiming they could build a low cost box. Low cost is critical, but not the only factor. These converter boxes must be consumer-friendly and most importantly they must work well," said NAB/MSTV.

CEA certainly saw it as a slap. "It's ridiculous," said Michael Petricone, VP, technology policy, for CEA. "They are making up an issue where no issue exists. All kinds of manufacturers say they are going to produce the boxes. It is just another in NAB's tactics of confusion and delay."

The switch to digital is considered by many to be political poison for the industry and Washington without a guarantee that come whatever deadline is set--it now looks like 2009--for the return of analog spectrum, anyone still relying on over-the-air reception to an analog set will have either a low-cost of no-cost (as in subsidized) analog-to-digital converter box that allows those sets to keep working.

Several manufacturers say they are ready to produce the boxes in high volume and at low cost--estimates have gone as low as $40-$50 dollars, but they are waiting for Washington to guarantee that volume in the form of a hard-date for the switch or a subsidized box program for the millions of low-income families, many minorities, that rely on analog-only.

NAB will be asking for quotes from consumer electronics manufacturers on the box. They want a prototype by the end of the year to serve as a blueprint for the boxes going forward.