NAB/MSTV Tout Digital Dozen


The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), a broadcast spectrum group, say they have received a dozen quotes from consumer-electronics firms for a digital-to-analog converter box.

The deadline was July 29.

NAB/MSTV did not identify the companies, saying they had promised them confidentiality. But MSTV President David Donovan said they included "some of the largest consumer-electronics companies in the world."

That would have to include some members of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), whose officials were not pleased when the request was issued.

Donovan also said the groups planned to have completed their review of the proposals by around Labor Day. NAB/MSTV want a prototype for a box by the end of the year.

The request for quotes was issued in June. Following much talk in Congress about the cost of converting to digital and of subsidizing analog-only viewers, the two associations said they would start taking an active role in developing a low-cost analog-to-digital converter box.

There is more than technology at play, however.

NAB and the Consumer Electronics Association 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 some variation of public loggerheads ever since. However, Donovan says he is looking forward to working with consumer electronics companies on the new box.
The June announcement continued that war, seeming to imply that CEA members would need some guidance from broadcasters to insure they could produce low-cost devices that also worked well. CEA certainly saw it as a slap. "It's ridiculous," said Michael Petricone, VP, technology policy for CEA, when the RFQ was issued. "They are making up an issue where no issue exists."

Donovan said Monday that the issue is very real and that broadcasters' self interest is tied to functioning and affordable boxes for over 20 million analog-only  viewers.

"The issue is balancing price and high quality. Congresss has certain expectations about cost and we want to make sure these things work, and work well."

He would not comment on what those cost expectations were, but numbers from $40 to $120 per box have been kicked around on the Hill, with $50-$70 the favorite range--though even lower would be favored heavily by legislators who see cutting off analog service as a potential new third rail of politics.

Many consider the digital switch to be political poison for both the TV industry and Washington, particularly if analog television consumers are left without a low-cost or no-cost alternative to digital.