Thomson and Korean consumer electronics giant LG Electronics have each been tapped by broadcasters to create a prototype digital-to-analog converter box.
The box will allow viewers with analog sets to receive over-the-air digital signals after the analog signal has been turned off, most likely sometime in 2009.
The National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) co-funded the effort, and evaluated more than a dozen proposed boxes in a search that began June 20.
There are currently 21 million analog-only homes and 73 million analog-only sets. That number should go down by 2009, but there are still anticipated to be many millions of viewers who will need the converters.
"Developing a high-quality, low-cost converter box ensures that all Americans will be able to receive emergency information and their favorite TV shows," said MSTV President David Donovan.
Earlier this month, at the request of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Korean Electronics powerhouse LG demonstrated its prototype on Capitol Hill Thursday.
LG has said it would sell for about $50—in the low range of recent handicapping for the price of the box—assuming "volume in the millions of units."
Congress is expected to pay for many, if not all, of those converters to ease the transition and to prevent a backlash at the ballot box if viewers were suddenly unable to receive over-the-air TV.
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.
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.
The June announcement continued that war, seeming to imply that CEA members would need some guidance from broadcasters to ensure 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."
At an MSTV conference Wednesday, broadcasters agreed that a public education campaign was crucial, and lamented the absence of a concerted push by all the players, including the consumer-electronics industry and retailers.