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Chris Llana, Editor


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Tying Up Some Loose Ends, or Not . . .

February 20, 2006

Well, the digital transition bill has become law and time has passed, and nobody in the government has stepped up and announced measures to ensure that the "transition" actually takes place (as opposed to falling off a cliff on February 17, 2009).

But as it turns out, at least a couple of people in the government have gone on record to reassure us that nothing is going to happen on their part.

1. Fred Upton is the Chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee (which is part of Joe Barton's Energy and Commerce Committee). Anyway, Upton has declared that no new digital TV transition legislation will make it through Congress in 2006.

Sounds like a promise, but to who?

Well, since several provisions were dropped from earlier transition bills (for example, requirements that TV manufacturers label their analog-only TV sets, and requirements that TV broadcasters make public service announcements about the transition), there might be concern within the industry that those provisions might be reintroduced.

Not to worry. A promise is a promise.

Upton did say that he might hold an "oversight" hearing this summer to check on industry progress (just to prove that he cares about consumers).

Item: Another government staffer has moved over to the ranks of industry lobbyists. This time it's one senior legislative assistant named Mike Mullen, who has been toiling away in Congress on digital TV transition legislation since early 2004. Now he works for the National Association of Broadcasters as director of government relations. I suppose they must have liked his government work.

2. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein is another champion of the American consumer. He recently promised FCC and industry collaboration to prepare the public for the end of analog broadcasts. Translation: the FCC will not impose any requirements for consumer education on the industry, but instead will let the industry take the lead. That's what they've been doing for years.

Enough of that.

More news about the introduction of high-definition DVDs. The HD-DVD camp is now expected to launch in April (or thereabouts) after an unfinished copy-protection standard threatened to delay that for a month or so.

Blu-ray Disc will follow a couple of months later.

We'll know how that works out in two or three months.

Word has it that the initial HD-DVD players to hit the market will have some limitations (the rush to market, you know). Some of these (interactive features) might later be remedied with firmware upgrades. Update: Toshiba is now saying that all interactive features will be functional from the beginning. (This is why I don't get too excited by every last newsbit about the DVD format wars. When they finally get here, we'll know.)

Also, while at least some of the more expensive Blu-ray Disc players will be able to output 1080p video, the first HD-DVD players will lack that capability (they will output 1080i). Seems to be a tradeoff between selling price and features; the Toshiba people seem to be looking to gain market share with cheap players. The BD people expect that early adopters will be willing to shell out the bucks for the ultimate picture quality.

More coming. . .