DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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Consumer Labels Here Yet? Field Trip!

August 1, 2006

I was really excited to read in an FCC docket a couple of months ago that Panasonic, as part of a voluntary industry program, was going to put consumer warning labels on its small analog-only TVs.

On March 29, 2006, Panasonic representatives met in three separate meetings with high level FCC officials and many other staffers to discuss issues of interest (mostly CableCARD concerns). But right away Panasonic "conveyed its appreciation for the FCC's DTV transition efforts, and emphasized Panasonic's continuing support of the DTV transition."

I mean, these are very important people: Paul Liao (Chief Technology Officer & President, Panasonic Technologies), Peter Fannon (Vice President, Technology Policy, Government & Regulation), and Paul Schomburg (Senior Manager, Government & Public Affairs) of Panasonic Corporation of North America.

They explained that as part of their support for the transition, Panasonic "is supporting the voluntary labeling program developed by the Consumer Electronics Association ("CEA") for analog-only TVs. In accordance with this program, Panasonic will add the following labeling to cartons no later than June 30, 2006, and to TV sets no later than July 30, 2006, which have a screen size less than 25 inches without an ATSC tuner. . ." (labels telling consumers that analog-only TVs will not be able to receive TV broadcasts after the end of the DTV transition)

I thought, if Panasonic was going to display the warning labels, then maybe (hopefully) other manufacturers would also join the industry's voluntary labeling program (promised to government policy makers to head off mandatory requirements).

Since I would not be able to inspect the cartons, I decided to wait until after July 30 to make another field trip to my local big box electronics stores.
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So what did I find? Were there warning labels on Panasonic's small analog-only TVs?

Well, not exactly. Because there were no Panasonic analog-only TVs under 25". And, mind you, none with digital tuners either. Actually, no Panasonic TVs under 25" at all.

So back at home I looked up Panasonic's web site, and clicked on the TV section labeled 14" - 27". There were three TVs.

Two were 27" TVs with requisite digital tuners (being 25" or larger, and therefore required to have them), and one 23" widescreen LCD monitor, that is, a video display device with no tuners at all--analog or digital. When I clicked on the "Technical Specs" button for this set to confirm resolution and lack of tuners, I got nothing (just a repeat of "Overview").

Nothing else.

So I suppose it was easy for the Panasonic folks to make the labeling commitment to the FCC, seeing as how there would be no TVs to label. I'm assuming that at the end of March, those Panasonic executives might have known that they were going to discontinue all of their analog-only TVs (a good thing) by July. Maybe they didn't.

But if they did, seems that they should have mentioned that to the FCC by way of clarification.

Anyway, back to the voluntary industry labeling program and Best Buy and Circuit City. What did I find?

No warning labels on analog-only TVs (rows of them) and no warning signs anywhere near them. Period.

But some good news also.

While there were no small widescreen digital CRT TVs to be found, there were quite a few small HD-Ready (no digital tuner) widescreen LCD TVs on display. A big change from my last trip.

It would seem that the industry is going to do away with small CRT direct-view sets in favor of LCD TVs, following the way of computer monitors. And the prices weren't too bad, although I still can't figure out why they don't throw in a digital tuner (they're cheap now, and small).

The Consumer Electronics Association has been disrespecting people still getting their TV over-the-air for years now, encouraging everyone to get on the bandwagon of cable or satellite. I guess their members do make cable and satellite boxes. . .

Anyway, back on point . . .

Circuit City had small widescreen LCD "HD-Ready" TVs: 23" sets by Samsung and LG, 20" by Magnavox and Sharp, and one 19" model by Polaroid.

Best Buy had 20" sets from Magnavox and Toshiba, and a 17" Magnavox widescreen LCD monitor for $332.

And there was finally a small widescreen LCD HDTV, with a built-in digital tuner! Sony has just introduced that new 23" set, the first digital widescreen TV I've seen under 25".