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One Month After the Analog Ban: Some Good & Some Bad

April 1, 2007

Unfortunately, this is no April Fool story.

The ban* on analog-only TVs is one month old now and we're starting to see results--some. As you may remember, on March 1 the small** analog TV line-up in the big box electronic stores looked about the same as it had before the ban. (*the ban is on the import or transport across state lines of analog-only TVs, not on the sale of them per se, and **small = smaller than 25", the ban on analog-only TVs 25" and larger was March 1, 2006 -- last year)

Depending on what store you visit now, there is still little change or there is a dramatic change. Here's what I found on my little tour today.

First stop--Circuit City. Inside the store I found the same rows of small analog sets I remembered from last month. All in all, I counted 35 models TVs without a digital tuner. Of those, more than twenty were CRT 4:3 sets, the rest were widescreen and 4:3 LCD TVs.

There were a few small widescreen LCD TVs with digital tuners in a different section of the store than the CRT sets.

When as salesperson asked if I needed any help, I commented on the large numbers of analog TVs. He said they were digital. I pointed to one of the labels which had no indication of a digital tuner, just NTSC (that set did have a digital comb filter, but that's not quite the same as an ATSC tuner). He seemed flustered for a few moments, started looking at the other TVs and seeing only "built-in NTSC tuner," showed me a 27" set that was digital, saying he must have been thinking of that one.

I reminded him that the requirement for digital tuners in sets 25" and larger dated from more than a year ago, and it was only the smaller sets that the more recent prohibition applied to. If he knew anything about the transition, he wasn't letting on, and they did have all of those analog TVs left to sell.

No signs anywhere educating the consumer about the upcoming end of the transition. I'm assuming that with their concern about confusing the consumer with untimely information about the transition to digital, they might have been worried about having digital sets displayed next to analog sets. That of course would raise the inevitable consumer question - What's the difference? and then they would have to explain. I guess better to sell all the analog sets first and then bring out the digital ones.

Then it was on to Best Buy and their small TV section. HUGE difference!

There were just a few (say, three or four) analog-only CRT 4:3 TVs there now, on clearance or open-box.

More surprising, there was a row of new-model digital CRT TVs smaller than 25". Granted, they had 4:3 screens, but they also had ATSC tuners! So these new small digital TVs DO EXIST now and are on the market, if a retailer chooses to sell them.

I wasn't specifically looking for prices, but I do remember that $199 was typical (23" or 25").

Next I went to Sears. Hadn't been there in a long time. Sears was clearly in the Circuit City mindset.

I counted 23 analog-only TVs smaller than 25" and NONE that had a digital tuner. No signs about the transition to a digital TV standard, and of course no labels on the TVs themselves (how silly of me to even mention it).

So I guess another field trip is in order for May 1. Eventually they'll have to run out of their analog stocks; then we'll be looking for the converter boxes.