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Converter Boxes, Etc.

January 27, 2008

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) had its converter box pep rally for its government "partners" on Thursday. Upwards of 50 Federal civil servants representing fifteen or so agencies were in attendance. Given that they only had an hour to get anything done . . .

NTIA announced that two million applications for more than 3.7 million coupons have been requested to date. That's a lot of coupons waiting to be sent out and redeemed.

We now have a better idea when this might happen. In a letter to FCC Chairman Martin dated January 19, Best Buy said it would "make coupon-eligible TV Converters available for purchase in our stores, and to accept consumer Coupons in mid-February when the first Coupons are mailed."

This is a change from their earlier statements that they would not be ready until near April 1.

A welcome change, for sure. The main purpose of the letter was to lay out Best Buy's efforts of educate the public about the transition (the ex parte letter was submitted to the FCC Consumer Education Initiative docket, no doubt to persuade the FCC that the TV industry has consumer education well in hand without the need for government mandates).

Best Buy will have its own Insignia brand converter boxes on the shelves as well as (we hope) a good selection of the other more than 30 boxes that have been certified by the government as coupon-eligible.

Included in the list are at least a couple that have been priced at $40, making them free with the coupon.

Jasco has a couple of boxes under the GE brand name for $50 and $60, the latter having a smart antenna interface. The box (shown) is not the usual box-shape, but with so many different models out, anything to differentiate will be a plus for sales.

The GE "smart" antenna has three separate elements and will retail for $50 (MSRP).

Dan Ramer at posted an article last Wednesday on the definition of high definition that referenced an article by George Ou at It's another reminder that when people tell you their programming is "high definition," you had better not take them at their word.

The article includes a table that presents the actual resolution and bit rates for the "high definition" programming from various sources.

This is some of what the table showed (edited by me):

Blu-ray1920 x 1080up to 40 mbps
HD-DVD1920 x 1080up to 28 mbps
CBS, NBC broadcast1920 x 1080up to 19 mbps*
ABC, Fox broadcast1280 x 720up to 19 mbps*
* assumes no simultaneous subchannels being broadcast (ha!)
Digital cable1920 x 1080up to 16 mbps
Dish HD1440 x 1080less than 10 mbps
DirecTV HD1280 x 1080less than 10 mbps
Apple iTunes HD1280 x 7204 mbps

As Dan discusses in detail in his article, low bit rates destroy detail.

Finally, the cable industry is taking the FCC to court again. They apparently were not happy with the FCC ruling that banned sweetheart deals between cable companies and apartment managers that left tenants with no choice except to get their programming from the incumbent cable provider.

Er, isn't that a monopoly?

The apartment owners association joined in the suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. I guess the apartment management get a piece of the action. Could that be called a "kickback"?

And we wonder why cable rates are so high.

Until next week . . .

Not next week, but the Senate Commerce Committee has now joined the House in scheduling another hearing on the DTV transition. The House hearing is on February 13; the Senate has its hearing on the 14th - "One Year to the DTV Transition: Consumers, Broadcasters, and Converter Boxes."