Broadcasters Seek Specifics On Set-Tops

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Washington— Broadcasters want to find out whether the consumer-electronics industry can make good on promises to build low-cost, consumer friendly set-top boxes to keep analog TV sets working after the transition to digital-only transmission.

Key House and Senate lawmakers are talking about ending the transition on Dec. 31, 2008. Because the cutoff might orphan 73 million analog sets that rely exclusively on free, over-the-air broadcasting, TV stations are concerned about the impact on their business if the CE industry can't deliver the $50 box that some Capitol Hill lawmakers are expecting.

“A workable, low-cost converter box is vital to the success of the digital transition. This project demonstrates our commitment to move the process forward. I trust the consumer electronics industry will respond favorably and join us in developing this important technology,” National Association of Broadcasters CEO Eddie Fritts said in a statement.

Megan Pollock, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, called the set-top proposal “just a strategy of delay and confusion to keep all the spectrum.” After the transition, TV stations must yield their analog spectrum.

NAB, joined by the Association of Maximum Service Television, is planning to release a Request for Quote (RFQ) “shortly” as part of an effort to round up set-top proposals and have a prototype built by the end of the year.

MSTV president David Donovan added: “These converter boxes must be consumer friendly and most importantly, they must work well. Otherwise, consumers are likely to reject them.”

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