Industry Roundup

Chips galore: ATI Technologies Inc. announced December 20 that in 2004 its digital television division shipped more than five million chips for high-definition TVs, HD cable and terrestrial set-top boxes. ATI's "NXT Theater" and "Xilleon" chips are claimed to "enable consumer electronics manufacturers to create a wide variety of products that feature exceptional reception and video display performance," according to the announcement. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that purchase ATI chips also "have access to ATI's extensive software support and reference designs to help them bring to market unique products that conform to worldwide industry standards." ATI Technologies will be exhibiting its DTV solutions at the upcoming International CES 2005 at booth 3/30342 at the South Hall, Upper Level, in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Internet boosts cable: High-speed hookups for computer users are taking up the slack created for cable providers by defections to satellite broadcasting, according to a December 22 report by John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable. Quoting recent statistics released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Eggerton notes that "for the first six months of 2004 high-speed cable modem service was up 2.2 million connections, or 13%, over the preceding six months—from 16.4 million to 18.6 million." The increase in cable broadband hookups for the 12 months ending June 30 2004 was 39% over the previous 12 months.

Boxing with the FCC: The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is pushing the FCC to drop a rule that would "require cable operators to stop providing set-top boxes that combine both security and channel-surfing functions," according to the December 21 Broadcasting & Cable. The rule, to go into effect in July 2006, supposedly encourages the retail market in cable converters with new interactive features. The trade association claims that a flood of new boxes with new features will cost consumers more than they pay now. More than 140 different models of set-top converter boxes are now available.

Say what? A recent study by a firm called "BIGresearch" finds that multi-tasking is a growing trend that is taking people away from their TVs. The latest "Simultaneous Media Usage Survey" found that when watching TV, 66.3% of viewers "regularly or occasionally" read their mail; 60.1% regularly or occasionally go online; 55.0% regularly or occasionally read newspapers; and 51.8% regularly or occasionally read magazines.

DTV vote delay: FCC Chairman Michael Powell will probably postpone until early next year a vote on his plan to complete the transition to a fully-digital television system by January 2009, according to reports from Washington. Big content providers such as Walt Disney Company, parent company of ABC, have pushed for delays in the transition, claiming that consumers aren't ready for it. Public safety organizations would like to see the process completed as soon as possible because it would free broadcast spectrum for emergency wireless services. Powell had reportedly wanted to hold a vote on the issue December 15.

Chinese DTV: Mainland China's push for a proprietary national digital television standard may be doomed, according to a December 23 report from Dow Jones Newswires. A 2003 deadline for workable standards came and went; China may instead adopt an "international standard" by default. A similar proposal for proprietary standards for wireless computer networks died "after loud protests from foreign companies," the report noted, adding that adopting an international DTV standard will prevent the giant Asian nation from "reinventing the wheel."

A plasma most popular: A 42"-diagonal extended definition (ED) plasma display (PDP) selling for $2000 was among the most desired techno-toys with US consumers headed into the winter holiday shopping season, according to a survey released December 16 by San Mateo, CA-based research firm IDC. The survey of 1200 potential TV buyers found that "price points are a key inhibitor of this market" and that "consumers are incredibly overwhelmed and confused about their digital TV options." Most consumers also want DTV setups to be far easier than they are today.