TCI May Deny HDTV to Its Subscribers

The Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) this week expressed concern over cable provider TCI's plans to transmit only signals that fall below the threshold of HDTV.

"Manufacturers and broadcasters have committed to bringing Americans the astounding picture resolution of HDTV," explained CEMA President Gary Shapiro while speaking to the National Association of Television Production Executives (NATPE) in New Orleans. "But now TCI's 14 million customers may never have the chance to see it. This is a huge tragedy for the American consumer."

TCI's recent announcements indicate its intention to downconvert broadcaster transmission of 1080 interlace (1080i) HDTV and pass it on to its subscribers in the much-lower-resolution 480 progressive (480p) format. That means a high-definition 1080i signal is not compatible with this system and must be downconverted to the 480p format. Under these circumstances, viewers may suffer a loss of over 80% of their spatial resolution.

"This highlights the importance of the FCC's upcoming must-carry proceeding," continued Shapiro. "The FCC must ensure that if broadcasters transmit programming in high-definition, cable companies are required to pass the programming through to the consumer in the same manner. Otherwise, cable subscribers will be involuntarily downconverted to a picture resolution no better than today's TV."

Television receiver manufacturers have established digital television definitions that do not include the low-resolution 480p format as HDTV. "Any effort to label 480p as true HDTV is an attempt to fool American consumers, who want the highest level of resolution they can get. HDTV could have a wonderful future, but it won't if Americans aren't allowed to see it," Shapiro concluded.