When is DTV Not DTV?

Late last week, the Consumer Electronics Association outlined steps it says are being taken by its Video Division Board to expand existing voluntary industry definitions for digital television. This follows a vote the previous week in which the CEA decided to futher define the technical requirements a television set must satisfy to be labeled "HDTV."

In explaining the move, CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro explains that "now that DTV is a market reality and consumers have access to a broad array of digital television products, we realize that the original definitions must be extended to address the full range of new products available to consumers. Our goal is to simplify the different levels of DTV products and provide manufacturers and consumers with uniform terminology to ensure that consumers can make informed DTV purchasing decisions."

CEA states that this latest effort, part of an ongoing process that began in June 1999, follows a Video Board vote in October 1999 reaffirming the definitions for digital television products originally issued in January 1998. Last week, the Video Board says, it agreed, in a resolution unanimously adopted by its members, that NTSC-only products (scanning frequency of 15.75kHz) should not be marketed as "having any particular DTV capability or attributes," allowing consumers to distinguish between analog and digital television products. The Board also embraced a new definition for audio products compatible with DTV (DTV-audio-ready).

The Board reports that it is developing additional definitions to describe the various performance levels of DTV and the component nature of products available. For example, HDTV will now apply only to sets that can deliver 1080i to a 16:9 screen. A technical working group has been appointed to make recommendations to assist the Video Division Board in developing these definitions. The industry expects to introduce additional terminology addressing these product offerings in 2000, and as other new DTV products are introduced into the marketplace.

Shapiro concludes, "as the industry develops, it is important for manufacturers and retailers to clearly communicate to consumers the features and benefits of new products. The additional definitions under development, along with a commitment from manufacturers to clearly label NTSC-only products, will provide consumers with terminology that makes sense and allows them to make smart purchasing decisions."