Will Box Shortage Mar DTV Transition?

TV station owners are worried that a lack of convertors may let analog sets fade to black after the transition to digital television.

The DTV transition sets an analog cutoff date of February 17, 2009. Digital-to-analog convertors that would keep old sets going are supposed to be available by January 1, 2008. But David Rehr, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, says the supply of set-top boxes may not meet the need.

"It is critical to our collective success that manufacturers build, and retailers have available for sale, digital-to-analog converter boxes" by the deadline date, said Rehr. Otherwise, "significant consumer confusion will result and could negatively impact the overall success of the transition."

Rehr related his concern in a letter to Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association. Shapiro has not yet responded, although it is safe to say CEA is determined that the DTV transition go as smoothly as possible.

Consumers who need the convertors can get $40 coupons to partly offset the cost from the National Telecommunications and Information Association, an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. The NTIA offers a fact sheet. Among the set-top boxes to be offered by manufacturers is the RCA DTA800.

It bears repeating that all this applies only to viewers who depend on over-the-air television broadcasting. Analog-set owners wholly dependent on cable or satellite would get the appropriate convertors from their local operators.

The NAB chief has also been rattling his saber at the cable industry, charging that cable operators may down-res high-def channels and fail to carry multicast channels altogether.