The Nightstar Zoo

Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.
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Author:  bizzybody [ Thu May 22, 2008 9:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.

The comments on the Final Rule for the configuration of the $40 coupon eligible ATSC converter boxes is interesting reading.

If you've wondered why none of the ones you can use the coupons on have any digital outputs or analog component output, blame Funai. (54) S-Video output is permitted but not required.

KTech made sure to clarify that an external power input would be required, since it wasn't specifically mentioned in the draft rule. (92) Hello? DUH! It's an electronic device intended for connection to television receivers that run on AC power. Bleedin' obvious they'd need an external power input. For once common sense was applied, only to have it questioned.

Why do they all come with batteries for the remote, if they have a remote, which is not required by the Final Rule? Ask NCAM. (69) and (70).

I could've written a much simpler Final Rule.

"The NTIA TV Converter Box Coupons shall be eligible for use to purchase any equipment with an ATSC tuner so long as said equipment includes a coaxial output, a composite analog video output and stereo analog audio output capable of switching to mono.
Eligible equipment shall receive ALL digital video, audio and other data broadcast and convert it to be displayable by analog only NTSC television receivers.
Eligible equipment shall NOT include an integrated television video display.
All other features to be included or excluded are at the manufacturer's discretion.
Manufacturers may include or exclude any equipment conforming to the above, but once included in the NTIA program, may not be excluded except by discontinuation of production."

That would cover everything from the el-cheapo boxes that are eligible to use the coupons on, to VCRs and DVD players with ATSC tuners, to high end HDTV tuners with USB, IEEE-1394, memory card slots, DVI, HDMI and everything else you can think of, as long as it has the analog outputs to connect to a boring old analog telly. I doubt there's much market for the high end units because HD monitors without a built in tuner were never very common.

The cheap boxes have been selling like crazy. The local Wal*Mart has sold somewhere north of 1,000 of them just this month. When they get a shipment in, they're gone in a couple of hours. It's a 20+ mile drive to that store and the only time I saw them in stock I'd left my coupons at home. The Bi-Mart company only ordered 600 to spread amongst all their stores (because they didn't think they'd sell very well) and has been doling them out five at a time to each store, despite the demand they have yet to order a new batch. Other than Wally World or driving 75+ miles to Boise, they're the only bricks and mortar store selling the boxes and participating in the coupon program in this area.

Author:  zippthorne [ Sat May 31, 2008 8:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.

That's curious. Why would they want to specifically exclude certain outputs from existing on coupon eligible devices?

And even more curious, why *not* let them apply to new television sets?

Author:  bizzybody [ Sun Jun 01, 2008 1:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.

The official rationale for the $40 coupon program is to provide "lifeline" free broadcast television continuance for the folks who only have ye olde analog 4:3 aspect ratio televisions.

Anything more than that, which means any resolution above 640x480 output through an analog RF, RCA or S-video port, is a "luxury" and thus should not be subsidized by the government. The CECB units all support displaying widescreen HD programming scaled down to 640x480 'letterbox' and can 'zoom' into the center of the widescreen program.

One of the most common CECB units right now is the RCA DTA800(B). It has pads on the board and a few components missing for an S-Video output. I'm waiting for someone to figure out exactly what's required for this hack. (Can't be near as complicated as the ADB port hack for the original iMac!) It also has a 5 pin internal header, which could be some type of serial port for programming the flash RAM chip. The box essentially consists of a Broadcom ATSC tuner/converter chip, I/O ports, flash RAM chip and a few bits of glue logic. The power supply is a separate board, connected via a 4-pin 0.1" spacing header. Yoink the PSU board and connect 12VDC for mobile digital TV.

If you look closely, most HD broadcast programs keep things like network 'bugs', captions, text scrollers etc. within the 4:3 "TV Safe" zone. That's so they can simply crop the same feed to send out on SD digital broadcast channels or for people with an SDTV reciever (like a CECB) to zoom to the center without losing such things.

FOX shows like "American Idol" (ick) often use "fillerbox" graphics to bracket the sides of 4:3 video clips on the HD broadcasts.

Eventually 4:3 SDTV sets will become a minority of televisions in the US and such gimmicks to accommodate them will begin to go away. From people I know who shoot video for commercial use, many companies (like Discovery Communications) have a policy that except for historical/archival video, all they will accept is HD resolution.

Author:  zippthorne [ Wed Jun 04, 2008 1:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.

It's kind of a dumb argument, though. Since because of the bandwidth sale, they're removing functionality from *everybody*. The coupons shouldn't be considered a "stopgap" to accomodate "the poor." They should be considered the price to buy all that utility freeing up the spectrum for sale. If they can't sell the spectrum for enough to cover the price of buying everyone out, maybe they shouldn't have decided to do that.

Besides, "the poor" have to replace there TVs from time to time, too. $40 would make a big dent out of some of the smaller sets.

side note: I'm really not a fan of the current DTV spec. It's digital now, so they ought to include things like pan-coordinates (for 4:3 sets), and the network "bug" should be a high-quality graphic downloaded periodically during the show and overlaid by the receiver. aaaand subtitles should also be sent in a text-stream and overlaid OVER the "annoying ad for other stuff on this channel" Very little is more annoying while watching a program than missing crucial foreign language dialog because they decided to scroll an ad for the very show i'm watching over it.

Author:  bizzybody [ Wed Jun 04, 2008 4:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.

Read the commentary on the 'final rule'. Some companies seem to have been wanting broader eligibility of products for the coupons while others, like Funai, campaigned for even less capability than was finally agreed upon. Some would've preferred that only one RF in and one RF out be allowed.

I suspect that those who pushed for the limitations saw the CECB specification as a dirt cheap unit which would cut into their sales of video electronics with more features. It's the same stupidity that Apple used to convince itself to severely cripple the IIsi, the LC and LC II and the MacTV.

Allowing the $40 coupons to be used on anything with an ATSC tuner would NOT have cut sales of higher end equipment. For some people that extra $40 discount would be the tip between buying a cheaper TV or going for the more expensive model.

What is going to become a problem over the next few years is recycling the millions of old CRT televisions as people replace them with flatscreens with built in ATSC tuners.

Author:  zippthorne [ Thu Jun 12, 2008 6:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Digital TV converters, so simple, so complicated.

Sadly, that's NOT going to be the problem. Those CRTs aren't going to be recycled at all.

The problem is that absolutely zero effort has been made to make people aware that they are hazardous waste, and no accommodation is being made to facilitate their recycling.

My local "transfer station" has a pile for scrap, a tub for oil, and bins for cardboard and plastic and glass. But electronics waste is a poorly advertised three-times-yearly special event, and CFLs aren't even separated. I actually asked the guy, he said they had a "special exemption." Was a small box too much for them?

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