Feds, Retail Tackling DTV Transition13 Feb, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel
With more than 40 million U.S. households receiving over-the-air analog signals, getting a digital converter box or HDTV will not guarantee that a sizable percentage of 117 million TV sets won't go dark when broadcasters switch to digital transmissions Feb. 17, 2009, according to a new study.
The study by Centris, a New York-based research firm,said weak broadcast signals or inadequate rooftop antennas could hinder digital coverage regardless of HDTV or presence of a converter box.
The report found little continuous coverage for homes beyond a 35-mile radius of TV transmission towers. As a result, households at lower levels, surrounded by trees or using set-top box antennas (rabbit ears) are susceptible to not receiving an over-the-air digital signal.
“We predict that digital TV signal coverage will be more limited than currently anticipated,” said Centris EVP David Klein.
Centris found that 45% of respondents were unaware of the transition to digital, and only 56% knew when it would take place.
To help alleviate confusion, Circuit City Stores Inc. said it would begin a yearlong in-store consumer education campaign that includes a live Web forum hosted by Sound & Vision magazine (www.soundandvisionmag.com).
In addition, the federal government is offering affected consumers (www.dtv2009.gov), until supplies last, a $40 discount card toward the purchase of a digital converter set-top box.
Lawmakers involved in the $1.5 billion coupon program are considering extending the 90-day window consumers receiving cards have to purchase a converter box.
“This is an effort to protect consumers from being locked out of the process due to circumstances they cannot control,” said a government spokesperson.
Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City said it will sell the boxes for $59.99. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Inc. also will stock the devices, priced from $40 to $70.
Regardless, Centris' Klein said getting a box wouldn't guarantee receiving a digital signal.
“Consumers are being urged to purchase equipment that may or may not work when they bring it home,” he said. “The reality is, if consumers want guaranteed free TV, they will have to pay for it [with cable].”