Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No Component or HD signals in your ATSC STB if you use a Government Voucher

Like many TV/RF nerds, I have been closely following the FTC's decision to disable all analog television broadcasts on February 17th, 2009. This is good news not only for cellular companies (who eagerly snatch up the newly available licensed frequencies), but home theater aficionados who can expect any lazy OTA analog TV stations to get on the bandwagon and begin broadcasting ATSC signals.
Of course along with the switchover comes the question of what will happen to the 15% of US television watching households who get some portion of their tube-entertainment from the airwaves, and likely using an analog television set no less.
To ease the 'pain' of the switchover, the US government earlier this year decided to take a portion of the money recieved from the frequency auctions and place it into the Digital
Television Transition and Public Safety Fund. This fund is devoted to helping Americans switch from watching analog broadcasts to digital ones. The majority of that money will be spent in giving every American household two vouchers for $40 off the price of a digital analog set-top box.
The NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Administration) today released their recommendations and requirements for qualifying set-top boxes (which will be following referred to as STBs).
I was skimming through it, and it all seemed reasonable until I reached the section of the document concerning video outputs.
In addition to requiring RF and composite output, the specification allows for S-video output to be included. It does restrict the following items from being included as outputs for the STB:

"Digital Video Interface (DVI);
Component video (YPbPr);
High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI);
Computer video (VGA);
USB IEEE-1394 (iLink or Firewire)
Ethernet (IEEE-802.3)
Wireless (IEEE0802.11)"

The reasoning behind these restrictions are that the device is only supposed to replicate the current functioning of analog televisions using ATSC digital signals.
While I understand that reasoning, I disagree with their restriction. If that were true, shouldn't S-Video be restricted as well? I completely agree with not allowing US consumers to use their $40 voucher for a $500 HD Tivo-DVR, I was under the assumption that after January 1st, 2008 (which is when the program starts) I could immediately purchase a decent HD-tuner STB, with component, VGA, and optical audio output. This unneccessary restriction of the quality of the signal is disappointing. Why not put all of the above connections into the "Optional" column?

DVT Coupon Final Rules; NTIA

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