BERLIN – German pubcasters ARD and ZDF are planning to challenge media mogul Leo Kirch’s digital TV monopoly in Germany by offering digital television free of charge to anyone with a new, low-priced set-top box decoder.

To become a subscriber of Kirch’s pay TV digital channel DF1, launched in July, German consumers have to shell out nearly $600 plus installation fees for the decoder, and an additional $13-$33 a month in subscription fees.

But to receive ARD’s and ZDF’s digital programming, viewers will merely have to buy a decoder costing a little more than $300. The pubcasters will offer their programming in digital form at no extra cost.

At a press conference in Munich on Nov. 27, ARD and ZDF officials said that they have come up with a design for a lower-priced set-top box that is simpler than DF1’s D-Box decoder because it does not contain the conditional access system needed to unscramble signals for digital pay TV. Additional parts will be available to allow viewers to upgrade the new box to function as a pay TV decoder

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