Digital day dawns

FCC's Kennard sets date for TV conversion

WASHINGTON — FCC Chairman Bill Kennard has set an informal deadline of Nov. 1, 1999, for TV set makers to begin producing television sets that can display a digital picture delivered via cable.

Kennard’s concern stems from the fact that cablers and TV makers are still struggling to come up with a standard that will allow digital sets to hook up to cable’s digital set-top boxes. Without cable, the debut of digital television could be crippled. A recent test in Washington found that only about 40% of the homes could pick up a digital picture with a set-top antenna.

Uniform standard

In a letter to the heads of both the National Cable Television Assn. and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Assn., Kennard said he wanted a standard agreed to by Nov. 1, 1998, and that he also wanted the first sets implementing the new agreement rolling off the assembly line by Nov. 1, 1999.

Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Assn. prexy Gary Shapiro said Kennard had set a “very aggressive timetable” but added “we hope to meet the deadline.”

The FCC is particularly interested in clearing up all the glitches by Nov. 1, 1999, because that is when the ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX affiliates in the top 30 markets must begin transmitting a digital signal. Kennard is worried that the launch of digital television services could be jeopardized if the compatibility issues are not resolved quickly.

About two dozen stations are expected to launch the first commercial HDTV signals on Nov. 1. The first sets are expected to reach stores this fall and they will carry still price tags ranging from $4,000 to $8,000.

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