WASHINGTON — The first generation of high-definition television sets won’t be able to display cable-delivered HDTV programming, and Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to know why.
In a letter to Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Assn. president Gary Shapiro, McCain notes that the first HDTV sets, costing upward of $7,000, will not have the ability to connect to cablers’ digital set-top boxes. Without that connection, the pricey sets will not be able to display cable-delivered HDTV. Among HDTV’s early programming highlights are high definition services offered by HBO and Discovery.
McCain writes that the absence of a connecting jack between the cabler’s set-top box and the first generation of HDTV sets is “a major obstacle to the public’s acceptance of DTV and will serve to create consumer confusion about what their new digital receiver can or cannot do.”
The cable industry and TV makers are still working out a technical standard, according to testimony at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last week. They hope to resolve it quickly but not in time for the fall roll-out of the first digital televisions.
Without cable, HDTV viewers will have to rely on the over-the-air signals of a handful of local high-definition stations. But preliminary tests have shown that digital signals delivered via antenna work only about 40% of the time.
In his letter, McCain notes that since close to 70% of the U.S. watches television via cable, failure to resolve the technical standard could create a serious roadblock in the rollout of digital TV. “I would be concerned that problems of this nature could also lead to a long-term lack of consumer confidence which could jeopardize a successful transition (to digital television service) indefinitely,” wrote McCain.
CEMA officials, who are attending a conference on digital television in Dallas this week, were unavailable at press time.