B’casters seek digital TV standard from FCC

Set makers: Too early for restrictions

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission should clear up digital television’s currently cloudy picture by imposing a quality standard on digital TV sets, National Assn. of Broadcasters prexy Eddie Fritts said Monday.

“I implore the commission to set a standard for receivers,” Fritts said at the NAB’s Washington headquarters. “Receivers are not as good as they could be,” he emphasized.

In the meantime, set makers adamantly oppose the imposition of any standards by the FCC.

A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Assn. said Monday that it’s too soon to impose regulations or switch transmission standards.

Typically, said CEMA’s Michael Petricone, consumer devices get better with time.

“They will improve even as costs go down,” Petricone said, pointing out that as far as the trade group is aware, none of the 40,000 people who have purchased a digital television has returned one.

Serious glitch

In November, stations began rolling out the new technology only to discover a serious glitch not revealed by 10 years of research costing more than $500 million.

The high-tech TV sets cost more than $5,000 but have difficulty picking up signals unless they are attached to an antenna pointed directly at the station’s transmission tower.

It’s an embarrassing problem for broadcasters, and there is no hope of sweeping it under the rug because Sinclair Broadcasting is highlighting the deficiencies with regular demonstrations in Baltimore.

Standard comparison

Sinclair wants the U.S. to abandon its current transmission standard — known as 8VSB — for the technical standard adopted by Europe and Japan, known as COFDM. In side-by-side comparisons, Sinclair has demonstrated that COFDM provides a more robust signal.

The issue is important to Sinclair because it wants to use its digital spectrum to offer subscription services such as stock quotes and news updates to customers utilizing devices with the ability to receive an over-the-air signal.

But Sinclair worries that the 8VSB standard does not provide strong enough signals to penetrate buildings and urban canyons.

Apple and other computer makers are about to produce laptops with antennas that could provide a business opportunity for TV stations, but without an improvement in reception, broadcasters will not be able to exploit the new technology.

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