Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why 3/1/07 Will Be A Milestone Day In The Transition

Most of us know that we are coming up on a significant date - on 2/17/07, it will be only two years until the scheduled end of analog broadcasting. However, there is another "end of analog" date coming in less than a month, one that has a far more immediate effect on the transition.

On this coming March 1st, the second phase of the digital tuner mandate kicks in, and the analog (or more precisely the analog-only) TV set officially becomes a thing of the past. On that date, all new sets that have an analog tuner must also have a digital tuner - only monitors are exempt. And not only TV sets are covered - anything else with an analog tuner (even VCRs) has to have a digital tuner as well. When the first phase of the tuner mandate (for sets 25" and up) went into effect on March 1st of last year, it immediately gave digital sets the sales lead over analog, and analog sets in that size range were listed as closeouts immediately, and gone from the stores (or at least the weekly circulars) within a couple of weeks. This time the wave of change will come crashing into the lower end of the market, changing forever the small (including portable) TVs that populate kids' rooms, kitchens and convenience stores all over this country.

While coverage of the recent CES understandably focused on everyone's biggest and best introductions, I personally would have liked to have seen what manufacturers are doing to meet this new situation. Of course, it's possible that they didn't consider these products sexy enough to publicize.

All of this does raise some questions:

* How much will prices have to be raised? Will the target audience for small sets see them as worth the price?

* Will the screen shape stay the same, or (as with portable DVD players), will they be widescreen? A small 4:3 screen whose image area must be further reduced by letterboxing (to properly display digital channels) may not go over all that well.

* Will some products be forced from the market altogether? Will it still make economic sense to make something like the VCR?

The answers will be worth paying attention to, as a segment of the market that may not have had much to do with DTV in the past will be introduced to it now, thus possibly giving an early indication as to how the broader public may react on 2/17/09.

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