Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Sunday Supplements (Tuner Mandate, Part 2)

This Sunday was March 25th, several weeks since the final phase of the FCC tuner mandate took effect, requiring new all TV sets (not just those larger than 24", as has been the case for the last year) to include a digital tuner (unless they have no tuner at all). How fast has the change percolated down to the retail level? While we have at least one report of an analog-free store, other data suggest that this story is not quite over.

Remember again that stores are allowed to sell their existing stock (the FCC order only addresses shipping and importation, not retail sales). Two weeks ago in part 1 of this report, I speculated that the prices of digital-tuner-equipped portables and other small sets might not be acceptable to their intended audience. We now have some pricing data (more about this next time), and for non-portables that doesn't seem to be much of an issue (we don't have pricing data on portables yet).

So far, stocks seem to be shrinking, but slowly (and I'm finally seeing some of the new small digital models). Like last time, I've gone beyond the contents of my Sunday paper for the figures below, and included the various stores' online presence (as well as Amazon.com). I also made my own store visit (Best Buy and Target) on Saturday, March 24th. Note - these figures include sets marketed as "HD Ready", capable of displaying HD but only containing a NTSC tuner.

BEST BUY - Their circular for 3/4 listed two small analog LCDs, and 3/11's included a note that "15 in. LCD TVs start at $189" and a listing for one 20" HD-Ready set. The 3/18 circular actually featured more analog product (five sets) than the prior week. The 3/25 has just the one 20" HD-Ready. Two weeks ago, bestbuy.com had 29 analog models (including a Samsung 23" HD-Ready model for $719!). Now they are down to 21. In just the last few days, sets below 24" with digital tuners have arrived in significant numbers. In my store visit, I found only two analogs - Westinghouse 19" and Toshiba 20" HD-Ready sets w/NTSC tuners.

CIRCUIT CITY - The circular for 3/4 featured six small analogs, 3/11's had five, 3/18's had three, and 3/25's also had three. Two weeks ago, circuitcity.com featured 31 analog models. Believe it or not, two weeks later they are up to 38 (I'm tempted to conclude that I counted wrong the first time). Also, there were no small digital SDTVs (just one 19" HD set).

TARGET - The circular for 3/4 featured two small analogs, 3/11s had only one, which was also the case on 3/18, but on 3/25 it was back up to two. Two weeks ago, Target.com had 60 20" or under sets, of which two had ATSC tuners, and four sets in the 21-24" range, one of which had an ATSC tuner. Now they still have 60 20" or under sets, but only one is listed as having an ATSC tuner (actually, target.com is so inconsistent in the way they list their specs that there could be a few others in there). There were three sets in the 21"-to-24" range, one of which has an ATSC tuner, and one of which has no tuner at all (therefore not subject to the FCC order). There were, also lots of small analogs (Trutech and Magnavox) on display during my store visit. But I did find the only portable with ATSC tuner (an Audiovox 8" LCD) that I've seen on sale to date.

AMAZON.COM - Two weeks ago I said that there were 39 portable models available, but I should have provided some further breakdown. As of Tuesday morning (the 13th), there were 37 products in that category that would have been effected by the new rules (if they were post-3/1 products). Of these, 34 were actual TVs, and three were radios with TV tuners for audio reception. Also, of these 37, 31 were available new, and six were only available on a used/refurbished basis. Now it is down to 31 products (four are used/refurbished, and three radios with TV tuners). Still no ATSC tuners on offer in this section.

As before, all the above vendors still carry NTSC DVD recorders, though the Best Buy also had units with a digital tuner.

I thought this might be the last post tracking the last gasp of analog TV sets, but it looks like there'll be at least one more installment. See you next time!

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