Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Sunday Supplements (Tuner Mandate, Part 3)

This Sunday was April 8th, more than a month 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). Even though stores are allowed to sell their existing stock, you'd think the analog TVs would be pretty much gone by now, but this story is not over yet! The existing stock of analog sets is shrinking and being replaced by small digital sets, but slowly (except in one case, described in the next paragraph). Like the last two times, 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). Note - analog figures include sets marketed as "HD Ready", capable of displaying HD but only containing a NTSC tuner.

BEST BUY - Of the stores I've been tracking, Best Buy is clearly ahead both in getting old analogs out and small digital sets in. Even so, their circulars for the last couple of weeks still have a couple of analog sets. On the other hand, last week's circular did feature two smaller (24" and 20") digital SDTV tubes (there were no tube ads this week). Two weeks ago, bestbuy.com had 21 analog models (down from 29 two weeks before that). Now they are down to 17. This compares to 11 24"-or-under digital SDTVs (all of which seem to be 4:3), a category not seen in this size range before March 1st.

CIRCUIT CITY - The circular for 4/1 featured four small analogs, up from three on 3/25 (but down from six on 3/4). This week, they're down to two. Two weeks ago, circuitcity.com featured 38 analog models (up from 31 two weeks before that). Now they're down to 22. A few (three, to be specific) 24"-and-under digital SDTVs have also arrived (all from Prima, all 4:3).

TARGET - The circular for 4/1 featured one small analog, down from two on 3/25. This week their weekly ad is online-only with many fewer items, so it may not mean anything that it doesn't have any. That certainly isn't the case with their overall on-line assortment. Two weeks ago, target.com had 60 20" or under sets, of which one had an ATSC tuner (the same number of sets as two weeks before that, but with one less ATSC set), and three sets in the 21"-to-24" range, one of which had an ATSC tuner, and one of which had no tuner at all (therefore not subject to the FCC order). Now they are down to 49 20" or under sets, one of which has an ATSC tuner, with no change in the 21"-to-24" range.

AMAZON.COM - Given the amount of TVs available here, I've restricted myself to tracking the portables. Two weeks ago there were 31 products in that category that would have been effected by the new rules (if they were post-3/1 products). Of these, 28 were actual TVs, and three were radios with TV tuners for audio reception. Also, of these 31, 27 were available new, and four were only available on a used/refurbished basis. Now it is actually up to 32 products (five are used/refurbished, and five are radios with TV audio tuners). Still no ATSC tuners on offer in this section. Because Amazon represents sellers that deal in used/refurbished product, this may be one of the last high-profile places analog sets will be found going forward.

Circuit City and Best Buy still carry NTSC DVD recorders (again, the shorter Target ad doesn't have any, and the regular online descriptions don't have enough info for me to say whether their DVD recorders have tuners).

From what I've seen of the new small digital sets, the prices may be higher, but not nearly enough to cause sticker shock or cause anyone not to replace their dead analog. The only category where this could still be a problem is the smallest tube portables, where a digital tuner might add noticeably to the price of a set that would otherwise go for less than $50 (perhaps why I'm not seeing digitals there yet).

When I started this series, I wasn't sure I'd still be doing it now. We'll try again in two weeks and see if analog has finally breathed its last in the meantime.

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