Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Sunday Supplements (Tuner Mandate, Part 4)

This last Sunday was June 10th, more than three months 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). It's also two months since I last reported on the slow death of analog TVs at the retail counter (stores are allowed to sell their existing stock) - those yearly recaps threw me further off schedule than I could have anticipated. When I started doing research for this post, I assumed that this would really be the last one - surely the passage of two months had reduced stocks to almost nothing. Well, read on.

Like the last three 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). I also used an off day to pay visits to the three chains I've been tracking. Note - analog figures include sets marketed as "HD Ready", capable of displaying HD but only containing a NTSC tuner.

BEST BUY - By the previous installment of this series, it had become clear that Best Buy had taken the lead both in getting old analogs out and small digital sets in. So it wasn't surprising that there were no analog sets featured in their circulars, at least from April 22 onward (I'm missing the circular for April 15th). Two months ago, bestbuy.com had 17 analog models (down from 22 two weeks before that). Now those are all gone (they also have two portable digital models from house brand Insignia). So it wasn't too surprising that the Best Buy in Watertown, MA had no analog sets either. Even the smallest, cheapest set in the store (a $99 13-incher from Dynex) was a fully-compliant digital SDTV with ATSC tuner built in.

CIRCUIT CITY - A very different story here. Their circulars still feature the occasional analog set from Symphonic (although not this last week). The real story is told over at circuitcity.com, which has gone from 22 analog models on 4/11 to 24 now, believe it or not. In their defense, there are more sets altogether, and there are actually 22 sets with integrated ATSC tuners in the 24"-and-under range that I've been tracking - but that's still a bit less than half! Things were somewhat better in the Framingham, MA store, with three sets out of 15 (in that size range) sporting only NTSC tuners. However, these sets did not have the recently-mandated FCC Consumer Alert sticker.

TARGET - The percentage of ATSC tuners is even lower at Target. Two months ago, target.com had 49 20" or under sets, of which 48 had only a NTSC tuner, and three sets in the 21"-to-24" range, only one of which was NTSC-only. Now there are 60 20" or under sets, 38 of which are NTSC-only. Things were better in the 21"-to-24" range, with only one NTSC-only set of the five listed. So that's 39 of 65 24"-and-under sets that are NTSC-only - a clear majority, three months after their manufacture was banned. This very week they had an ad for a Trutech (I believe that's their store brand) set with only a NTSC tuner. The actual (Watertown, MA) store had even less ATSC - of the 14 sets in that size range, there was one HD set and one digital SDTV. Of the 12 NTSC-only sets (most of which were "HD-ready" widescreens), eight had the required Consumer Alert messages, but four did not. Interesting results for a chain whose public image is "we're hipper than the average department store".

AMAZON.COM - As before, I've restricted myself to tracking the portables here. Two months ago there were 32 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 five were radios with TV tuners for audio reception. Also, of these 32, 28 were available new, and five were only available on a used/refurbished basis. Now they are down to 27 (four are used/refurbished, and three are radios with TV audio tuners). Just one ATSC tuner on offer in this section (up from none before). Again, 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.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I really expected the story to be over at this point. Apparently the last analog sets were stocked in depth by some retailers for customers who want to save a few bucks today and aren't looking to the future yet. I'll check in on this again in another couple of months.

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