ATSC Digital to Analogue Converter Box Update

Dear Minister Moore,

One of my professors at Ryerson alerted me today to the fact that not all Digital to Analogue converter boxes are able to output an HD signal.

For example, my Zinwell ZAT-970A (see August 26/10 posting) only outputs 480i/480p, even if the input signal is 720p/1080i. That SDTV logo on the converter makes more sense now. When I first saw it I thought, “that can’t mean Standard Definition….it’s a digital receiver”!

If a viewer only ever plans on watching television on their old analogue CRT set, then this of course is not an issue.

However, if viewers (like me) plan to eventually patch their converter box into a computer monitor, an HD video projector or a mobile phone, they won’t be able to output an HD signal from the tuner. They will be forced to buy a premium converter at a premium cost.

It might be a good idea to alert Canadians to this difference via mandatory clear labeling on packaging and/or your forthcoming(?) digital transition PSAs.

In my case, all I could find (after 2.5 hours of driving) was an SD box. It was unfortunate that the retailer didn’t stock both SD and HD boxes, or alert me to the fact that the box I was buying for $80 couldn’t output an HD signal.

If viewers don’t know to ask for HD boxes they won’t demand them from retailers.

There are clearly more pressing aspects of the digital transition to worry about but this SD/HD converter box matter is yet another example of how Canada’s television transition is not as simple as the Government of Canada seems to believe.

Best,

Steven

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2 Responses to ATSC Digital to Analogue Converter Box Update

  1. Rick says:

    This is of course, by design. When the HD transition plan for the USA was written, a basic benchmark for converter boxes was made, and the manufacturers followed it because it would make them “coupon eligible”. That is, the USA would allow that brand and model of converter to be subsidized by the government using a coupon issued by the FCC, which cut the costs to the consumer in half when purchasing it.
    As part of this CECB standard, manufacturers were required to leave off HDMI and component video. You can of course find converter boxes with these ports, but they do cost more.
    There were not that many TV’s made which could do extended definition video and did not have an ATSC tuner. These transitional TV’s have long been supersided.

    For 95% of the folks out there, having Composite and/or RF outputs and stereo audio just fine, and the output will be much clearer than any analog broadcast they have ever received in the past with that 480i television.

    The other 5% will just have to spend a few more bucks for the non-CECB boxes. There are plenty out there for sale on the internet. Specialty items always cost extra because they tend to be low volume.

  2. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the detailed comment. Curious that manufacturers planning to sell boxes in the USA were “required” not to include HDMI and other ports. Although Canada (currently) has no such coupon program, I suppose these basic boxes are now the standard here too. The store I bought my box from only had the HDMI-less version.

    Steven

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