Come Next February, Your TV May Be Junk

Nov. 7, 2008
If you haven’t seen the commercials about the upcoming conversion to over-the-air, high-definition TV, then you probably don’t watch much television anyway— not even on an old black-and-white TV like the one I still have sitting on my shelf (s

If you haven’t seen the commercials about the upcoming conversion to over-the-air, high-definition TV, then you probably don’t watch much television anyway— not even on an old black-and-white TV like the one I still have sitting on my shelf (see the figure). This antique still works and will continue to do so after Feb. 17 of next year if it’s connected to cable or a converter box.

For those few of you who don’t know, the Federal Communications Commission has mandated the conversion from analog broadcast TV signals to digital signals, freeing up analog TV bandwidth. The mandate also created demand for new HDTVs and, at least for awhile, demand for converter boxes to keep old analog tuner TVs running. It also will generate a lot of trash in the form of unwanted but fully operational TVs.

Many consumers are making a mad dash for the free coupons for converter boxes that are only really useful for over-the-air transmission. These converters won’t be needed on cable or satellite systems until those distributors decide to drop analog channels—and that’s happening faster than those companies would like you to think.

My mother-in-law recently received a note indicating that one of her movie channels would only be available in HD. Of course, you need a set-top box to get HD for cable and satellite even if you have an HDTV. This is more to benefit the cable and satellite providers, allowing more customer and bandwidth control. For example, HD content can be compressed, providing more channels, though with a reduction in quality.

MMMMM... HDTV... Its not that I have anything against HDTV. In fact, like most HDTV owners, I love the quality when I can get it. It looks fantastic on a large screen—that is, if the original content is HD, the signal isn’t compressed, and the content hasn’t been scaled a couple times (see “LEDs Hold The Key To DLP AdvantagesED Online 19606).

Just try enjoying a 4:3 image inside a letterbox layout on my old black-and-white TV through a converter. What’s really fun is when the 4:3 image is a letterbox movie clipped to 4:3 again. That tends to push the envelope, but it probably wasn’t worth watching anyway. While these examples are extreme, the middle of the road isn’t going to be much better.

Even watching SD (standard definition, 4:3 aspect ratio) content on a new HDTV can be challenging given the halfdozen scaling options the new hardware can provide. Forget channel surfing where the layout and resolution of every channel is different. This alone will push people to HD-only, though that environment doesn’t exist yet.

There’s even more fun on the horizon with advances like DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) televisions. DLNA is a trade group pushing multimedia interconnect standards for consumer products. The format is based on existing standards such as UPNP (universal plug-and-play) that run on Ethernet, though the protocol is transport-agnostic.

So will you see an HDTV with an Ethernet port? Take a look at the Samsung LN40A750, a 40-in. LCD that is DLNA-compatible with video support. It can stream HD content from a media server like D-Link’s DSN-321 Dual Bay Storage Enclosure, which is part of its MediaLounge product line.

LEFT BY THE CURB But will this generate even more relics? Probably. Streaming HD content is bandwidth-intensive, and running it on 10BaseT isn’t really an option. On the other hand, Ethernet is doing a much better job handling coexistence. My Ethernet network has a mix of 10/100/1000 Ethernet devices plus some 10Base2 coax devices.

It’s just too bad that we couldn’t maintain compatibility as well as Ethernet has. Analog TV did it while it lasted, packing color and stereo on top of black-and-white mono transmission. So if you have the wherewithal to push a law through Congress, you can count on a mass migration that will generate lots of new products and even more sales. If not, you may have to be a little more flexible when it comes to backward compatibility.

Still, I suspect that HDTV would have taken a bit longer to adopt if it weren’t essentially forced upon us, and the level of compatibility of new products wouldn’t be as good as it is. So what else is turning into trash? The list is too long to print here. Let’s hope that future product transitions won’t generate as much junk. By the way, did I mention software?


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