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DTV Converters In Short Supply 192

Posted by Soulskill
from the whose-plan-was-this-anyway dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes with a New York Times story saying there could be a shortage of DTV converter boxes in addition to the problem with coupons. "At the current rate of coupon redemption, 115,000 per day, plus sales without coupons, that means the current stock of converters could be sold out by the end of this month. So what would have happened if the whole digital transition worked the way it was supposed to? Many of those 3.7 million people would be marching into their local Radio Shack and Best Buy stores trying to buy converter boxes next weekend right before the scheduled cutoff on Feb. 17. And if the electronics association's numbers are right, the boxes would have sold out." Good thing the extended cut-off date was approved.
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DTV Converters In Short Supply

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  • by Centurix (249778) <centurix@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:18AM (#26762789) Homepage

    1. Campaign to promote DTV - Check
    2. DTV Transmission 'stuff' - Check
    3. 250 million DTV receivers - FAIL

    • by anss123 (985305)

      250 million DTV receivers - FAIL

      There's 250 milion TVs in the US of A? With a pop of 300 mill that sounds like a lot.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by repvik (96666)

        If you ask me, with a pop of 300 mill, I'd expect atleast 400 mill TVs.

        • by anss123 (985305)

          If you ask me, with a pop of 300 mill, I'd expect atleast 400 mill TVs.

          One for every man, woman, child + dog?

          • by repvik (96666) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @07:11AM (#26762935)

            One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom and one in the livingroom. One in every waiting room, a couple at the office, a few at school etc.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by The Dobber (576407)

              The majority of which are hooked up to cable networks.

              • by sumdumass (711423)

                I think the problem is that as the unemployment numbers increase, the estimated amount of people with cable decreases.

                What I mean is, the number of converters box needed 2 or 5 years ago is not the same as today because people with cable have had to start canceling it when their jobs went away. Anyways, the majority today or yesterday doesn't mean it will be in the near future. But you also have to account for failures in DTV converters and a lack in sales from a down economy resulting in a increase reuse r

            • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

              One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom and one in the livingroom. One in every waiting room, a couple at the office, a few at school

              This makes me very sad.

            • by aywwts4 (610966)

              There is really going to be a rush when they go out. I don't know how many waiting rooms I have been in where the TV is still getting static.

              Then all the other places where people will have forgotten until they don't get a signal. For example, in the RV (For storm information, the radio is irresponsibly awful) the TV in the garage, the up north cabin television, basement TV for the kids, etc, etc, there will be a rush when the TVs go dark, the 2 coupons just covered the living room and a bedroom.

              • >>>the 2 coupons just covered the living room and a bedroom.

                DTVpal.com has a box for just $40. My local Kmart has them for $48. I'm sure if you really "need" more than two televisions upgraded to DTV, you could buy one of these relatively cheap converter boxes.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by siriuskase (679431)

            Did you know that more people have cats than dogs? I have a cat, but she doesn't watch TV. She prefers NPR. She's listening to the MET at the moment.

            If you must moderate, please moderate as irrelevent, not something bad, because I'm sure someone will find this interesting.

        • by FudRucker (866063)
          i own three televisions, the big one in the living room, and a small one in the diningroom/kitchen area and another small one in the master bedroom...
          • I only have one in my great room. But, you can see it from the kitchen. I have no TV in the bedrooms. Why would anyone want one there? Don't you have better things to do there? There is an old Trinitron in the basement, but I haven't used it in years. It's left over from the Apple ][ days so it sits in the "museum" with all the other junk.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        How many computers do you own each with their own monitors? and 300 million was so 2000 it is closer to 325 now. In my home there are thee adults and one child, there are three tv's, 6 monitors, not including my smart phone.

    • It sounds to me like the whole problem, or the way it's summarized in the summary, is akin to:

      1. Let's say I sell gadget that almost nobody wants.

      2. Hence not many of them sell.

      3. Hence I'm not producing many. (What for? Just to spend more on manufacturing and materials, and rake up storage costs too?)

      4. I or some other dolt concludes, "Wow, good thing not many people buy these, because there wouldn't be enough of them for everyone!"

      In reality, there aren't enough produced _because_ there isn't much supply,

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        I suppose it could make an argument for convincing the government to postpone it some more, but even there it seems to me like "the people don't actually want it" _ought_ to be enough of a reason by itself.

        A large proportion of US OTA-viewers probably *don't* "want" digital TV per se- analogue does them fine, thank you.

        Yeah, you and I both know that this misses the point, that they'll need a digibox to continue watching *any* OTA TV, full stop.

        However, the difference between you and the US government is that *they* know that- regardless of whether it's those people's fault for missing the point, ignoring the advice and not getting a box- there are a significant number of them and they'll be mighty pissed

        • Blame the government for what? I've been watching DTV ads for over a year, and recently a lot of the local affiliates have even started their own recordings to reflect the changes.

          When we push back the deadline a full 4 months it just makes infomercials less reliable, and will hamper any transition communication in the future.

          The only thing I think that the DTV transition project can be faulted for is the coupon methods. 1, you have to request a DTV converter box coupon. 2, the coupon expires if it isn't

          • by Dogtanian (588974)

            Blame the government for what?

            They'll blame the government for turning off their TV programmes of course- and complain that they weren't given enough time or warning or something like that.

            Like I said, this won't be justified, but those people will blame the government rather than themselves anyway.

            Personally, I think that the US should have required that major networks' analogue transmissions be overlaid by a permanent (and increasingly prominent) message in the final months before the switchover, complete with a countdown (e.g. "y

    • God forbid we don't get to watch tv. I wonder what it looks like outside? Oh, right. Reality.

  • by WarJolt (990309) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:27AM (#26762803)

    It's just a little piece that contributes to the greater problem.
    Somewhere along the way the government decided that television is a right and not a privilege. In every other type of technology when standards change and equipment has to be upgraded the consumer pays for it.

    I've heard the argument that the increased ad revenue makes the cost worth it(not sure if this is accurate) so why isn't the television companies paying for it? Plus it's not the guys who can't afford a $40 box that networks are advertising to.

    I can't think of a good reason why future generations of this country are going to pay for our television today.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      TV, like radio, is a way to get news out quickly to the population.

      If joe schmoes analog TV stopped working, he would no longer receive those emergency broadcast notifications.

      So, the notification that would tell him to get his fat, beer-sodden arse up and out (because some natural disaster is coming) wouldn't be heard.

      So in a wierd, twisted way... TV and radio are integral to our safety now.

      • by WarJolt (990309) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:40AM (#26762859)

        Buying everyone a radio is cheaper than buying everyone a converter box.

        • And practically everyone already has a functioning radio on their nightstand. The public safety portion is bullshit. That argument could be used in perpetuity. If the goal is to get more supply available, how is delaying for 4-5 months going to help? Nobody is going to stockpile more converters if they're not selling, and if you slip the date, nobody is going to bother to buy a converter until they need to.

          As for all those people who have lost their jobs (and I do feel bad for them), perhaps watching TV isn

        • Buying everyone a radio is cheaper than buying everyone a converter box.

          Providing radios to the public doesn't help if the radios just stay turned off while people are doing something else, like watching TV. It also doesn't help Congress and the FCC reduce total TV spectrum in use and derive revenue from leasing the freed-up spectrum to telecom service providers.

          • by Neoprofin (871029)
            How about this. When the sky turns dark and it looks like the end of the world as we know it, turn on your damn radio.

            Maybe this kind of perception is a Midwestern thing, I don't know, but we know the weather is shitty before we turn on the TV or radio to find out just how shitty.
        • Given that the design and parts are already there, I suspect it would cost less for the government to construct boxes and distribute them, spending only what it actually costs to make them, rather than automatically paying $40 for each one.
      • by Idimmu Xul (204345) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:49AM (#26762881) Homepage Journal

        TV, like radio, is a way to get news out quickly to the population.

        News like people have to get off their fat asses before a certain date to get a DTV converter, else they'll no longer get TV?

      • by flajann (658201)

        TV, like radio, is a way to get news out quickly to the population.

        If joe schmoes analog TV stopped working, he would no longer receive those emergency broadcast notifications.

        So, the notification that would tell him to get his fat, beer-sodden arse up and out (because some natural disaster is coming) wouldn't be heard.

        So in a wierd, twisted way... TV and radio are integral to our safety now.

        I stopped watching TV a long-ass time ago due to lack of programming I would consider even moderately tolerable. And the only time I listen to radio is during my commute where I can do little else.

        The government here has always been especially interested in making sure that every poor bloke out there had his booze tube, and before I never understood what the big deal was. I mean, it's just TV. Nothing special.

        Then it dawned on me.

        The real reason our government is so damned interested in everyone havin

        • by Dogtanian (588974)

          George Orwell had no idea Joe Blow would be so willing to invite Big Brother so quickly into his home.

          The TV sets in Nineteen Eighty-Four were *two way*- existing TVs only display incoming pictures, they don't return information which is the part most people are thinking of when they invoke the spectre of Big Brother. For all the valid criticism of TV that you make above, that one missed the mark.

          Ironically for all the idealism spoken when it rose to prominence in the 1990s, the Internet provides a *far* more effective way to spy on people's behaviour via various means.

    • by Cally (10873)
      Live TV free for a week and you'll never go back.
    • by sahonen (680948) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @07:24AM (#26762969) Homepage Journal
      The total cost of issuing the coupons for converter boxes is FAR less than the total amount of money raised by the government by selling off the spectrum formerly used by analog TV. The government actually made a profit on this deal.
    • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @07:40AM (#26763025)

      Somewhere along the way the government decided that television is a right and not a privilege.

      Because the public still owns the right to the airwaves. The TV companies are leasing the public's property, as negotiated by the government.

      By switching to digital transmission, significant amount of spectrum are freed up for other wireless purposes. Quite a bit of this spectrum is already leased out to new users once it's freed up. The government gets quite a bit of money out of this, on behalf of the public.

      Given the incovenience caused by this change in use, and the profit made by doing so, it's hardly unreasonable for the government to give some small amount of the profit made back to the public to mitigate the impact of the change.

      • Because the public still owns the right to the airwaves. The TV companies are leasing the public's property, as negotiated by the government.

        Great! Where's my free cell phone service?

        it's hardly unreasonable for the government to give some small amount of the profit made back to the public to mitigate the impact of the change.

        "Government give back to the public"? The government is the public. This is precisely the GP's point: Whatever we (a.k.a. the government) spend on ourselves now, we have to make up for later (future generations).

    • I can't think of a good reason why future generations of this country are going to pay for our television today.

      Votes. This is simply yet another wealth transfer.

    • by lpq (583377)

      It's not a privilege. It's a necessary tool of government to spread the concept of 'normal' culture and to spread government propaganda.

      The airwaves are not free. They are controlled by government. The government owns the medium -- so of course they want to be able to use it to reach the citizenry.

  • why do they want to hurry things? maybe waiting a few years will be good, let people recover from their financial problems first.
    • by sahonen (680948) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @07:32AM (#26762999) Homepage Journal
      Because the spectrum has already been sold to companies that were promised they'd be allowed to use it as of February 17th. Delaying the cutoff means these businesses have to put their plans on hold. We're talking millions in lost revenue.

      Also, TV stations currently have to maintain both digital and analog broadcasting towers. The power bill for even one tower is insane, let alone two, and the additional cost of maintaining two towers for longer than anticipated can be crippling for stations who already have tight margins due to decreased ad revenue. And no, we're not talking about corporate conglomerates like Disney and GE (owners of ABC and NBC), the majority of TV stations are locally owned and operated and pay the networks for affiliation.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by echucker (570962)
        Local stations are still in better shape than public broadcasting stations. With recession-induced government funding, it's even harder for them to maintain dual broadcast formats until June. During the fund raising drive over the last 3 days, my local PBS station said it'll cost them an extra 60k in operating costs to broadcast in both analog and digital.
        • by sahonen (680948)
          True that, at least for-profit stations can just try to sell more ads, preempting network advertising if necessary to find the air time. PBS needs to go out and beg for more money.
          • by MBGMorden (803437)

            Or just turn off on the original date, as the law allows. My local PBS station is still flipping off analog broadcasts on Feb 17 just as originally planned.

    • That's how long the transition has been going on. The "turn off date" was several years ago. This extension is nothing new for those who have any clue about these things. Imagine how many people outside of IT would be surprised that BASIC is no longer a mainstream learning language. (To which 90% of the population would reply "what's a language, I turn my computer on and it does stuff")

  • end of american civilization right there

  • Scalpers are stifled (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nickruiz (1185947)

    Too bad for you if you were a scalper planning on making some quick bucks. I bet we would've seen DTV converters selling like Wiis on eBay with 150%+ markups.

    • Not if you live outside the US... *rubs hands*

    • by smchris (464899)

      Worked for me -- sort of.

      Government coupon + $.01 + $6.99 S&H = TigerDirect converter box

      Sold the box in its box with my nine-year-old basic 19" for $20.

      I got rid of my old analog without driving to recycling and somebody paid me $13 for it. Assuming he doesn't care about HD quality, he got a TV that still has the picture tube brightness set well below 50% because we seldom used it.

    • Too bad for you if you were a scalper planning on making some quick bucks. I bet we would've seen DTV converters selling like Wiis on eBay with 150%+ markups.

      Maybe that's why there's actually somebody out there running a story about a converter box shortage. Maybe that's what they're hoping for. Maybe that was part of the plan from the beginning.

  • Good thing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @07:21AM (#26762963)

    "... And if the electronics association's numbers are right, the boxes would have sold out." Good thing the extended cut-off date was approved.

    I'd wager that there's a statistically significant number of those procrastinators who are now gonna simply procrastinate until June, so that there will still be a tidal wave of demand, just delayed a few months. The delay might help and motivate some people to get off their asses, but not all.

    And hell, if the shelves really get emptied, well, I probably won't need one of mine by then so that will be one less desperate family.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sahonen (680948)
      If you ask me, the procrastinators deserve a time out from TV if they've been too lazy to get off their butts and get ready for something that's been planned for years and heavily advertised for months. Let em watch static until they can get a converter, the radio will work fine if there's an emergency.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheSHAD0W (258774)

      Yup yup. I think the analog stations should shut down their broadcasts, perhaps starting at an hour at a time, then perhaps a whole day, putting up a message about digital converters instead of their regularly scheduled show. Not only would this alert otherwise oblivious people, but it would specifically target only those who need converters.

      • by dbcad7 (771464)

        Some stations already send a scrolling message that only analog TV's can see.. warning that the TV needs a converter box.. This has been going on for well over a year.. There is absolutely no reason that there should have been an extension.. People need to take their lumps if they haven't gotten ready by now.. As I said below, people will adapt.. they will either find a box somewhere, or get cable or something.

        I suppose there is also a new group of people who are recently unemployed, who are dropping cable

    • Re:Good thing? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dbcad7 (771464) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @09:06AM (#26763267)

      Since the extension is not a requirement, many stations will shut down analog anyway. Now it might not be all of them.. but all it takes is one network that has something that people will miss, and the procrastinators will get off their butts.. For example, in my area, the ABC station stopped their analog early.. damned if I didn't hit the store the next day to get a box. Main reason was because Lost was about to start up the new episodes, and of course I needed it anyway.

      Like everyone else, I knew a lonnng time ago I needed it.. and I even got coupons.. but then I let them expire.. my bad.. so I ended up footing the bill myself.. but it's done.. and mainly because of the early shutdown by ABC. I am pretty sure that well over 90 percent of the people that need the boxes will have them way before June, and that was entirely too long of an extension.. people would get what they need, or adapt by buying cable or Satellite if there was a box shortage.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @08:40AM (#26763187) Homepage

    I got my coupons and converters already, for the two TV's that aren't on satellite. They don't work very well. We lose two of our local stations that look fine in analog, but apparently not enough digital signal to show up in the converter box scan. They'll show up on the digital TV downstairs but not on the DTV converters.

    So far I'm not impressed.

    • by conureman (748753)

      It'd be nice to have a metric for tuner performance. Some number which we could base an intelligent decision on. What model did you get? I'd like to avoid it.

      • The box says it's an RCA DTA800B1, which I got at Wal-Mart. The TV downstairs, which is connected to the exact same outside antenna, gets three more ranges than the converter will detect. And, of course, there's no way to manually tell the converter box to look at a particular digital channel. If it doesn't scan it, it won't find it. Period.

        I'd definitely look at a different unit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      FYI some stations aren't yet transmitting their digital signal at full power, or at their desired frequency, because the analog bandwidth has not been freed up yet.

      E.g. in NYC, I can only get the (crappy) analog signal of WNET, since their digital signal is currently very low power. I heard that after the transition, they will be dropping analog (obviously) and upping the power of their digital signal.

      -T

      • Same location, same channel, same problem. They'll also be moving from physical channel 61 (or so) to physical 13, where they belong.

        There's hope yet, but if they don't cut out on the 17th, I'm buying an outdoor antenna.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      I live far enough away from Chicago where most station's analog and digital are too weak to be useful even with roof antenna, but with RF amplifier built into townhouse both work wonderfully and get the full monty of a couple dozen digital channels. maybe you should look into an amp

  • by DreadfulGrape (398188) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @09:24AM (#26763317)

    ...if millions of people were to suddenly be forced to go without TV for a while, it would improve the collective mental health of the U.S. ... maybe just a bit.

  • Good thing? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by seanmeister (156224) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @10:00AM (#26763481) Homepage

    Good thing the extended cut-off date was approved.

    Bullshit - the original cut-off date was advertised for years. Anyone who's affected by the transition and *still* isn't ready for it should probably be watching less TV.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:00AM (#26763793)
    Televisions have included digital tuners for years. DTV boxes are cheap and plentiful. If somebody at this late stage hasn't bothered to either redeem a coupon or take the massive $40 hit to buy the decoder box after years of warnings, then tough shit. At worst it only means waiting a couple of days for a store to get new stock in. I swear that some people will never be ready for anything and you've just got to set a cutoff and stick to it. If people still manage to ignore the warning and get their service cutoff then its their own fault.
  • DVB-T (Score:2, Informative)

    by muftak (636261)
    Maybe America should have used DVB-T like the rest of the world, where there is no shortage of set top boxes, and they are about half the price of ATSC ones. Instead they have to be difficult and use their own standard again.
  • The transition likely shouldn't have been planned over a presidential election cycle, but come on - the Gov't got it's Billions selling our airwaves to the highest bidders, and in return we were offered coupons to buy discounted TV converter boxes. I got my coupons & converters back in July/Aug. THis was not a last-minute plan, it just wasn't properly promoted until the Presidential election gave the newscasters sufficient breathing room to promote the cutover.

    If I read the /. post right, they could hav

  • While I do have to fault manufacturers for poorly estimating demand, you do have to acknowledge the retail market forces involved. My Wal-mart has at least 50 sitting on the shelf. Why? Because there is no over-the-air broadcasts available in our community.

    I imagine a bean counter in Arkansas is looking at a bottom line and thinking "we have thousands of these across the country, and they aren't moving."

    You see, there is a certain percentage of the population that doesn't do things until they are penaliz

  • by fluffy99 (870997) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @02:34PM (#26765421)
    First, the coupons were not handled well. I submitted for two online, never got them in the mail, and now it won't let me apply for them again as they expired. Lots of other folks around me said the same thing. Second, these mass-produced crappy converter boxes should not cost $40. They're all made in China and would normally retail for around $9 each. So the bribe money that the Govt is giving its citizens to convert is simply flowing out the door to China. Yeah, the govt is making a profit by selling the spectrum but its also money down the toilet by buying low quality converters from China. Figure 250 million converters at $30 profit each is about 7.5 billion. BTW, most folks don't realize those converter boxes are not going to give you any better quality or hi-def. In fact they're more likely to give you worse reception or just none at all. Personally, I don't plan to convert as there is nothing worth watching on the TV anyway. I do netflix, get my news online, and can't stand the soap-operaish series on TV.
    • In the governments defense I don't think they knew when they wrote the law how much the boxes should retail for. Also if they didn't subsidize the converters people might be more likely to just go out and buy a new TV, since they were going to have to spend some money anyways, thus sending even more money to China.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper (135110)

      Second, these mass-produced crappy converter boxes should not cost $40. They're all made in China and would normally retail for around $9 each.

      How could anybody in their right mind believe such patent nonsense?

      The digital converter boxes have to be low noise to tune and capture 6MHz of bandwidth, demodulate the 8VSB coding, perform lots of the error detection and correction, demux the channels and indvidual audio/video/text streams, then decode the 19Mbps (1920x1080@30i resolution) MPEG-2 video stream, down

      • by fluffy99 (870997)

        Patent nonsense (Cripes I'd be rich if I could get a patent for it. Image the royalties!) Somone on hackaday.com posted the pictures and actual chips used in a Zenith brand converter. The 4 chips used can be bought wholesale in quantities of 100 for about $2 per set. The complexity is really no different than a cheap $10 video card or a cheap wireless card. In fact, the bandwidth is actually much lower. Certainly if you're producing a millions of a particular model, economy of scale kicks in. I don't s

  • You wouldn't believe how many people I've heard of that mentioned, "Yeah, I've got a couple of converter boxes. Just in case my cable TV gets cut off." Or "It's only $10 with the coupon. I'll get an extra one just in case."

    My TV is not digital compatible, but I only watch DVDs or play my PS2 (sometimes) on it. It makes no difference.

    There is no good reason to not stick to the cut-off. People will adjust or find ways of getting their converter boxes... or remember that you can read books or d

  • An analog TV with a digital converter box will not behave the same as the analog TV receiving an analog signal. Depending on distance and terrain, analog signals get snowy but they can still be watched whereas digital signals either give you a great picture or no picture.

    There's no telling how many older TVs will be thrown out at once.

    Digital cable packages are more expensive. Pretty much everything about DTV costs more to consumers. For those who haven't kept up with current events, the economy went around

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