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For DTV converter boxes, stereo sound is optional

June 12th, 2007

Consumers who own analog TVs equipped with stereo sound may, after attaching a DTV converter box, suffer a downgrade to mono. The problem: While the spec for converters eligible for the federal government’s DTV coupon program allows the boxes to include stereo capability, the feature is not required, according to a report in Broadcasting & Cable. The report suggests that at least some converter box manufacturers are not including stereo support.

“For about the cost of a postage stamp, stereo sound can be incorporated into the box to ensure a consistent viewing experience while meeting the current implementation deadlines. We need to ensure that millions of Americans will not lose their stereo sound as a result of the self-imposed deadlines,” said Les Tyler.

The converter boxes will allow conventional televisions to survive the shift to digital-only broadcasts after February 17, 2009.

Having your TV-listening demoted to mono sounds like a bummer to me. But it’s probably not a show-stopper for most consumers. Many of these TVs probably don’t have stereo sound in the first place. If you asked analog TV owners, many would struggle to say whether they have the feature or not. (An astounding number of HDTV owners think they’re watching shows in HD, yet have no source of HD programming.)

As I see it, the people who are likely to actually get steamed about this fall into two distinct groups:

1. Folks who care…uh…somewhat…about how their TV sounds. But not so much about the picture. And not enough about either to buy an HDTV.

2. People who sell stereo technologies developed for analog TVs.

Mr. Tyler, as you may have guessed, happens to fall into that second category. He is the CEO of That Corp., an analog integrated circuits company that licenses audio technologies. He was also involved in developing the analog TV stereo standard during the 1980s, according to B&C. For that, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

But Les Tyler doesn’t want our thanks, it seems. What he wants are Congressional hearings.

If people can compare DTV converters side by side, and the price for a stereo-capable one isn’t much higher, the mono models will lose out on some sales. Presumably, that is a calculation that converter-box manufacturers have already made.

• Links: B&C, press release

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