CEA: DTV-Set Market to Take Off

Demand for digital-television sets is expect to grow rapidly over the next three years as consumer options expand to include dual-use units compatible with one-way digital-cable services and with reception of local digital-TV signals, the Consumer Electronics Association predicted.

U.S. consumers have already spent about $20 billion to purchase 11 million digital-TV products -- mostly wide-screen digital monitors that need external devices for cable and broadcast viewing. Just 1.3 million digital-TV sets have been sold with integrated off-air digital-TV tuners, according to the CEA.

But in a July 23 filing at the Federal Communications Commission, the trade group predicted that 5.9 million digital-TV units would be sold in 2004, 9.74 million in 2005, 16.2 million in 2006 and 23.9 million in 2007.

More and more consumers who purchase analog TVs will also find that those sets include off-air digital-TV tuners because in August 2002, the FCC ordered set manufacturers to include them in all TV sets 13 inches and larger by July 1, 2007.

On July 1, 2004, the digital-TV-tuner mandated kicked in for 50% of all TV sets 36 inches and larger. All such units must include digital-TV tuners by July 1, 2005.

The CEA said 24 models with integrated off-air tuners are on the market.

Also driving growth is the CEA’s commitment to cable companies to build digital-TV sets that digital-cable customers can use on a plug-and-play basis for one-way cable programming, including HDTV, without set-top converters.

Consumers however, must acquire from their cable companies CableCARDs that insert into digital-TV sets to authorize reception.

“To the extent that the cable operators elect to charge for the CableCARDs, they should be easily available at a reasonable price that is significantly less than that charged for a set-top box,” the trade group said.

Comcast Corp., for example, charges $2.99 per month for digital converters in Arlington, Va.

The CEA did not supply the FCC with data on the number of digital-TV models that are currently cable-compatible.