Winegard Introduces Battery-Powerer DTV Converter Box

Equipment manufacturer Winegard is unveiling a battery pack for its DTV-to-analog converter box at a DTV expo in Wilmington, N.C. today (Aug. 28).

That is the city pulling the plug on full-power analog TV Sept. 8 to give the Federal Communications Commission a sense of how the Feb. 17, 2009 national switch will go..

The battery pack will free the devices from the power grid in case of emergencies so they can be used with battery-powered analog TV's, a popular item in hurricane-prone areas like the North Carolina coastal town of Wilmington, though in that case the stations will have the option of continuing in analog, an option that won't be available when the plug is pulled nationwide..

Winegard executive Grant Whipple, who is in Wilmington armed with 50 of the battery packs ($14.99 retail), says there are 7 million to 8 million battery-powered TV's out there. He says the battery pack will only work with Winegard's converter box.

According to Dan Ullmer, chief engineer for WECT and WSFX, two Wimington stations making the DTV switch Sept. 8, he called Winegard and suggested they make the battery-powered converter box. "We were getting so many calls from viewers about the lack of portable equipment because of being in a hurricane [zone], Ullmer told B&C. "So, I called Winegard and recommended they build a battery pack, which they did."

Whipple confirms Ullmer was the impetus for the pack. Luckily, Winegard's converter box already ran on nine volts rather than the standard 12, he says, so the pack would not have to be "humongous." Six D batteries will do the trick, he says.

Ullmer says folks can also use a device that works with a car battery by employing an inverter to allow it to supply alternating current to portable TV's.

The battery pack was good news at the National Hurricane Center."They will make a killing," says Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the center and a former TV station chief meteorologist. He says the lack converters for battery-powered analog sets was a big concern for the weather service.

In fact, in the form letter it has prepared for questions about what weather-watchers should do about their battery-powered analog TV's after February 2009, Feltgen has made a point of saying that battery powered converter boxes were not currently available. He advised them to buy a battery-powered digital TV, but said that if that was a problem, make sure they had a battery-powered radio both because radio stations broadcast emergency info and because some TV stations simulcast that info on radio.

There are battery-powered DTV sets available, including in Wilmington, but Feltgen thinks that, at $200 apiece, they could be a bit pricey for some.

The battery pack/box are not yet in stores, but can be gotten through

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.