Mr. Gary Shapiro
Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association
2500 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201
Dear Mr. Anstrom and Mr. Shapiro:
This November the American public will see the long-awaited arrival of commercially available digital broadcast programming in many markets. Recently a number of concerns have arisen in Congress and elsewhere with respect to compatibility between first-generation digital television sets and cable systems. These compatibility concerns must be resolved quickly to ensure that American consumers are able to enjoy the benefits of digital television starting this fall. As I stated at our Commission meeting on July 9, I am strongly committed to working with industry to achieve this objective.
At my direction, FCC staff over the past few weeks have met with many industry representatives. These discussions in part have addressed the status of plans for using the IEEE 1394 standard in digital television sets. Although today the underlying 1394 standard is complete, additional higher-level protocols and standards must be defined for 1394-enabled devices to perform functions such as copy protection and the on-screen display of programming information. Although I recognize that plans for 1394 vary for each manufacturer,(1) it is clear to me that reaching industry consensus on 1394 represents a significant milestone for the deployment of digital television. I therefore call on your industries to work together to complete a baseline 1394 specification that will allow
manufacturers to produce commercially viable, 1394-enabled digital television sets by November 1999. I see no reason why this should not be complete by November 1, 1998. If for some reason this deadline cannot be met, I request that you alert me and tell me the sources of delay so that the FCC can continue to facilitate resolution of this important issue.
Your industries should also work together to ensure that cable customers who purchase new sets this fall are able to enjoy the benefits of their investment in digital television. In particular, it is my understanding that there are several technically viable solutions -- 1394 aside -- that will allow this fall's digital sets to receive and display digital broadcast signals over cable. For example, cable operators could "pass through" digital broadcast signals in their original broadcast format, or set-top box makers could build a device that would deliver a high-resolution component video signal to the proper input on a digital set. I recognize that there are a number of important technical and business implications to consider in choosing such a solution for first-generation interoperability, and that tradeoffs and compromises may be required among industry members in order to ensure a successful introduction of digital television to the American public. I therefore call on your industries to communicate to the American public that these solutions will be available and to redouble your efforts to enable the American public to receive digital broadcast programming over cable for display on first-generation digital television sets.
I look forward to the rapid completion of a baseline 1394 specification and to this fall's implementation of solutions that will allow purchasers of first-generation digital sets to enjoy the full benefits of viewing digital broadcast programming received over cable.
William E. Kennard
1. For example, some manufacturers favor "cable ready" digital sets over 1394-centered configurations as the best long-term solution. Consumers should have a wide range of choices in new digital sets, and I strongly encourage your industries to continue efforts to provide digital cable compatibility.