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Intel Developing DTV Antenna; Coupons Resume

While the public television market slowly shifts over to digital broadcasting, Intel looks to chime in on the switch with its own DTV antenna. Unfortunately, it still may not help viewers retrieve a clear signal.

A few days ago, Intel said that its researchers developed the world's first embedded balanced antenna for digital TV. Although the design is currently patent pending, Intel's "innovation" will enable on-the-go users to receive OTA digital television on their laptop without the need for an external antenna.  While the company offered no other specifics, the embedded antenna would alleviate the need to carry or keep track of additional equipment.

In the meantime, the 2.3 million households currently sitting on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) coupon waiting list may be able to breathe a sigh or relief now that the $650 million economic stimulus package has kicked in. Last week officials said that the entire waiting list should dissipate in a matter of weeks as new coupons--funded by the new stimulus boost--go out in the mail "first class."

However, those households that are already receiving digital transmissions are finding that the voucher dilemma was only the tip of the iceberg. Many have discovered that tuning into the digital channel lineup isn't quite as simple as the advertisements foretold, that signals come in, or they don't. There's no in-between haze as seen with analog channels when the signals lose strength. In fact, getting a digital station to come in without disruption is actually quite tricky, as it seems apparent that digital signals just don't have the same coverage as the older analog format. 

"When you listen to the advertisements, it's 'Oh, all you have to do is get this little digital converter box and hook it up,'" said Harry Vanderpool of Salem, Oregon. "Well, we get nothing. Zero signal strength."

Consumers are hearing that--on top of having to shell out money for the digital converter box--they probably need an outdoor antenna to receive the new signals. Sometimes signals can come in crystal clear, and then ten minutes later pictures turn into a pixilated explosion that is not only annoying, but sometimes may not clear back up for hours. Despite what advertisers and officials may claim, there are no DTV-specific antennas required for reception; any one will work. However, it's getting those antennas -whether they're rabbit ears, amplified or mounted outside- to actually keep a signal for a long period of time.

To add onto the overall annoyance, the FCC even admitted that when a station moves from VHF to UHF, there are dead zones where the signal can no longer reach as it once did before. The good news is that, after June 12, many stations will use the VHF frequencies to transmit digital TV, hopefully resolving many reception issues. 

But while Intel's innovative DTV antenna shows promise, that consumers can watch digital television anywhere without the need to lug around additional equipment, the entire DTV structure needs improvement. Those who purchase laptops with Intel's antenna may very well smash that device once they experience the aggravation many DTV consumers are already tolerating.