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A slow crawl to digital television

Consumers are buying digital TVs, but not fast enough to meet government mandates. The good news? Prices are dropping.

More people are buying digital television sets than ever, but not nearly at the levels required to fulfill the federal government?s mandate to make digital television the standard across the country in the next few years.

Digital TV sets display images at a higher resolution than standard analog sets and allow for additional digital content to be transmitted at the same time. (While many digital sets have flat-screen panels, not all flat-screen sets are digital.)

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Congress has mandated that TV stations must broadcast in digital signals by the end of 2006, provided that 85 percent of the homes in a station's service area are equipped with a digital TV set or converter box.

According to projections released last week by the Consumer Electronics Association, digital television still has a long way to go. Sales of digital sets are projected to reach 6.97 million units this year, about a 70 percent increase from 2003. The association expects growth to level off, with 10.8 million units forecast to ship to retailers in 2005, an increase of about 55 percent over this year.

The good news for prospective buyers is that the average wholesale price of a digital TV tuner has fallen steadily since the technology became commercially available in 1998. Six years ago, the factory sticker on a DTV set was $3,147. Today, it is about $1,470.

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