A US appeals court on Tuesday backed a government order that digital tuners be installed in new TV sets by 2004.

The three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favour of the Federal Communications Commission, which in August announced that electronics manufacturers must make all larger sets digital-ready by next year [WAMN: 12-Aug-03].

The FCC mandate was challenged by the Consumer Electronics Association, among whose members are set-makers such as Sony, Matsushita and Toshiba. The CEA – which has not ruled out an appeal – argues that the changes will force up the price of the average TV set by $250 (€214; £147).

But Judge John G Roberts declared that the regulator was not "crying wolf" when it claimed that a "logjam was blocking development of digital television."

He continued: "Widespread ability among consumers to receive dTV signals is a prerequisite to meeting Congress's 2006 target date for the completion of dTV conversion and the cessation of analog broadcasting."

The roll-out of digital (aka high-definition) TV in the US has been hindered by a stand-off between broadcasters and set-makers. The former are unwilling to invest heavily in digital transmissions unless they can be received by consumers in sufficient numbers, while the latter want to wait until there are enough dTV broadcasts to persuade people to buy their products.

Eddie Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, welcomed the court's decision as "a milestone towards completing the dTV transition."

But CEA spokeswoman Jenny Miller insists the ball is now in the court of the television companies. "At this point, all eyes should be turned on the broadcasters now that consumers will have the tuning capability in their television sets. They're going to want something to watch."

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff