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Television Media United States

USDTV Announces Low-Cost, Localized Digital TV 246

Posted by simoniker
from the similarities-to-uk-service dept.
pagercam2 writes "According to a CNN story, USDTV is about to roll out a new digital TV service, the difference being that it doesn't use cable or a satellite. They stream the DigitalTV signals on currently idle frequencies to standard UHF/VHF antennas. The service includes 35 channels, including local stations as well as many of the basic cable (Disney, Discovery, ESPN, TLC, FOOD...) with more to come. $19.95/mo is the price point for a basic service, though '...customers must buy a $99.95 set-top device to decode the channels.' Initially to be rolled out in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Albuquerque, could USDTV keep prices low and still support local content since they have no cable network to maintain, and no satellites to launch?"
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USDTV Announces Low-Cost, Localized Digital TV

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  • i heard that they already doing this in england with dvb-terrestrial.

    does anyone know if they will be using DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) format? (I didn't read the article so don't flame me...)

    in case they are, this would be easy to pick up on computer's equipped with a dvb pci card and software ;)
    • Re:sounds familiar (Score:5, Informative)

      by KingDaveRa (620784) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:25PM (#8594161) Homepage
      Yes, we are doing Digital TV over the airwaves like that. I'm not sure if it is DVB based (I don't think it is), but its all broadcasted in spare UHF frequencies. It started off as a pay service called onDigital. They weren't doing very well, as the channel linup was limited, compared to Sky (digital satellite) or ntl and Telewest (cable), they weren't doing too well, so the product was re-branded ITV Digital, in line with the ITV channels. They spent ludicrous sums of cash on rights to football matches nobody really cared about. The company ultimately folded about 18 months ago. What was left was just the free-to-air channels supplied by the BBC. A new service was launched, called Freeview which only carried totally free (as in beer) programming. You just had to spend 100 on a decoder, or you could use your existing ITV Digital decoder (ITV Digital subsidised the STBs, but wrote them off as a loss so everybody could keep them). A new service is now launching in parrallel with Freeview called TopUP TV, which carries some paid programming. Its so far caused problems as its added more channels than some of the latest generation decoders can support!

      Freeview [freeview.co.uk]
      topup.tv [topup.tv]
      • Re:sounds familiar (Score:3, Informative)

        by A (8698)
        It is not DVB based, but ATSC. Still mpeg2, but with a few changes. They are renting bandwidth from the local digital tv stations (including pbs) for these 10 or 11 channels.
      • Re:sounds familiar (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yes, the UK network is DVB, actually the first digital-tv network in the world to go live on a commercial basis in 1998. The downside of that is it uses the less complex 2K carrier mode instead of the more advanced 8K mode now used throughout Europe.

        DVB is a bit like GSM, which means most countries use it apart from the US ;)
    • Re:sounds familiar (Score:5, Informative)

      by legoburner (702695) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:30PM (#8594217) Homepage Journal
      Not only do we use DVB-T in the UK, there is also a cheap PCI card from hauppage which is supported in Linux (after a lot of driver fiddling) and works perfectly with mythtv. It is therefore nice and easy to set up a mythtv box without being a slave to the cable company or satellite company and having full control over everything. New channels get added all the time and they are basically multiplexes over individual channels (ie; what would be one analog channel is a mux of about 8 channels, though most of those are used for crap!) Check out the dvb-t linux docs and mythtv docs if you want to know more. There are a few main muxes all of which are encoded slightly differently (and so some channels do not get as good reception as others, BBC 1/2 are much clearer than ITV2 and Channel 5). The channels are basically MPEG2 streams so if you record them raw, they can be easily converted onto DVD with no analog problems. At its peak the dvb-t service when operated by ITV digital had about 60 channels IIRC. It is a great piece of technology but is not well suited to private companies IMHO.
      • I'm looking to put a Gentoo-based small form factor MythTV setup together in the UK in a few months. Can you give me any tips on hardware, especially the TV-In (Was looking at the Nebula DigiTV card which has been getting rave reviews, but I was concerned about compatiability), TV-Out (I have an old Radeon 8500 with TV-Out - is that good enough?) and finally a Remote Control solution (Was looking at IR-Man but it seems a bit pricey - also maybe the ATI remote wonder).

        Basically any tips, help, forum links w
  • Now if only they could do broadband over the same frequency range...for the same price.
    • Bear in mind that VHF/UHF are spread over a WIDE area. Assuming that they're using 35 full bandwidth 19.2 Mbps ATSC signals, that's only an aggregate 672 Mbps. Over an entire city, that's nothing - 10,000 simultaneous users gets you down almost to modem data rates. Also, these are VERY high power transmissions, and so unidirectional. So there would still need to be some kind of backchannel to request data.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mgcsinc (681597) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @06:57PM (#8593901)
    That's just plain old broadcast digital TV, except that it reqires a decoder; I just don't see what is so revoloutionary... Also, the author cites "idle... frequencies" as if broadcasting on these is without enormous cost...
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by ERJ (600451) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:04PM (#8593955)
      I would say that the technology is not so revolutionary. What is neat is that they will be using it to broadcast channels usually only available to cable / dish customers. Nothing new except that, because of no wires to maintain and no satellite to launch, the cost is much cheaper.
      • ...the cost is much cheaper.

        Evidently, you've never seen the electric bill for a 100,000 watt transmitter.
        • they may well be using unused bandwidth within the transport streams on existing digital transmitters
      • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

        by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:26PM (#8594173)
        But so much for passing the savings onto the customer. This service only offers 10 encrypted channels for $19.99. People might think that there's 30 stations coming out of their box, but about 20 of them are free over-the-air digital channels including the digital subchannels that you don't see with an analog tuner, but are decodable by any digital tuner.
      • And although it's not revolutionary, it does allow those of who live outside the city limits and have no access to cable an alternative besides satellite.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:3, Informative)

      by prockcore (543967)
      That's just plain old broadcast digital TV, except that it reqires a decoder; I just don't see what is so revoloutionary...

      Well, as far as I know, you can't get Discovery, TLC, USA, or ESPN with a regular antenna... but you can with this service.
      • True, but that's a marketing decision, not a tech one. The grandparent was just saying "what's so special about this tech?"
      • by billstewart (78916) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @09:16PM (#8594859) Journal
        Discovery, ESPN, etc. aren't *media* - they're *content*. Nothing about the content insists on being stuck in a copper wire. The medium here is Digital TV, and these guys are just buying airtime and content and selling advertising slots to pay for it, like any old-fashioned analog TV broadcaster does, or any infomercial vendor soaking up late-night UHF or cable TV timeslots.

        The difference that digital TV makes is spectrum efficiency - the US HDTV standards can fit a digital HDTV signal in the same space as an analog TV channel, or they can use the same bitstream-over-radio to carry about four lower-resolution TV channels, using protocols that are uglier than you'd expect to multiplex them on the bitstream. The ugliness of the protocols reflects the ugliness of political process that led to the design, with the FCC, the existing broadcast TV license-holders, the big networks, the cable TV companies, and several competing hardware folks in on the deal. They sold it to the public as High Definition TV, but of course there's not too much content where HDTV matters (mostly sports and movies, but not most sitcoms or dramas or news or talk shows), so by the time the standards were mandatory, the broadcast license owners got to convert their analog stations to "Digital TV", which can use the bits for HDTV or lower resolution content, giving them multiple low-res channels instead of the one they used to have, which they can essentialy sublet out to other people if they don't want to package their own content for it.

        The US FCC essentially nationalized the public's airwaves back in the 30s, along with the rest of the New Deal power grabs, and rents it back to big media companies or occasionally small well-behaved media companies in return for the ability to bully them around about content. Occasional gaps in the coverage have slipped by, allowing things like WiFi, but most of the spectrum is subject to political control, and that means of course that everybody lobbies the FCC.

    • It's more or less "idle bandwidth" that they're talking about. Every TV station should have a digital transmitter up by now, but not every TV station has HDTV content to put on it. Affiliates of Univision, Telemundo, Pax, Shop-At-Home and ShopNBC simply have no HDTV programs to put on their signals, so why not sell their wasted bandwidth cycles to this thing...
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Alan Cox (27532) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:32PM (#8594245) Homepage
      Its what we've been doing in the EU for several years now. And as the previous post says it is not without cost or limitations (less bandwith than satellite for example).

      In fact our big pay-to-view digital terrestrial tv company went spectacularly boom and nearly took out half of the soccer world with it, so that we had only free-to-air digital for a while, although a new player is now attempting to make pay to view digital terrestrial work again.

      And if they hit the target for analogue switch over (unlikely as lots of voters have analogue only tv's still) then there will be lots more room to grow the digital tv space.
      • But most people here only watch free to air stuff. We have cable and satellite but they're only allowed to have exclusive rights to things the free to air don't want (it's more complex than that but this is /.). And what's more is they're all required to have digital terrestrial transmission by now.

        So we get all our tv transmitted in unencrypted, 6Mbit (or there abouts) MPEG, widescreen. Each channel has about 21-25 Mbit of bandwidth so most stations also transmit a HD signal as well. Currently I think on

    • "Idle frequencies" my ass! This is broadcasters stealing bits from the bandwidth given to them to broadcast High-Definition television. 1080i requires the full 19.2 megabits (720p can get by with 15 megabits). Anything less requires filtering out detail before the encoder. I've seen network feeds at 35 megabit, and I can assure you that getting it down to 19.2 costs a lot of quality. What a lot of these broadcasters (Fox expecially) want to do is broadcast a single 480p wide-screen standard-definition versi

  • Encrypted? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @06:57PM (#8593903) Homepage Journal
    Is this encrypted like satellite TV? Or can I buy a receiver and not pay for the signal? Are these people going to sue all purchasers of smart card IO devices?
    • Re:Encrypted? (Score:5, Informative)

      by wattersa (629338) <andrew@NOSPaM.andrewwatters.com> on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:08PM (#8594003) Homepage
      FCC rules for Digital Television mandate that broadcasters must transmit at least one free over-the-air stream in their digital signal to the public just like current TV. However, they can charge for ancillary services [doc.gov] like internet (~19 mbps!), pay-per-view, etc. that are in parallel streams. So if you buy the receiver you'll probably need a descrambler and subscription to access the premium content.

      Check this list [fcc.gov] to see what stations are operating in your area. Call them and ask what kinds of services they will be offering. many stations simulcast their regular lineup as part of the FCC transition program.
    • It looks like they're going to use a smart-card based decoder just like DirecTV and Dish Network are using. You can pluck their signal out of the air with no problem, but figuring out what to do with it to squeeze the content out won't be so simple.
  • I live near SLC and was looking for a cheaper way to get HDTV..

    I just hope these guys pickup cartoon network soon.

    • I live near SLC and was looking for a cheaper way to get HDTV..

      I just hope these guys pickup cartoon network soon.


      Prepare to be disapointed. This thing doesn't offer any HDTV that isn't already available over the air. Their 10 pay channels are all non-HDTV channels.

      And as to picking up more channels... that's doubtful. It's hard to squeeze much more than 3 or 4 extra channels onto a digital TV signal, so they need 3 or 4 local broadcasters to help them out. They won't be adding any more channels because
  • Antenna troubles? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b0r0din (304712) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @06:58PM (#8593907)
    I've never had any luck with antenna-based communication. How would service be affected by bad weather? I know digital is definently better than analog over the air, but it still brings back memories of moving my hand half an inch one way while holding up a large metal rod and dancing a jig.
    • Just remember ff you dont' have a modern art sculpture of foil and coat hangers on your TV you aren't getting good reception!
    • Re:Antenna troubles? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by l810c (551591) * on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:07PM (#8593988)
      It says here [usdtv.com] that you must have line of sight to the tower. Might work better in the west or places were a tower can be placed really high. Bellsouth had a similar system(Not sure if they still offer it) in Atlanta where they were placing anteneas in Pine Trees in order to reach the tower. Big storm and there goes TV.

      Also,
      I want a system where I can pick each and every channel individually. I'd only want about 12-15 of them and I'd be willing to pay .50/channel :)

      • Re:Antenna troubles? (Score:2, Informative)

        by stratjakt (596332)
        Would work great in Toronto and the surrounding area. Best open air reception in the world.

        Broadcasts come from the CN tower (taller than anything else), plus broadcasts from upstate NY come in over Lake Ontario unobstructed.

        That's something I miss about TO, the fact that you could completely do away with cable and still have all the major networks with a decent roof antenna, Canadian and American.
    • by anachron (554095)
      but it still brings back memories of moving my hand half an inch one way while holding up a large metal rod and dancing a jig.

      Waayyyhay! And they say slashdotters need girlfriend/boyfriends. Way to use that technology, sir!

  • Nothing new... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elleomea (749084) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @06:59PM (#8593914) Homepage
    The UK have has a DigitalTV service that broadcasts to standard antenni for a little while now. FreeView [freeview.co.uk]
    • Re:Nothing new... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Xugumad (39311)
      We used to have a pay service, ITV Digital (previously OnDigital) but it kinda flopped.

      Basically it was providing less channels than most of the competing pay services, and while it had the advantage that you could get it absolutely anywhere without changing the house (great if you're living in university halls of residence), that wasn't enough to make it successful.
      • We used to have a pay service, ITV Digital (previously OnDigital) but it kinda flopped.

        That really depends on how you measure success. Ok granted financially it was a disaster, the service wasn't as good as the competition and despite what you say there were at least some areas where it couldn't be received(Freeview suffers from the same problem).

        On the other hand those monkey adverts were superb.
      • It also suffered heavily from people cracking their set-top boxes. It was easy to do and many people were watching for free.

        Also they made some bad business decisions, like buying the rights to 1st, 2nd and 3rd divsion (not premiership) football matches for a massive amount of money that they could not and would not recoup. They ended up going under and almost took the football clubs with them.

        OT, but to all the UK readers Joel Vietch (of RatherGood.com) is doing some cartoons on Channel 4 in about 5 mi
  • I wonder (Score:2, Interesting)

    by skank (106609)
    I live in BFE, where there is no cable and I'm too cheap for a dish (plus no Internet from a dish out here). I wonder since this is going thru the UHF/VHF frequencies, if it will be available farther out of town than cable is in most places. Also, most channels thru my standard antenna don't come in very well. I think 2 of the 6 channels I get are clear. I wonder if this will have the same problems for those of us stuck out in the country?
    • "Also, most channels thru my standard antenna don't come in very well. I think 2 of the 6 channels I get are clear. I wonder if this will have the same problems for those of us stuck out in the country?"

      Acquiring the signal will be the same as normal TV. Difference is that digital signal has some type of FEC. Once you acquire the datastream you will have decent picture. Problem will be keeping the stream (with weak signal). Should look the same as a net stream that's congested.
  • Curious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WndrBr3d (219963) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @06:59PM (#8593919) Homepage Journal
    I'm curious if the set top boxes use a form of authorization on the video stream like DTV or DishNetwork.

    I know it's been a big deal lately that there has been a new sat. receiver released that can descramble Dish Network signals without the use of a SmartCard by simply providing it the latest decryption keys which anyone can get from a website.

    Curious how long it'll take before they crack the protection on this system... so anyone can get free digital TV anywhere (well, if they roll it out everywhere).
  • In the UK, we had a pay TV service, originally called On Digital, and later called ITV Digital, that used standard TV broadcast frequencies for their pay service. It failed for a number of reasons including poor encryption.

    We've now got FreeView [freeview.co.uk], a free to air replacement. Same technology sans encryption. There's also a group called Top Up TV [topuptv.com], who are looking to add some pay channels to Freeview, but they look likely to fail due to lack of new equipment to receive pay channels on, and a poor selection of channels (limited due to lack of UHF bandwidth).

  • by Hanzie (16075) * on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:01PM (#8593934)
    They don't have Comedy Central, which is 1/3 to 1/2 of what I watch:
    Child Development: South Park
    Sociology: Dave Chapelle
    News: Daily Show w/ Jon Stewart

    There's even optional:
    geography: Dave Attel

    As I wrote to the CEO of Dish Networks, lack of comedy central will be the deal breaker.
    • you forgot

      forensics and investigation : reno 911
      communication skills : crank yankers

      remember child development begins its 8th season tonight

      A Bugg
  • by Benm78 (646948) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:02PM (#8593936) Homepage
    Funny that this seems to be breaking news, as a very similar service named Digitenne [digitenne.nl] has been in operation for a year or so in the Netherlands.

    Indeed, the service is a little cheaper than the common cable system, but brings about one major disadvantage: You will need a receiver and subscription for every receiver you own. So if you have 2 TV's and a VCR, you need 3 subscriptions, and this setup is more expensive than cable plus an amplifier and indoor coax cabling.

    However, the service can be used on the road, allowing good quality TV reception in vehicles and on, for example, campsites.

    • >Digitenne has been in operation for a year or so in the Netherlands.

      >Indeed, the service is a little cheaper than the common cable system

      Digitenne offers only about 2/3 the channels of a typical cable system.
      It seems attractive until you notice that it has no BBC, no Belgium channels, no German channels, etc.

      A satellite receiver setup costs less than Digitenne and offers much, much more.
      I am considering to end my cable subscription and looked at Digitenne as a backup for bad weather conditions and
  • by drayzel (626716) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:02PM (#8593942)
    I've seen the displays in our local Wal-Marts (Orem ,UT ~30 miles from SLC). The features look really good, but they just didn't have any options for adding other channels that they do NOT mention.

    I prefer a lot of channels so I can skip the trash and find the good shows... I just don't see that as an option for this service. The HDTV aspect is attractive, but I don't have the money for the TV! (I know, I know, I am a bad bad bad geek)

    With thier $19 price structure it looks like they are going after customers that want basic with some premium channels but not the high price, I think that is the same market that does NOT have HDTV's.

    My brother is thinking about signing up so to add HDTV to his big screen, but he will still keep his dish.

    ~Z
  • though '...customers must buy a $99.95 set-top device to decode the channels.

    So those channels are going to come through the antenna, uh?

    How long do you think it'll take to adapt certain programs [geocities.com] to decode more than Nagravision?

    In Europe, there's a channel called Canal+ that's been software-decoded for years, and they can't really do much about it. I would think people would get cracking on the code even faster when 35 channels could be available.
  • by The_Rippa (181699) * on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:03PM (#8593946)
    Great selection for the test markets...

    Salt Lake City - only watch the 700 Club
    Las Vegas - too busy gambling
    Albuquerque - can't afford tv's
  • Digital TV (Score:3, Informative)

    by ezs (444264) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:03PM (#8593948) Homepage
    Sounds like Digital Terrestrial TV currently rolling out across the UK - Information from the BBC [bbc.co.uk] and here's [digitaltelevision.gov.uk] the UK Govt information.
  • They may be surrounded by hills, but those three cities are all flat. I suppose Orlando is next on their list.
  • Is it just me, or does "digital" cable not look as good as regular analog cable? I know this service is different and support HDTV, but my regular digital cable looks horrible, with pixelation all over the place, and a bunch of worthless "features" like card games that take forever to load. I have a nice TV, so it's not that. Is it just Charter in Southern California?
    • by Stevyn (691306)
      It depends on the signal. Analog cable looks great when the signal is perfect and you're located next door to the cable company. However, a few miles out and a decade of degradation to the actual cable will worsen the signal substantially. However with digital, as long as there is a signal, the picture is always the same. I have comcast which has some analog and some digital. I'd say the digital is pretty good, usually better than the analog channels. I guess it's easier for them to send digital down
  • Possibly illegal? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PunkKangaroo (595323) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:07PM (#8593996) Homepage
    A friend of mine found out about this awhile back and has been documenting his research into the matter. You can read what he has found here [a.zzq.us]. Basically: "While surfing the web I have found out that USDTV is renting space for 3 of its 11 channels from KULC. While I am no lawyer I think that this is illegal as KULC is licenesed as an educational station."
    • Re:Possibly illegal? (Score:4, Informative)

      by A (8698) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:21PM (#8594129) Homepage Journal
      I am the author of the website my buddy here linked to. I just got a letter today from KULC, the non-profit station in question. The respondent did give some decent support for the legality of their choice to lease out part of the digital tv channel. I feel he did not address the ethical issue of selling part of the station to a company without any public input or notification. Here is a column I wrote for my Uni newspaper: http://www.wsusignpost.com/vnews/display.v/ART/200 4/03/10/404ec7769f825 [wsusignpost.com]
    • If they're using KULC's bandwidth, then the three cable networks that are going over that station are going to need some help...

      An educational station can lease out its bandwidth to commercial ventures, but it cannot broadcast commercial announcements. For FCC purposes, the defintion of a commercial announcement on an educational station is anything that mentions either the prices of products for sale, a competitor, or make a comparitive statement like saying they are the "best" at something. It's a subtil
  • Further reading... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WndrBr3d (219963) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:08PM (#8594008) Homepage Journal
    In a previous comment I wondered about how they would go about protecting the digital stream from piracy.

    I went ahead and did some reading and it seems that when you purchase the unit, you have to call customer service and read them the UID number and the serial number from the receiver.

    I'm sort of disappointed in their engineering department. I give it 3 months of mass market exposure before you see a hack (perhaps opening the unit and being able to serial into it?) that will let you change the UID and Serial Number to perhaps an existing subscription. or even a universal unlock code (like region 0), who knows.
  • Big Fat Fiber Pipe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:10PM (#8594021) Homepage
    One day, we will all have a big fat fucking fiber pipe (fffp technology) right up to the door, and all this silly old technology for media delivery will die out, as it should. But, for the time being, this looks marginally interesting, as long as the consumer does not have to foot the bill for some box that will only become junk a year or so later (WebTV...).
    • by Dun Malg (230075) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:36PM (#8594270) Homepage
      One day, we will all have a big fat fucking fiber pipe (fffp technology) right up to the door, and all this silly old technology for media delivery will die out, as it should.

      Dang straight. I was talking to a Verizon field technician today and he says he and about a hundred and forty other techs are being trained to install fiber. Verizon is trying to push fiber out to the last mile to compete with cable companies. He said they already have one "test neighborhood" in Cerritos where they've been stringing fiber from the pole to the POD on every house they service. It is Verizon, though, so for internet connectivity they'll probably still only give you the option of $50/mo for a 1500/256 async, or $300/mo for a 3000/3000, offering absolutely nothing in between, the way they do with DSL. I can see them spending a crapload putting in fiber, then selling it like it's cable TV and DSL. "Yeah, we have the bandwidth to offer you a 10GBps connection, but since we charge $300 for 3MBps, that'll cost you $10,000 per month".

      • Verizon is trying to push fiber out to the last mile to compete with cable companies.

        I often wonder if the telecoms really want to compete with cable. They must know that fiber to the house would BLOW CABLE AWAY. So why don't they do it? [tinfoil hat]It's a conspiracy![/tinfoil hat]

    • Yea, that's right. No one would ever want wireless. Heck, I'm gonna take this card out of my laptop 'cause it is so much quicker browsing slashdot through a big fat fucking copper pipe (ffcp)...

      Regardless, though, you have a good point for where wires/fiber can be run easily, however, in a smaller town where you may be able to put an antenna up HIGH without worrying about local restrictions, you may be able to service the people better than laying physical wire...
  • USDTV? (Score:5, Funny)

    by HungWeiLo (250320) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:11PM (#8594029)
    What's USDTV? Did the Department of Television replace the Department of Education so soon?
  • Why is there a monthly fee to recieve it?

    "equipment rental" my ass.
  • What??? Using public airwaves to send for-pay content??? That is not right. These broadcasters pay NOTHING to lease very VALUABLE public resource (air-waves). The arrangement has always been that for leasing for free, they MUST broadcast open and clear signals. This kind of encrypted services is clear violation of that agreement. I have no problem if this company pays for the unused spectrum, but to use public resources to make profit seems like a very bad land grab by very greedy people. Where the hell
  • $2 a channel? (Score:4, Informative)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:17PM (#8594084)
    USDTV only really adds 10 channels that you can't get with a normal digital TV decoder. Namely, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, HGTV, Food Network, ESPN, ESPN2, Discovery Channel and TLC.

    Everything else they list on this page [usdtv.com] are channels that can be plucked out of the air with a standard digital TV tuner in the Salt Lake City area. So, in effect, viewers are paying $19.95 to get 10 channels... roughly $2 per channel.
  • Great, just great. Who needs yet another outlet for corporate propaganda beamed into our living rooms? If there's available spectrum somewhere, it should be released for unlicensed services. A longer range, lower bandwidth Wifi capability in the VHF band is far more beneficial to the public than yet another Disney channel.
  • This deal, you have to buy a $100 set-top box, that controls one TV, and then you have to pay at a minimum $20 per month, doesn't seem like quite a deal, and seems like it would be easy, almost too easy to lose reception, just like using a regular antenna. I don't see this deal as anything spectacular, I'd rather deal with my cable company (or you may wish to continue to deal with your satelite company). Doesn't seem like there is anywhere in this whole deal that would be very beneficial to anyone.

    Basic

    • Basic cable is what, like $15 or less per month, and it sounds like you get about the same amount of channels as you do over this USDTV for $20, maybe a few channels here and there, but this is hardly a deal.

      Not to be alarmist or crude but Where the fuck do you live? Here in comcast country (michigan) where your cable choices are comcast, comcast, comcast, comcast, or, if you're lucky enough to live in an outlying area, comcast, 40-45 bucks a month is the norm. That's pretty close to direct TV rates. 45 b
      • Comcast unfortunately doesn't list the "basic" setup on their website, there is a setup with them, however, and the cost is about $15-$18 per month, it includes 20-30 channels, although, it doesn't include ESPN, or ESPN2. When they say basic, they definetely mean basic. I can't even remember the complete channel line up (as I have moved away from Comcast (out of UT into MT) and I am now dealing with Bresnan), but for the price, and quality programming on these days, basic setup is nice, if you're rarely h

      • 45 bucks a month, plus equipment fees puts them at least in the same ballpark with the Digital cable and DirectTV rates

        Why not switch? It's more, by a couple of bucks. For $39.99 a month, you can get DTV's Total Choice plus locals package, which includes all the channels you listed as your interests (Discovery, History, Speed, and Fox Sports Detroit). If you're too far out for locals, you can shave $3 a month off that bill. Or, if you want, you can add $3 a month and get the Total Choice Plus pack, wh

  • Is it a standard DTV decoder? If so, I'd buy one just to have plain-old DTV decoding. I can't afford an HDTV, but I'd be happy to be able to receive the existing digital signals over the air for plain-old TV.

    Unfortunately, such devices seem to cost more in the $250 and up range than the $100 range.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Too expensive, competition from existing sat and cable made it poor value and finally went bankrupt paying over the odds for the right to air minor league football matches that nobody wanted to watch.

    In fact the only success was the funny knitted mascot toy they made famous which was used in the advertisements these sometimes fetching crazy prices on ebay at the time.
  • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @07:29PM (#8594204) Homepage
    I think the basic concept (broadcasting cable channels on unused DTV bandwidth) is a great idea. I'd sign up immediately, but for a couple of problems:

    1. USDTV is a bit pricey for what you get. You're basically paying $20/month for a dozen decent channels. I can pay $30/month and get the same channels, plus a couple dozen more, plus a free DVR.
    2. I can't see spending for cable channels without getting some sort of news station, preferrably CNN.

    I've also heard that Disney has invested money in USDTV. It appears that this is true, given the some of the channels: 2 pure Disneys, 2 ESPNs, 2 and Lifetimes. It looks like USDTV can't get away from one of the evils of cable: forced bundling.

  • Is this like Look TV [www.look.ca]?
    Available in a few Canadian cities.
  • "USDTV keep prices low and still support local content since they have no cable network to maintain, and no satellites to launch?"

    Costs have little to do with retail pricing once the market has been captured.
  • Idle frequencies? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AndroidCat (229562)
    I wonder how they determine what the idle frequencies are? I still pull in a fair number of channels on the set with rabbit ears, some of which might be classed as fringe stations from my location. (49 Fox from Buffalo is cute. Cable doesn't have that one, probably due to Canadian content rules.)

    I'd be peeved if someone decided that a station that I watch was too far away to matter, and set up a scrambled broadcast on the same frequency.

  • by doormat (63648) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @08:07PM (#8594458) Homepage Journal
    1. Yes, the signals are encrypted, and they use a Conditional Access Module in order for you to descramble the content. The scheme works in a similar way as satellite.

    2. Yes its on the "public airwaves", just encrypted. The FCC says no encrypting primary network feeds (either SD or HD), but they can do whatever with the extra space they have.

    3. Its using the extra space in the digital channel. The 8VSB modulation scheme will allow for 19.4Mbit/s per channel. 1080i HD takes up about that much, 720p uses 14Mb/s or so, 480i/p take up about 3Mb/s. So if I own a digital channel and only transmit in 480i/p then I've got lots of extra bandwidth, and I can sell it to someone else.

    4. A *very* important thing to note is that the receiver will output ANYTHING unless you fork over the $20/mo. If you pay the $99 or whatever to buy the receiver and decide you dont like it, you're out the money. You cant use it as a HDTV OTA receiver (to receive channels that are in the air and not encrypted). You must pay USDTV money to keep the box from becoming a really expensive doorstop. Likewise, if USDTV goes out of business, you will probably have a really expensive doorstop.
  • I have a feeling it won't be a big success. They appear to be pitching it to people who need something cheap ($20/mo.). Most of these people who can only afford 20 bucks a month will be living in apartments, and they will be prevented from installing the necessary antennae on any "common-share" structure, ie, a roof. But is $20/mo really cheap? Considering that you only get 10 more channels than you normally do for free, $20/mo isn't cheap afterall.

    There are 2 ESPN channels (why 2?)
    There are 2 carto
  • by nohup (26783) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @08:15PM (#8594505)

    Some research has been about USDTV's operation in Utah and they appear to be using channels that have been allocated to the "Utah State Board of Regents" [fcc.gov], which is the state board responsible for overseeing education in Utah.

    IANAL, but according to FCC regulations (47CFR73) [gpo.gov] "noncommercial educational broadcast stations will be licensed only to nonprofit educational organizations upon a showing that the proposed stations will be used primarily to serve the educational needs of the community; for the advancement of educational programs; and to furnish a nonprofit and noncommercial television broadcast service."

    We feel USDTV might be in violation of these regulations and we've been searching for answers as to the nature of the agreement between the two entities. So far our efforts to contact them have not yeilded results. Does anyone have any understanding of how they are able to license this "non-commercial" bandwidth?

    Credit for most of the research goes to Luke Jenkins. There's a complete history of the research he's been doing to get to the bottom of this matter here: http://a.zzq.org/kulc/ [zzq.org]

  • by -tji (139690) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @08:44PM (#8594676) Journal
    The U.S. digital TV system allows for "subchannels". So, a single station can carry multiple programs simultaneously. This service uses those subchannels to transmit encrypted programs that need to be decoded by their subscriber box. So they are using the free public spectrum for a pay service.

    Of course, if a station is broadcasting HDTV, this is taking precious bandwidth away from the primary video channel. For 1080i broadcasts, this can really degrade the quality of the HD video. Particularly when showing fast moving sports, they really need the full available bandwidth to do a decent job.

    So, this service encourages stations to not carry HD programs, and instead get a cut of the revenue on these pay stations.

    In the end, I think the market will reject this.. there are too many drawbacks (extremely limited number of channels that can be offered (no CNN, no HBO.. they will only be able to carry 6-10 pay channels depending on local conditions), very minimal ability to offer HDTV programming (both cable and satellite are now positioning HDTV as a competitive issue, by the nature of this service they will not be able to support ESPN-HD, HBO-HD, Discovery-HD, etc.).
  • by IshanCaspian (625325) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @08:47PM (#8594690) Homepage
    Wow, they're actually just sending the television signals RIGHT THROUGH THIN AIR?! WHAT'LL THEY THINK OF NEXT!
  • by burnin1965 (535071) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @08:49PM (#8594710) Homepage
    I just checked their channel listings for the SLC area(where I live) and a quick perusing with the remote reveals that I already pick up the local channels for free with my rabbit ears on my Mitsubishi HDTV with a built in HDTV tuner.

    The pay channels are not the HDTV versions, they are old 480i signals.

    So 75% of what they offer for $19.95/month is already free so you are paying for only 11 pay channels that are non-HDTV format. That's about $1.81/channel each month.

    A comparable Dish Network package comes with 60 channels at $24.99/month. Which comes to about $0.42/channel each month.

    Now if I were to recalculate those numbers considering which pay channels are complete crap then they would get a little closer but I'm sure the satellitte will still be a much better deal. For now I think I'll stick with my rabbit ears and Dish Network subscription. But I am currently looking into switching to Voom satellitte TV which is ALL HDTV.

    burnin
  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday March 17, 2004 @09:26PM (#8594906)
    The summary here is extremely poor.

    The service is not using "idle frequencies", it is using active frequencies but spare bandwidth. I.e., it is including its scrambled signal in with the standard digital broadcast signal of one or more other stations.

    If these stations have the spare bandwidth, this is a win/win for both the station and USDTV, since they get the cost of a tower and transmitter underwritten by USDTV, and USDTV gets a medium they don't have to worry about licenses for.

    This will be a benefit to those areas where the local stations are hard-pressed to come up with the funds to go digital (even though they must). It will also be a big help in areas currently served by translators, since those are sometimes operated by small groups within the community they serve. They can still translate, and sell the excess space to USDTV, who pays for the hardware.

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