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Digital Television Transmission Standards 233

kcarnold wrote to us with a discussion piece about the digital television standards, covering both what the government is trying, the Sinclair effort as well as some of the technical aspects. Click below to read more or just add your voice to the debate.

I wanted to know what Slashdotters thought about the COFDM vs. 8VSB digital television transmission standard issue. However, I was suprised to find nothing related to this topic in a Slashdot search. This is an important issue, and it's a big one: almost half of the broadcast television stations in the US support the movement, lead by Sinclair Broadcast Group, to change the standard.

Here's the issue (another NY Times article talks about this -- search for DTV). Digital television, or DTV, is projected to replace America's current NTSC transmission system sometime in the earle 21st century. Stations have already begun to move to the new trasmission format. It promises better picture quality, no ghosting, and (here's the big one for "nerds") 19.2 megabits per second of raw binary data. One of the major forseen applications is delivering data like the data on the PointCast Network to mobile devices. Of course, however, the main application is television. Broadcasters have a choice: either they can transmit one channel of amazingly high-resolution, stunningly detailed high-quality video (HDTV), or several channels (4, I think) of standard-quality video, which is better than the video of the current system because there is no ghosting and fading up until a point where it doesn't come in at all. The issue centers over that point.

The current system is known as 8VSB, and it passed advanced laboratory testing and even some basic field testing almost ten years ago. However, last year, when Sinclair did actual, in-home, average-viewer's-setup testing of this system, it didn't work as well as the NTSC system. They could not receive HDTV signals from a station near an NTSC station whose picture came in clear. Then Sinclair did more, and more detailed, tests at home in Baltimore. This time they brought for comparison a sample modulator for the European transmission system called COFDM, and a demodulator / decoder box to receive it. They tried it in streets with tall buildings, parking garages, and apartments, all places where multipath, which causes ghosting, is prevalent. Each time they tested the two systems--European COFDM and American 8VSB, the COFDM receiver picked out its signal without fail--"It was hard to find a place where it didn't work," says my dad, who was part of the testing--but it was hard to find a spot where 8VSB would work. Continued testing convinced Sinclair officials that the current system would not be able to work in the real world, and are pushing for a change to COFDM, a system that has been proven in Europe. They wrote up a petition to the FCC, and almost half of the television stations of the US have signed it.

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Digital Television Transmission Standards

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  • Analog mobile phones have traditionally transmitted a signal containing less information over a wider channel at a lower frequency. The two first parts make reception resist errors better, and the last helps long distance reception.

    There is no reason you could not make a digital phone system with the same properties, you just need to get a wide band at a low frequency. Even then the system probably would not support many users.
  • You're gonna havta buy converters for all those TV's if you want to keep using them.
  • The only ones who will win by this conversion to digital TV in the us is the major Japanese TV equipment manufacturers ...

    There are other winners in the DTV conversion.

    The broadcast stations win because they only have to use 20% of their bandwidth for "free TV". They'll be able to sell the other 80% as subscription TV or non-TV services such as datacasting.

    The networks win because they think they are the ones who're going to get to use all of that extra bandwidth. Most of the networks are looking at transmitting multiple program channels (e.g. ABC + Disney + ESPN + ESPN-2) in a single broadcast channel. CBS had only one channel and was the big pusher for High Definition TV, but since they recently were bought out by Viacom I'm expecting a change in that attitude.

    The government wins because they've already booked the projected income from selling off the TV channels that will be vacated when current NTSC stations shut down. Unfortunately for them, they booked it for the year 2006 and nobody really believes that it's going to happen by then.

    The film industry, represented by the MPAA, are tickled pink that they can make their movies unrecordable. The 5C (DTCP) copy-protection standard even has the ability for the MPAA to send a "death penalty" to any box that they suspect of being used for "piracy".

    Lots of winners, each expecting to make big bucks. I wonder whose pocket those bucks are coming from?

  • For a lot of the transmitters, switching from 8-VSB to CODFM would just be a firmware patch, requiring no hardware changes at all.

    For example, according to Itelco, who have supplied a number of 8-VSB transmitters:

    "Broadcasters who have purchased 8-VSB modulators can retrofit their transmitters with COFDM circuitry if necessary. Itelco's digital systems use programmable digital signal processors that can be reprogrammed to transmit COFDM."

    So changing to COFDM may well just be a firmware change. But even in the worst case Sinclair are saying that a change to COFDM should cost broadcasters no more than $20,000.

    Also, note that Sinclair are not petitioning to force broadcasters to change to COFDM -- they are petitioning for broadcasters to be allowed to use COFDM if they choose to do so.

  • we're computer geeks. For computer related information I trust computer geeks. For video related info I trust the video geeks :-)
  • >> less [than] 35 percent of the country receive their television over the air.

    Don't you have this backwards? I thought it was about 33% of households who had cable or satellite.

    "Pay -- PAY?? -- for television? And it STILL HAS COMMERCIALS??? You must be joking."
  • Tell me about it. Down here in New Zealand, if a shop doesn't have an EFT-POS (Electronic Funds Transfer - Point Of Sale) terminal, they start losing sales! It is usually as fast as cash, you still have control over your banking, and you can even get cash for those primitive, technologically deprived non-EFT-POS shops. Petrol station pumps have terminals so the station doesn't even have to be "open" at night.

    However, for my account payment, i use my banks Internet banking services.

  • Yeah! Yeah! Isolationalism - that's the only sensible way to go! Think how much money can be made by ripping people off because they don't have any choice of a cheaper supplier?

    I didn't say isolationism was the way to go. As it is, there IS pretty much only one country that makes memory, which seems to be a reason memory prices rose recently. Which actually seems to be similar to what you said; just the reason for the increase was different.

    Re:Global Harmonisation (Score:1) by Malc ( on Sunday November 07, @08:36PM EST (#168) (User Info) Yeah! Yeah! Isolationalism - that's the only sensible way to go! Think how much money can be made by ripping people off because they don't have any choice of a cheaper supplier? "Like anyone in Europe would pick up the signles generated here anyway" That's not what he(she?) said. He said that he wanted to be able buy equipment in America and not have to get rid of it before returning to the UK. It's a pain in the arse and potentially very expensive moving between countries as a lot equipment doesn't work.

    Oh i forgot we'd be inconviencing the millions of people that move between the US and other countries all the time, or have a summer home in france. silly me.
  • Unfortunately, the broadcasters consider "content" to to be such knuckle-walking, trailer-park trash as Jerrie Springer
  • Actually, this thought isn't really as radical as you'd think... I live in The Netherlands, and work for a company which will be broadcasting a digital signal over cable using MPEG-2/DVB for use with a set-top-box as recipient.

    We're also part and founders of the Eurobox-consortium [], which has defined several standards to which set-top-boxes should comply.

    One of these is the loader, an application which can broadcast a new firmware version over the cable network which can be downloaded and installed by the STB.

    We're currently still beta-testing our systems, but this loader is being used already on (digital) European satellite channels and does work.

    One pitfall: this firmware cannot change the way our digital signal is decompressed because that is done in dedicated hardware for mpeg-decompression; also the demodulation and demultiplexing hardware isn't really upgradable, so this feature needs a stable type of signal.

    Eventually, with the rise of dedicated programmable decoder chips, it might be possible to be able to upgrade the demultiplexing and decompression routines, but demodulation will still remain a hardware issue..

    Los Ballos,
  • Sort of like the hard deadline of having HDTV transmitters in place by the end of last year in the major markets. To my knowlege (I could be wrong) there are stil no HDTV stations in Chicago, although they did install the antennaes a few months ago. Maybe they'll have them by the end of this year. I'm sure the dozens of people who own compatible sets will be thrilled.


  • The main beef I have with video today is that we've just gotten digital right for NTSC SDTV - or Standard Def TV - and now we're mucking things up by throwing in a totally new set of standards via the ATSC DTV proposal accepted/mandated by the FCC. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm just a video editor/producer by trade, who happens to like LINUX too. I'm not expert on this subject by any measure - but I do know that I can now edit decent NTSC or PAL digital video (compressed) on my desktop computer, for much less money than investing in analog editing equipment. ATSC/DTV threatens to screw all of this progress up as the current PC architecture cannot handle the bandwidth/throughput requirements for non-linear HDTV editing! My 56GB SCSI array can barely keep up with Beta-SP (today's broadcast "standard" tape format) quality in terms of throughput. Now, in the near future I'll have to worry about buying all new equipment just so I can do my job. New cameras, new editors, new VCRs, new TV monitors, etc.... The costs are enormous - especially for broadcasters and cable companies. The only ones who will win by this conversion to digital TV in the us is the major Japanese TV equipment manufacturers - Sony, Matsushita (Panasonic/JVC), and others - as well as those making MPEG codecs... I'll buy only when I'm forced to upgrade. For now my 27" TV looks just fine...
  • I sure can't find anything that spells that out.

    I am very interested since my building just banned DSS dishes...$1300 a month and I can't have a DSS dish.
  • That's what settop boxes are for.
  • i live in the austin, tx area and time warner cable offers a service called 'digital cable'. it's pretty nice: lots of channels, good picture quality, extra features.
    however, when the signal gets messed up, it's REALLY messed up. also, the compression algorithm they use doesn't work very well for contrasting dark shades. i was watching one show where basically all the dark background colors were smudged together into a black cloud. very ugly.

  • Is this true?

    If it is where can I find more information on it?

    I looked on the FCC website, but the search engine there isn't all that friendly.
  • It's not just that. The small tv stations probably will not be able to afford to re-do their stations with all the new expensive equipment. They will either get help from the big boys or fold. If they get help, the big guys (networks) most likely get control. All the small towns and rural areas will be either controlled by networks or be shutdown when the days of NTSC die, except of course for 'pirate tv'.
  • how many Slashdotters here give a rat's ass about television, digital or otherwise?

    I might be weird but I find that my TV is pretty much on when I am home. My computer is in the same room as my TV so I mainly watch TV while I am working/playing on my computer. I would like to turn the TV off more but the sad fact is that most radio programming is much, much worse (crappy, repetitive music and intrusive, too-loud commercials immediately come to mind).

    Maybe this has something to do with me not living in the good ol' U. S. of A.?

    Most likely. People in the U.S. watch a lot of TV, sometimes too much for their own good. It would be nice if people from the U.S. would pick up a book (or even a newspaper) every now and then...
  • Umm... not finally. Heard of PAL? GSM? Metric units? Here in SA we've had nation-wide GSM for 4, 5 (?) years already with the states only just starting.
  • What you don't seem to realize is that we are right now in the middle of deploying the DTV system. Broadcasts began this year. The equipment is being manufactured and shipped right now. This thing began a long time ago. They can't begin to switch to COFDM because they are in the midst of deploying 8VSB equipment. It takes years for acceeptance, but the plan is for NTSC to be extinguished by 2005.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hey, I've got an idea. How about if the government let's the industry decide for itself.

    But wait, you say -- what if we end up with three different standards? Right. It would be just like the battle for 56K modems that is causing us so many problems today. Of course, that battle isn't causing us problems anymore, and the solution would be the same: standards consolidation, or a cable box that supports all three standards.

    But then, what happens when someone creates a fourth standard, and it's better? Obviously, the manufacturers would end up making a cable box that is software upgradable. The next step would be for the decoding software to be carried on a cable channel so the decoder can be upgraded on-the-fly. After that, people could plug in their TV, and it would just work. End of problem.

    Somewhere along the line, it would occur to people that the decoding software can run on a PC, the Internet and TV broadcasting will merge, and we all live happily ever after.

    That isn't what's going to happen, of course. The bureaucrats need to maintain their power base, so they're going to enact a standard, and lock us into a technology that will become increasing obsolete. Then, like the railroads, and radio, and telephones, we won't see any improvements for fifty years. Fortunately, we will be using the Internet to bypass whatever they do. That is, unless they forbid it -- in the name of ensuring access for everyone.

  • Since the US broadcast standard for DTV is contained within the same 6MHz channel as NTSC, I propose that cable CAN carry DTV. The main problem is co-channel interference, since 8VSB does use a bit more of the channel than NTSC. It may be necessary to skip channels to avoid this entirely. Will the cable companies do it? Not unless they are forced as were/are the TV stations.

    As for switching to COFDM, you can rule that out in the top 11 markets, which have already built transmission systems for 8VSB. I suppose the systems could be modified, but in all liklihood, the cost would be close to purchasing all new equipment. Not gonna happen. Maybe the smaller markets can build agile or go COFDM, which would in fact complicate reception quite a bit.
  • PAL is interlaced, just like NTSC, giving you 50 fields/sec.
  • You will be able to buy a really cheap set-top box that will convert the incoming digital transmission into an analogue signal that your old TV is still able to process. So don't get your nickers in a knot.
  • You preach it brother. The brain leech is dead!!! Anyone see starship troopers.. where the bug sucks the brains? That's what TV programming represents to me.

    Ofcourse, FOR ME, movies are different. They have a complete story. THey don't drag on every damn Wednesday. They convey a point.. they arn't inturrupted. It's a package deal.

    IANAL, but television programming is annoying.

  • The reason is simple: Americans want cheap prices, Europeans want quality. That's why there are waaaay more VCRs in use in Amercia than in Europe. The PAL system might be better than NTSC, but it is more expensive.
  • Don't forget digital wire transmission standards. The US has "T-1" at 1.544Mbps while Europe has "E-1" at 2.048Mbps.

    And please don't remind me of GSM. I had GSM through Sprint here in DC area until they decided it wasn't good enough for them and forced everyone to change over to CDMA.

  • DVB, Digital Video Broadcasting [] is the standard for European (and propably worldwide) digital television broadcasts.

    The standard defines several modes for different transmission mediums, DVB-T for terrestrial, DVB-C for cable networks, and DVB-S for satellite.

    And there are already digital AUDIO broadcasts, check this DAB, Digital Audio Broadcast [] site for more information.

  • I know economies of countries interrelate...and to o much of that would be a bad thing, don't you agree? Also, why aren't chips made in volume enough in other contries so that if something happens to one it won't affect things much? You think that its a good idea that all of or oil comes from one place?
  • But don't you see, if you don't get involved it won't work at all, and where will we be then?

    The American system is just not as good as the European Standard...

    Get involved, or get a VCR/DVD because that TV you spent $2000 on will only be useful for getting stoned and watching digital snow!!!
  • Digital cellular uses vastly less battery power. So the analogy of tower spacing as proof of the reach of the technology is not applicable.

    I have a phone with a sub-ounce battery. The battery life is pathetic in analog-only zones, presumably because it has to reach further to get to those wider-spaced towers you describe.
  • Oil comes from where oil is, and where it's cost-effective to get it. Most of our oil comes from the OPEC nations, but a fair amount comes from Texas. However, other areas just don't have the amounts of oil deposits necessary to make it cost-effective to drill it. As far as your original assertion, most memory comes from Taiwan because that's where most of the manufacturers are. If someone felt that it would be cost-effective to set up a plant in, say, Mexico or Cuba or whatever, they would do it; however, the real world, particularly as it relates to economics, doesn't tend to favor redundancy.
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • NYT link didn't work for me - try ?getdoc+site+site+79513+1+wAAA+DTV []. Curse these dumb CGIs!

    Good luck to Sinclair, I say. Given that we've already got working stuff in Europe, goodness knows why the US needs another standard at all. I'd like to have a telly I can use anywhere in the world.

    This comment was brought to you by And Clover.
  • Do you have a Transcender for that CPCS? TIA!!!


  • Isn't it GSM that's incompatible with hearing aids and uses a frequency band that's already being used by something else in the states?

  • Finally, somewhere where the EU is ahead of the USA.

    We've had digital TV here now for about a year, and it's a _major_ advance over analogue. More channels, easy channel selection (Sky digital has a cool, easy to use menu system) and no picture problems at all.

    I haven't seen digital cable yet, but i'm looking forward to it....
  • Okay, is it just me, or is there very little cause for worry here? It appears that the problem is already taking care of itself...
    Here's the scenario as I see it:
    -Moving to DTV cause it's better
    -Adopting 8VSB cause it got approved
    -8VSB proving not up to snuff
    -Adopting COFDM instead cause it's better

    Now, is it just me? Since we're not going to immediately switch over to DTV for awhile anyway, and we've already got almost half (a big number no matter how you look at it) rooting for COFDM, which I view as the better, then it's downhill from there.

    Any cable company installing a standard in which the reception isn't healthy isn't going to prosper, plain and simply. There are too many alternatives to your local cable company. Satellite, mini-dish, or, as I do, hook up a big antenna and only receive 5 channels... Works for me.
    -Any stations adopting the weaker standard is going to end up with unhappy customers.
    -Unhappy customers means revenue loss

    We are FINALLY living in a day and age in which consumers are REALIZING their purchasing power. I mean, c'mon, understandably enough, people are locked into things like Microsoft products because they don't know better... but who doesn't know about satellite. In most communities it's considered an UPgrade.
    Anyway, I just think the situation is handling itself properly, and that there isn't any cause for concern... Feel free to flame me with more accurate info if I'm wrong.

  • Yep and TV is a right, not a privlidge. No progress should be attempted except that which can be _given_ to all residents of planet earth by the people who are actually willing to work to make things better.
  • Intentional incompatibility with existing standards is not restricted to the USA. Europe has a long history of ignoring American technical standards in order to protect European companies from American competition.
  • Unfortunately, DVD doesn't have enough resolution to really necessitate HDTV. Just get a good-quality SVHS-capable TV instead, or something which can accept component video if you're really finicky. My 35" Sony Trinitron has 900 lines of resolution, and DVDs fed to it through the SVHS jack are incredibly sharp. As a test of this, I hooked up both the SVHS and RCA inputs on my TV to my DVD player and put on the Ghostbusters menu screen (with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man tromping through a rendered New York with the menu items on various buildings). By flipping between RCA and SVHS, I could see how incredible the difference was - SVHS was perfectly sharp, whereas RCA looked like a plain old VHS videotape. But regardless, SVHS can handle 600 lines of resolution (as evidenced by my LeadTek S320 putting out a perfectly-sharp Quake2 at 800x600 on said TV), and I believe DVD has something like 400 lines.
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • DirecTV my ass.

    Have you tried to contact their customer service representatives lately? "Due to the increase in calls because of our merger with USSB, we are unable to handle your call. Sorry. *click*"

    It took me 5 months, nasty mails, and finally refusing to pay the bill to get them to cut off satellite service (what I wanted was a downgrade, to keep paying for the basic package, but after hearing what I heard, I decided that they didn't want my business after all). After all that, I expect them to sic a collection agency on me.

    In short, get Dish Network.

  • That's an understatement.

    Europe's been ahead of us (the US) in television broadcast standards for quite some time now, and the US just doesn't seem to get it. What's more, the general public doesn't seem to care about getting higher-res TV standards implemented here. I suppose it shouldn't suprise anyone though; the general public isn't too picky :)

    Let's see some digital TV soon!


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • The FCC does not want to see a repeat of the AM Stereo disaster. The free market isn't always the best solution to a problem.
  • Just what we need, another standards war.

    At least this one will most likely be decided by the FCC before consumers have to deal with it. Unfortunately, I don't trust the FCC to make the best decision.

    Even if the two standards are equal, I hope the one from Europe wins. That will result in more standard world-wide consumer electronics, which is a good thing. With any luck, they can use this as a chance to eliminate the stupid PAL vs. NTSC vs. SECAM television incompatibility mess.
  • by GnrcMan ( 53534 ) on Sunday November 07, 1999 @06:22AM (#1554382) Homepage
    Finally, somewhere where the EU is ahead of the USA.

    Don't forget GSM phones. They work everywhere but the US.

  • Here in sweden, the plan is to move over to HDTV as soon as practically possible. However, the box needed i rather expensive and not many channels are yet sending digitally. The consequence is of course that very few (like 500-600) people have bought boxes, which means the stations have not started to broadcast in this format. With a box you still do not get HDTV quality and you won't get any more channels than the regular programming; I for one will not pay a lot of money to get exactly the same (crappy) programming I already have.

    Related to this is an effort to move to digital radio, but here the problem is even worse. While a lot of people own regular, cheap, receivers, the digital units are several times more expensive, and since FM radio sounds so good already, there is hardly any incentive to switch.

    I do wonder if all that money could not be put to better use producing content that we viewers would actually want to see...

  • There is a great demand for the UHF spectrum for other services such as public safety and commercial two-way radio. The current frequency allocations for UHF TV waste a great deal of valuable spectrum. The FCC has forced other spectrum users to move to more efficient technologies in the past. Why should television be immune?
  • I have followed the HDTV debate closely for years. YOU are correct. Slashdot readers should be aware that the EU and USA standard are worlds apart in terms of future potential. That is one reason the FCC has not endorsed the EU standard. The FCC is taking a shot accross the bow of the entertainment industry. Broadcast frequencies is an easy first shot, free bandwidth (lets dont go there). I think the FCC wants to hook customers, then reel the cable and satelite providers (and customers) into the HDTV fold.This plays towards the future; with DVD and Internet use by a group (family) in front of the HDTV. I tend to believe the average consumer will not be interesting in buying a new TV unless they can *see* the advantages. Astonishing pictures, DVD, and Internet use WILL shake loose a major revamping of how a comsumer is entertained at home. but thats my opinion and I'm just a farm boy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The 3 networks+PBS are bleeding viewership because of the obstinacy over the pizza dish.

    The reception in rural areas for over-the-air-broadcasts is quite poor. That's why everyone went to cable, and I mean everyone. The local broadcasting stations demanded cable carry them so they could retain viewership. It worked.

    The stations have a different attitude with satellite dishes. They forbid the operators to carry their signal. Nohow, noway, never, even when the air signal is poor and cable is unavailable. People in these areas get pizza dishes, and quickly learn to forget about network programming. Loss of customer base.

    Now their friends in town see the amazing picture quality, and drop cable for the dish. Same programming, except no local stations. They get over it quickly enough, and it's more loss of customer base.

    Most cable companies have really bad customer relations. I know of one that lost a third of its base in a summer because they jiggered tiers and rates. All of the loss was picked up by dishes, and no dish viewer ever sees any network TV.

    I think network programming will disappear from rural areas. Half of the potential customers already have dishes, they're not buying spindly antennas or a $4000 TV. When the remaining half see the price of entry, it's Helllllo EchoStar.

    So just who is the intended market for DTV?

  • by severian ( 95505 ) on Sunday November 07, 1999 @07:42AM (#1554387)
    Some of us old farts on slashdot may remember when Wired Magazine actually ran insightful articles. Here was one that I thought was particularly good. It's called The Great HDTV Swindle []. I very highly recommend reading it if you're interested in the whole process by which the HDTV standard in this country was established, in all its ugly detail.

    Basically, here's the gist: Broadcast companies could care less about broadcasting HDTV. For all their talk about drastically improving the quality of television, their eyes are on the really big asset they're sitting on: their spectrum.

    First, a little history. (Sorry for the slight tangent, but bear with me :-) Unbeknownst to most people, network TV stations are the only companies in the country that get free transmission spectrum. This was done in 1932 (or sometime around then) when there were few other uses for the bandwidth and the government wanted to encourage broadcasting because they felt it would be in the public good to have universal access to this new communications medium. Since then, of course, that spectrum has become incredibly valuable, but the broadcasters continue to get it for free.

    Enter HDTV. Using modern compression standards, broadcasters can fit the entire datastream of an HDTV picture into the same 6MHz T.V. channel currently used for NTSC. But broadcast companies started looking at it the other way around. Using modern compression standards, they could fit 6 NTSC channels into one spectrum slice. Or... they could fit 1 NTSC channel into 1/6 the slice, and use the other 5/6 slice for other services e.g. data transmission, cell phones, etc. After all, they're getting a full 6Mhz for free; if they can continue their current broadcasts (thereby continuing their current revenue) and add other profitable services without having to pay for the spectrum, why not?

    Look at it this way: they could either use the 6Mhz to a) transmit 1 HDTV channel b) transmit 6 NTSC channels c) transmit 1 NTSC channel and a bunch of other services. It's clear that options b & c would be far more profitable than option a. This is why there is no one HDTV standard, but a whole spectrum of standards. Note how NTSC defines one picture standard, but HDTV defines 18 (all of which must be supported by a TV in order for it to be sold as an "HDTV")! One of those happens to include compressed, digitized NTSC...

    Grease the palms of our honorable legislators enough, and it's not hard to get a sweet deal. And the networks are sitting on an incredibly sweet deal. First of all, they can decide which picture standard to use (ranging in quality from crappy NTSC to fullblown HDTV) assured that consumers have paid for the expensive decoder chips to watch whichever standard they choose to broadcast. Secondly, they can decide which mix of channels/services/etc. is the most profitable for them with no regulation whatsoever that forces them to use their spectrum for actually broadcasting HDTV. And they can do it all on free spectrum that otherwise would have cost them $70 billion (according to estimates of how much that spectrum would have fetched the government if it was auctioned)!

    Are you feeling sick? Do you want to lead a consumer revolt by not buying HDTV sets? Don't worry; they have that covered too. In 10-15 years, by law, all NTSC broadcasts will be halted and everyone will be forced to switch over to HDTV. Unless you want to quit watching TV of any kind, you *must* purchase an HDTV set. Note how if you have a B&W T.V. from the 40's, you can still watch T.V. today, but 10 years from now, your NTSC set will be useless; why do you think they couldn't come up with a way to maintain backward compatibility when they were defining the HDTV standard? Or at least allow the market to determine the rate of HDTV acceptance as it saw fit? Perhaps because broadcasters knew that once people began to see that they essentially bought expensive new sets in order to watch the same crappy TV just so that the network companies could make more money off their spectrum, no one would buy HDTV sets and networks may have to continue broadcasting NTSC and miss out on all their extra profits...

    So to segue back on-topic, broadcasters could care less about the quality of TV transmission and the details about penetration rates, signal quality, etc. etc. Because no matter how bad the transmission quality is, in 10 years, everyone will be forced to adopt the new standard anyway. And why should they care if half the people in their station area can't receive their TV signal and are thus not watching their advertising? They'll be making far more from all those extra services they'll be selling on their newfound $70 billion bandwidth horde...

  • First, a standard has already been finalized. To reopen the standard now would set back the upgrade to TV technology by ten to fifteen years. Be patient. Remember that it took several years for color TV to be optimized and adopted by the public. The same thing will happen with HDTV.

    Second, the motives of the broadcast stations need to be questioned. The FCC was fully aware that the upgrade to HDTV would be painful and expensive for broadcasters. So the FCC made a deal with broadcasters. The broadcasters would get a lot of very valuable spectrum in exchange for upgrading to HDTV. Now that the broadcasters have their share of the multibillion dollar spectrum giveaway, they are hesitating to live up to their end of the bargain. (To be fair, there have been plenty of technical glitches holding things up too.) If the standards process can be reopened, maybe they'll be able to keep the spectrum to profit from it in other ways and never have to pay for the transition to HDTV.

    Finally, I must agree that it is unfortunate that nationalism is ruining a great opportunity for a single world-wide standard. But this point should have been raised in the early 1990's.
  • tgd claims: The 35mm crap people see in movie theaters can't hold anything on HD.

    I agree that HD is dramatically better than current video standards (NTSC, PAL), but disagree that it's better than film. Film still has a much higher contrast range and resolution than any HDTV standard, and most of the HD material you'll see for years to come is going to continue to originate on 35mm film.

    At the moment, the limited HD material that's out there may look quite good compared to a worn film print in a typical movie theater, but if you could see the results side by side, with equal care going into each, I think your conclusion would be different.

    Disclaimer: I work for a company that builds systems for digitizing film for, among other applications, HDTV mastering.

  • I have followed the HDTV debate closely for years. Slashdot readers should be aware that the EU and USA standard are worlds apart in terms of future potential. That is one reason the FCC has not endorsed the EU standard. I believe the FCC is taking a shot accross the bow of the entertainment industry with free Broadcast frequencies and it's an easy first shot (free bandwidth, lets dont go there). I think the FCC wants to hook some customers, then reel the cable and satelite providers (and customers) into the HDTV fold.This plays towards the future; with DVD and Internet use by a group (family) in front of the HDTV. I tend to believe the average consumer will not be interesting in buying a new TV unless they can *see* the advantages. Astonishing pictures, DVD, and Internet use WILL shake loose a major revamping of how a comsumer is entertained at home. but thats my opinion and ***I'm just a farm boy***.
  • Wakko Warner asks: What I want to know is, what happens in 6 years when stations quit broadcasting in their current format. Will my non-cable-box-connected, normal, cable-ready televisions still be fine? Or will I have to toss them and buy new ones

    AFAIK, while there is a timetable for ending NTSC transmission completely someday, which would require you to toss your equipment or get some kind of converter box, that transmission cutoff won't actually kick in until a high percentage of sets in use are compatible with the new digital standard. Practically speaking, that may not happen for several years beyond the nominal cutoff date.

  • Your worried that your TV will be obsolete in 6 years ?
    What about your PC, itll be obsolete in 2, but i bet you buy another one !
    From what i understand, your saying your faced with two choices.
    1. Have a new crappy (US) standard that doesnt work very well with new TV's, but is backwards compatable so your existing TV's work just as crappy as your new ones.
    2. Have a new standard (closer to a international standard) that has been tested to work well with new TV's and will probably work with old TV's via an adaptor box for a few hundred dollars.

    If youve got 6 years to plan ahead and even if it did cost "a couple of thousand" say $2000, then you could start saving now, if you put away $0.90 a day youll be right.

    You can bet that with the number of old TV's out there someone will come up with a cheap solution to get your old TV working with the new system.

    Youve had the standard broadcasting system for 40 years or so, thats a pretty good run, how long did you expect it last?

    If you want to live in a world with technology you have to expect it to become obsolete one day.

  • The best solution for everyone concerned: quit watching television altogether. Get all your news and entertainment from the Internet, public radio, and pre-recorded media.

    I stopped watching almost a year ago and find myself happier and smarter as a result. I read about one book a month, talk to actual humans more often, and spend more time on my own creative endeavors. I also find myself less immersed in commercial messages and less aware of those vaporous trends which mean nothing but about which TV nonetheless makes people care.

    Learn more about the negative effects of TV and the positive effects of quitting at the White Dot web site: [] .

  • From Dish Network, llation.htm

    7. We're ready to install the dish antenna, but our homeowner's association forbids it. Can you help us?

    Answer: We would love to have you as a customer. Our dish antenna size is 18" and complies with the Satellite Consumer Bill of Rights, a regulation released by the FCC on August 6, 1996. This regulation PREEMPTS local zoning ordinances and Homeowner Association covenants and restrictions on DBS dish antennas. This rule was required by Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Some HOA'S have been fighting to keep restriction rights by threatening court action on tenants with dish antennas, in some cases arguing that a dish antenna is installed in a common area, calling the air space above the homeowners roof where the dish antenna is installed, the common area. Congress is on your side in this matter. For more specific information please contact:

    SBCA (Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association) ..... (703) 549-6990, and at

    FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION ..... (202) 418-0163 and at

  • I thought it meant National...
  • Sinclair has for the past nine months been asking every broadcaster to consider that 8-VSB doesn't work in urban areas and more importantly, it doesn't work with indoor antennas. They weren't the first. In 1998, the ATSC test results in Washington DC were announced at the National Association of Broadcasters. These tests indicated that 8-VSB didn't work in our capital. Broadcast engineers knew it didn't work in urban areas with alot of multipath long before the executives of Sinclair figured this out.

    Some basic facts:

    DTV is broadcast in a fully digital format. The up side to DTV is that the picture is usually perfect. No noise. No snow in an ATSC 8-VSB signal. The down side is that when the signal gets weak it reaches a "Cliff Edge Effect". At this point the signal goes to black or freezes.

    Most new 8-VSB frequencies given to broadcasters in 1997 by the FCC were in the UHF band. If anyone has every had an indoor UHF antenna you know just how tough it is to get a reliable signal. If your significant other should walk in the room, the old NTSC picture goes all ghosty. With DTV, when someone walks in the room, your picture goes away! Not many people are going to put up with a picture that goes to black without warning.

    In the 1998 ATSC report on reception trials in Washington DC, they gave pictures of indoor antennas. These guys were pros. They had the antenna on a small tripod, hooked to a spectrum analyzer and pointed in the optimum direction (usually about 10 o'clock in the air and away from the transmitter). Still they had difficulties receiving DTV indoors. The jist of the matter is that DTV won't be received in urban areas by indoor antennas. The report indicated that outdoor antennas work as well as expected. So What gives?

    It has been pointed out earlier that Cable isn't prepared to carry DTV signals, neither technically nor economically. The FCC is also going to be hard pressed to demand cable companies carry local DTV broadcasts. Consumers will be very upset when some of their cable niche shows are removed so we can have two local broadcast.

    The result is that DTV is going to be an over the air terrestrially broadcast medium. Generally, less that 35 percent of the country receive their television over the air. These people might be construed as not constituting an early adopter demographic, and they probably wouldn't be characterized as the upper layer of American affluence. Regardless of their social class, they will be just as upset to see their favorite shows go to black.

    So where does this leave broadcasters? All these people, Sinclair included, have been instructed by the Federal Government to spend millions of dollars creating infrastructure. These guys aren't dummies. They are asking themselves "Who's going to pay for it? When will they get a return on investment?". Nobody has a viable business plan for data broadcasting and there can't be much in the way of DTV ad revenues.

    So what is Sinclair doing? Delay, and obfustication. They don't want to spend the money. They want the FCC to delay more DTV timetables.

    The important thing to remember about broadcasters is that they are only distributors of media product and not creators. The only local programs you see from Channel 4,5,6, etc is local news. The rest of the product is owned by the media creators who are investigating new distribution methods (ie. internet, satellite or direct cable). Broadcasting is a dying industry with an expensive mandate from the FCC. I would imagine that Sinclair is putting their funds into .com IPO's and just trying to stave off the government from pulling the plug.

  • For a lot of the transmitters, switching from 8-VSB to CODFM would just be a firmware patch, requiring no hardware changes at all.
    I have a really hard time believing that. It's certainly not impossible, but it's much more likely that a system designed to modulate >19 megabits per second onto a narrow band carrier (< 6 Mhz) would be implemented as dedicated hardware in an ASIC, and not easily changed to a different standard.

    Modulation at this date rate is not something that is normally done in software. A custom designed microcoded DSP, maybe, but it would probably have been designed for the specific 8VSB modulation scheme and not easily converted to CODFM.

  • I believe the exact same thing as in the US.

    We get American channels in Canada and, conversely, Americans get Canadian channels. I doubt the Canadian broadcasters and the cable companies would be very happy if they couldn't deal with HDTV.

    Remember that the 'N' in NTSC stands for "North America."
  • Having lived in N. America for four years I would almost give anything for TV broadcasts that aren't constantly interrupted by mindless drivel invented by brain-dead marketers trying to brainwash viewers. 'Nuff to drive one insane! Don't encourage advertising or you might get more than you asked for!
  • "move for the first time in ~50 minutes"

    That's what half-time is for! What do want? American style sports where the excitement and flow is constantly interrupted and the game temporarily halted for commercials?
  • Can't you get TV's that have double the refresh rate, running at 100 Hz?
  • Yeah! Yeah! Isolationalism - that's the only sensible way to go! Think how much money can be made by ripping people off because they don't have any choice of a cheaper supplier?

    "Like anyone in Europe would pick up the signles generated here anyway"

    That's not what he(she?) said. He said that he wanted to be able buy equipment in America and not have to get rid of it before returning to the UK. It's a pain in the arse and potentially very expensive moving between countries as a lot equipment doesn't work.
  • In the game of DTV there is one often overlooked contender, our good friend Coax. Coax cable can deliver (currently) 10Mbps but improvements and refinements of the technology has allowed engineers to squeeze 30Mbps out of coax which is plenty of bandwidth fo both HDTV and NTSC signals on the same wire. Not only does it have the capacity for HDTV it also provides a rather high bandwidth return path for high speed internet. I think if cable companies put the effort into getting their coax up to spec with HDTV they could really get their foot into the market. If they made getting HDTV as easy as getting analog cable consumers would jump all over it. Networks are already moving into the multicast area, take Fox for example (please take Fox!); they have their main network, a sports channel, a channel for mostly syndicated shows, and their "family" channel. This is most likely the rubrick that networks will follow, all their different types of shows on a single channel. Then people like HBO and Showtime will take advantage of the 1920x1080 true HDTV format for movies and special events. None of this affects me too much, all I watch anymore is Cartoon Network, although an HDTV anime station might catch my fancy...
  • IMHO, you should give a lot more of a rat's ass about digital television, even if you don't care about the current crap being broadcast. If things get done right (i.e. the gov't and entrenched broadcasters don't screw things up), this will be a convergence of television and computing. The result? Imagine pipes coming into your house with the bandwidth to handle hundreds of channels of hi-res video and commodity displays capable of 1920x1080.
  • What Sinclair is worried about is silly. How many people still get their TV by the airwaves in the US?

    Also, my understanding is that Sinclair used set top rabbit ears, which the FCC has said won't cut it.

    What the FCC should have done is required cable companies to transmit the HDTV signal over their broadband. That way we would not be caring about multipathing and more people would have HDTV sets.
  • I really hate the BBC, I don't want their insane
    'BBC Knowledge', 'BBC Choice', 'BBC News24' channels,
    i dont really care about BBC1 or 2 either, with the
    possible exception of RedDwarf there is nothing decent on anymore.

    I have never understood why the BBC have the right to
    charge *everyone* who *owns* a TV, money. OK, so
    they aren't allowed to show adverts, but adverts are useful,
    you get a break to, e.g. get a drink, go to the toilet,
    move for the first time in ~50 minutes, or whatever.

    The BBC currently own British TV, effectively. The sooner they get forced to fund themselves, the better.
    David Taylor
    [To e-mail me: s/\.spam//]
  • by zztzed ( 279 )

    Why does the US need another standard? Because gosh darn it, we're the US. If those damned Europeans are using something, well, by golly, it must be evil. And if they invented it, it must be inferior. Besides, Europe is where the Nazis lived, and everyone knows the Nazis were evil incarnate. You don't have anyone like that here, no sir. We're all honest, God-fearing, hard-working people over here.

    And if you believe that...well, I'd just like to ask you, what's the weather like on your planet?

  • I don't know what it is, but most every major "standard" differs between EU and the US, and to be honest, it tends to seem like the EU versions are much better than what we've come up with.
  • AFAIK, there is a fixed point as set by the FCC when the broadcast signals are to be turned off. I want to say 2006, but I might be wrong. Of course, given such findings as these, and the fact that digital TVs are still $3000 or more, the FCC may delay it until the tech catches up appropriately.
  • When are "people" gonna learn that the general public doesn't care about quality?

    Want evidence?

    • VHS beat Beta. Why? Because you could record six hours on a VHS tape. Quality be damned.
    • Prerecorded audio cassettes are still selling.
    • George W. Bush (ok, maybe that's the lesser of many evils)
    • Disney
    • E-Machines
    • Micro$oft

    The FCC is forcing broadcasters to convert to digital, and along with it they'll be forcing us to spend money.

    Or maybe they are just getting us to throw away our TVs and get lives.

    Could be a positive thing after all. (For purposes of this discussion: "People" == The government and/or the manufacturers.)

  • CODFM chipsets are already in volume production -- over 500,000 systems shipped just in the UK already, and accelerating (compared to only 50,000, and slowing, for 8VSB in the US).

    Dual standard boxes could be on the market within 3 months of any decision -- after all, it's the same manufacturers making the boxes for both markets.

  • Does anyone know what Canada is going to do when the US switches over?
  • Funny you should mention that: I saw a ZX/81 (just like my very first machine) in a second-hand store day before yesterday here in San Diego. $16, complete with RF converter and manual, all in a shrink-wrapped box. It was called a Timex, but same machine. If it had sported the 16k ram pack I might have gone for it. (cough). Boy, do we ever get jaded, eh? I'll probably go back tomorrow and snap it up, just for old times sake. Nex
  • This is rather an aside, but I wonder if they have even considered the effect that this will have on the environment. It seems to me that this will put quite a strain on our waste disposal systems, while taking up a lot of room.

    Disposing of a standard CRT is also rather expensive, and they are effectively proposing that _ALL_ current televisions will become useless and therefore need to be disposed of. Considering the fact that many old televisions are still in use in places due to costs, this could get messy for low income families and not-for-profit organizations.

    Anyone considering the purchase stock in CRT recycling companies? :-) Do such companies even exist?
  • The FCC didn't didn't just sniff at Sinclair and say that they were wrong. They did a little research and gave some convincing counterarguments. The fact that NTSC reception at this same same sites were considered "not acceptable" makes Sinclair's argument even less compelling, as does the fact that they were using first generation receivers. To see the FCC's entire report go to Documents/reports which has a detailed analysis of the situation.
  • Dont know how feasible this is... but if it is... (c) 1999... :-)

    Have the circuitry that handles the decoding as a removable/replacable module which can be "upgraded" to the final DTV standard used. That way most of the new TVs only need a module upgrade when its availible if a standard is changed...
  • So far the most obvious examples are of exactly the opposite. Besides, US business used to be so isolationist earlier in the century, Europeans hardly had anything to fear.
  • It seems to me that a cable company could use the bandwidth of a single coax going into someone's home for an unlimited number of channels. All they have to do is use a switching network rather than a hub-based one.

    Think about it -- no home ever uses more than 4-5 video channels at one time. So why not just broadcast those 5 channels into the house? The set-top box or built-in tuner could be a 2-way device that transmits a channel request out to the cable company's equipment and then tunes in to the frequency that the cable company's switch assigns to that channel for that household.

    The only problems with this are:
    (1) The cable company will still need to use fiber or multiple coax cables into each neighborhood to handle lots of HDTV signals. (They might be able to use a wider frequency range on a single coax)
    (2) Initial equipment cost might be high.
    (3) Lack of standards

    This sort of switching system might tie-in well with handling voice traffic on cable. It would help prevent your neighbors from listening in on your phone conversations too.

    Hmmm...maybe I should patent this and get rich even though it's an obvious idea. Consider it in the public domain in case some asshole tries to patent it in the future.
  • I said the 35mm crap people see in theaters, not 35mm in general. But very few theaters properly focus their projectors, clean the film, etc...

    Its rare to get a good film experience.

  • My god, you are demented. Are you actually trying to equate the process of standardization of a new technology that is fraught with tons of issues to how you you treat your "clients"? Who the hell do you think you are?

    Gee, someone who usually tries to improve a situation instead of just implementing mindless upgrades just for the purpose of New Whiz Bang Technology(TM).

    I'm rather shocked that that isn't the same policy of an entire industry, which has been singing the praises of Digital Television for around half my life now. How interesting that it's only now, when suddenly a new technological solution arrives from Europe, that any news is released that says the American DTV standard is almost completely and utterly useless, and that it'd essentially remove reception from large swaths of the population.

    If this observation offended you in some way, AC, I apologize. Feel free to continue this discussion; however I think I'd prefer an actual argument, based on the facts, rather than some pseudo-effective ad hominem flamage.

    If you've got a point to make, make it. If you don't, we've all got better things to do.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research

  • There's a bit more to it. You can't set up both standards, they'd be on the same allocated frequency and so would not play well. You also can't set up just COFDM, because the government has required all stations to be broadcasting an 8VSB signal by a certain date (which I don't remember offhand, anyone wanna help me here?) Unless the federal government changes the legislation and/or regulation, we're stuck with 8VSB

    Exactly. Sinclair etc are petitioning to be allowed the choice of which format to broadcast in. For more details (and who to write to if you want to support them), see [].

  • I need to ask...who cares? Like anyone in Europe would pick up the signles generated here anyway. Actually a different standard here might be good..that way maybe we'll produce the stuff in the US, instead of relying on another country. It seems rediculous to me that memory prices rose b/c of an earthquake in one country.
  • Besides the obvious baby-boom in 9 months...
    The cessation of all TV tomorrow would not be a bad
    thing. Network TV turns your brain to cottage cheese
    and it dribbles out on your pillow when you sleep.
    Cable programming isn't much better.

    If there was cable/satellite service that offered
    educational-only programming... I might subscribe.
    Even then I still wouldn't watch it that much.

    Life is too short to watch fantasies all day.

    Do yourself a favor and pick up a book... even if it's fiction
    you'll still be working your brain cells more than tv.

  • We're looking at next year for the Linux based box, and yes the box will likely have networking, most likely HPNA.
  • Slashdot readers should be aware that the EU and USA standard are worlds apart in terms of future potential.

    Apart from reception quality, the main difference is that the European DVB standard is a lot more flexible in how it lets you configure the bandwidth and the error correction between different services running in the same 6 MHz channel multiplex.

    The bandwidth is there, same as ASTC, to run an HDTV channel. Australia in particular is mandating HDTV content over DVB from its broadcasters. But what the broadcasters in Oz think will make the DVB standard really pay are the possibilities for datacasting over some of the bandwidth -- and there is a huge plus in being able to datacast to people on the move.

    COFDM is a much more rugged standard for mobile reception -- remember that very cute thinkpad sized combined TV/data terminal/GSM phone from Nokia. Mobile reception is easy with COFDM, but not possible with 8-VSB; in fact it's hard enough with the ATSC standard even to get good static reception.

    This article [] by Craig Birkmaier does a particularly good job comparing the two standards, and brings out the exciting possibilities for a combined mobile data/TV/phone system.

  • Cable is getting almost as bad as Network TV. Its such a bloated, condescending medium, but its the focus of so many people's lives. I'm sure someone will appreciate HDTV, at the very least they can make me an HDTV DVD player.

    "With my new TV I can see the twinkle in Matthew Perry's eye!"

  • Now it seems to me that the European system is definitely better. But regarding general digital transfer of information over the airwaves, I'd like to bring up a point. Anybody who has used a digital "cellular" phone can say that when it works it has much better audio quality than an analog phone. But if you talk to a sales representative, you'll hear that if you live in an outlying area that you'll definitely want to opt for analog or dual-band. This is due to two reasons, obviously the digital networks are not as widespread as the analog networks. However, in addition, the digital towers have to be about 3 times closer together to ensure a signal. I'd imagine that this is because with digital, you are either getting clear enough reception to get a signal, or you're not, whereas an analog phone can deal with weak signals by simply having sound that's less clear. Error correction can probably in some way compensate for this, but obviously it doesn't work as well because the towers still need to be closer.

    Now the point of my response - will the same thing be true of digital TV? Will the broadcast area for each station not be able to reach as far? This study on 8VSB vs CODFM does seem to indicate that there is the potential for this problem. I live in a somewhat outlying area, I don't have cable, and half the stations that I get come from about 100 miles away (and over quite a few mountains) so the signal is fairly weak. If digital TV means that I won't be able to get the CBS and NBC stations that come out of the next state, then as far as I'm concerned it's useless.
  • I am a professional television broadcaster. I run engineering for one of the major channels on almost all cable systems. HDTV is almost surely doomed to failure.

    First and foremost, the majority of Americans watch TV via cable or direct-to-home satellite. There is currently no way for consumers to get HDTV programming this way. There is no benefit to cable companies to send HDTV to cable customers. HDTV uses up much bandwidth and there is no way for cable headeds to insert their own commercials. The VSB vs. CODFM debate is small potatoes compared to the fact that no HDTV is available via cable system.

    Second, there are *no* standards for broadcasting HDTV besides transsmission. Broadcasters are free to choose any systems that fits into the VSB transmission system. There is not even agreement on making the system progressive (what computers use) or interlaced (what analog TVs use). This has led to a bad situation for the television set makers. They have to make a choice on the 'native display format' for they televisions. That means that if Sony make a 720 Progressive tube set, all broadcasts not in 720P must be deinterlaced or upconverted to that format. That conversion leads to even more picture degredation

    Remember, the base HDTV signal used in post-production is 1.5 GHz and that is squeezed down to 19.4 Mbit/s for transmission. Compression can only go so far.

    Lastly, while the VSB vs. CODFM indeed does rage, that is nothing compared to the simple fact that there is no business reason to broadcast HDTV. The only reason broadcasters are doing it is because the FCC is forcing them to do it. No one has been able to demonstrate any revenue plan for HDTV yet.

    BTW, what people have in Europe is digital television, it is not High Definition TV. All of the direct-to-home satellite services in America are basically the same as DTV in Europe. I think that Dish Network even uses the DVB (European) format for transmission. Currently, Europe has no HDTV.
  • Whenever I start fixing a misbehaving system, I always abide by one rule:

    Don't Make It Worse.

    If I give up on fixing the thing for one reason or another, that's fine. I only have so much time in the day. But I'm not going to leave until I get it back, at least, to where it was before I arrived.

    It's an issue of trust, and one of reputation: I can't afford to be known as somebody who you much rather have never walked in the door in the first place.

    The revelation now that the present DTV standard doesn't even meet the reliability levels of NTSC is jawdropping. You mean to tell me I'm more respectful of my clients than an entire industry?!

    The existence of a superior DTV standard from Europe is not particularly relevant to this foulup--NTSC was around ten years ago, and so were the early development versions of the American DTV standard. How, exactly, could it not be noticed that there were large, vast swathes of viewer who would recieve minimal reception even when NTSC offered perfect picture?

    How, praytell, did this avoid any and every discussion of the technology?

    My guess is that many an R&D budget went into developing the American standard, and should that standard have been left unadoped, upper management would have had to write it all off as a loss--such a significant accounting would be detrimental to the future of Digital TV, and the jobs of all the researchers.

    So the reliability issues were supressed, with the improved quality being the siren call that would get widespread industry support. "Color made people watch more TV. More color and more channels means more ad minutes, means more money!", so were told the networks. "Imagine every American being forced to buy a new TV!", and the consumer electronics industry signed on.

    And the consumer? "More channels...more quality...all free! You just need new equipment, or you lose all TV." Note, the lack of any less...any downsides...and apparently some degree of truth.

    We're really lucky that the European standard actually does do what the American standard was supposed to.

    If it wasn't for it, we'd not have known until it was far too late.

    Don't think it's purely selfless devotion to the consumer that's leading that standard replacement alliance...suddenly, a large number of television stations just realized that it's very likely that only the biggest stations with the most skilled engineers and highest quality equipment would actually be able to get their signals broadcast successfully.

    Anyone else depending on purely off the shelf hardware would be screwed...maybe, just maybe that was the idea?

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research

  • For anyone who hasn't seen HD digital television in person, its hard to appreciate how drastic a difference it really does make in the viewing experience.

    The first time I saw HD programming was at the Newseum in Washington DC (great place to visit if you're ever in the area). I was *stunned* and stopped in my tracks when I walked around the corner and saw it.

    I'm a geek and a film guy. Film was the field of choice when I was in school. The 35mm crap people see in movie theaters can't hold anything on HD. Night and day. Really, until you've seen it you can't appreciate how amazing it really is.

    I hope these issues get resolved quickly so people have more confidence in buying sets, and prices start to drop. The art of video and film deserves to be seen that way. Its good to see that there is finally serious pressure to drop the DTV standard we've got now for a better one.
  • What of the millions of people who can't *afford* new HDTVs or the little box to convert down to "normal" broadcast signals of today? Do they get told, "Sorry, you're fucked"? There are plenty of people out there that simply will not stand for this, if the options are either buy a new television or give up TV.

    Let's see, the poor can't afford the new televisions, so they're forced to no longer watch TV. This results in a massive amount of culture and independant thinking amongst the poor, sort of re-emergance of the "Harlem Renaissance". Suddenly, millions of people realise that they don't need television, and that they can create their own entertainment that is beyond almost anything ever put on the boob tube.

    And meanwhile, the rich and middle class are watching reruns of "Seinfeld" in beautiful HDTV quality.

    So, what's the problem, again?

    Michael Chisari
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been something of an insider in the DTV field since Sept. '98, when (under fantastic circumstances, partly very hazardous) I went to Wash., D.C. for the NAB [Symposium, iirc]. The field-test reports convinced me that something was hugely wrong with 8VSB propagation, and that COFDM is superior except in its susceptibility to impulse interference. The presentation of just-peachy results of COFDM field trials in Spain was by a nice, but frightfully-nervous woman engineer (very competent). Fortunately, nobody gave her a hard time, at all. The story I like (from a newsletter) is about the DTV receiver in Europe (or the U.K.?) that had its coax. antenna cable connected to nothing at the far end. Somebody stuck a bent paper clip into the center contact: Presto! Lovely picture!

    As to outdoor antennas, sadly true. Multipath echoes, which we see as ghosts on analog TV, wreak havoc (intersymbol interference, fairly sure) on an 8VSB signal. Although a couple of companies claim to have ghost-canceller chips, they may not work, because the noise is raised with the signal. The FCC seems to be putting blind faith in these chips; their attitude is that a chip will fix 8VSB's problems. I'm not holding my breath.

    I sent a spoof about channel surfing with 8VSB to a DTV newsletter, saying that military gun-mount position servo technology and reinforced towers (and antennas) should allow slewing to the new azimuth in maybe 1/2 second. I also kidded about the passionate channel surfer who had a chimney-mount antenna, and made his chimney fall apart from the reaction torque. The spoof was published, as a spoof. Electronically-steerable antennas (such as phased arrays) might be a (costly?) solution.

    The reluctance to recognize the deficiencies of 8VSB has been a fantastic example of stubbornness.

    There are other advantages of COFDM: Additional transmitters on the same frequency can fill holes in the coverage, or extend it; iirc, Singapore has very good success that way, with several low-power transmitters instead of the megawatt-category apparently needed for 8VSB. Not only that, but multipath echoes actually help COFDM reception!

    As to display standards, quite apart from transmission standards, the situation is a muddled mess; iirc, there are 13 of them! The FCC waffled shamelessly and spinelessly in failing to define our display standards, and decided to let the market sort matters out. (Find out about "Table 3', iirc.)

    COFDM also works very nicely for portable and mobile receivers; maybe not so important for TV, but for data, another story.

    Yrs. trly. predicts that DTV transmitters will be used more for data, and less for DTV, than we expect, in the future.

    Finally, HDTV may get a very bad reputation, because some program material will be upconverted from NTSC analog. Real HDTV is so good that you are likely to be able to tell what kind of cloth a garment is made of, at least sometimes, it seems; maybe not exactly, but that idea. You have to see the real thing to believe it.

    Nicholas Bodley (find my e-mail (it's real) from another post; I don't want to be slashdotted!)

  • by JPMH ( 100614 ) on Sunday November 07, 1999 @09:44AM (#1554503)
    It's known as the cliff effect -- analogue signals just get slowly worse and worse, but once you start losing digital packets, you lose *everything*, because they might be coding for the most significant bits.

    It really depends how bad the picture is that you see on analogue TV at the moment. If the major problem is 'ghosting', ie spurious extra images caused by multiple reflection paths off the mountains, COFDM is particularly good at sorting these out to achieve constructive interference between the different paths.

    If the major problem is 'snow', a signal amplifier box can help, just like for analogue TV. But if there's too much snow, this will destroy the digital signal.

    One other trick with COFDM is that the TV company can add additional transmitters on the same frequency to sort out reception blackspots. With analogue signals this would just cause particularly bad destructive interference, and would be a Bad Idea. But because COFMM can make the two signals interfere constructively, this opens the door to networks of transmitters all on the same frequency.

    This article [] by Craig Birkmaier is very good on COFDM vs 8-VSB generally, and covers the possibility of Single Frequency Networks in a bit more detail.

  • by SpiceWare ( 3438 ) on Sunday November 07, 1999 @06:49AM (#1554521) Homepage

    I hang out at Digital Theater [] to keep up with Digital TV happenings. They've had many discussions on this topic, and recommend reading the FCC report, DTV REPORT ON COFDM AND 8-VSB PERFORMANCE []. The summary of which is

    Both 8-VSB and COFDM have certain advantages and disadvantages. Both systems are capable of providing viable DTV service. We do not find that at this time the performance potential of either system is clearly superior in all respects. Based on our discussions with CE manufacturers and recent announcements by semiconductor manufacturers, we believe that reasonable solutions to the multipath issue and indoor reception problems raised by Sinclair are being developed and should be available in the near future. We also believe that COFDM's benefits for large single frequency network operation and mobile service may not be important or meaningful given the current structure of broadcasting in the United States. Further, we believe that 8-VSB has some advantages with regard to data rate, spectrum efficiency and transmitter power requirements. Accordingly, at this time, we find that the relative benefits of changing the DTV transmission to COFDM are unclear and would not outweigh the costs of making such a revision. We therefore recommend that the ATSC 8-VSB standard be retained.

    8-VSB was choosen over COFDM during the 9 year period in which the DTV standards were created. One of the major benefits of 8-VSB is it covers a much larger area which is a very important benefit in the US. It also carries more data than COFDM, which means a better picture can be received. In Europe, where everything is much closer together and multipath is a bigger problem, COFDM was choosen as their broadcast standard.

    The 8-VSB reception problems shown by Sincliar were exhibited in 1st generation HDTV sets. The manufacturers of the sets have already come up with better ways of cancelling out the multi-path interference that plays havoc with HDTV reception. The newest sets work much better than the 1st generation, and it is expected this trend will continue.

    The general consensus at Digital Theater [] is that Sinclair is not pursuing this for the benefit of us, but for their own benefit as they stand to gain a lot financially if the US changes to COFDM.

  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Sunday November 07, 1999 @06:49AM (#1554522) Homepage Journal
    I have seven televisions in my house, shared amongst my family. Right now, they all are connected to cable and only two of them have cable boxes. The rest are cable-ready, meaning I don't need to purchase or rent another cable box from the company to get a picture and sound on my TV. I'm very happy with the current setup.

    In 6 years, I imagine most of the televisions in our house will still be in service. TVs last a long time, and I'm not concerned with the "latest and greatest" stuff as long as I can watch the occasional show or Yankee game.

    What I want to know is, what happens in 6 years when stations quit broadcasting in their current format. Will my non-cable-box-connected, normal, cable-ready televisions still be fine? Or will I have to toss them and buy new ones, something that'll probably end up costing a couple thousand dollars if I have to replace 5 or more sets. If the latter turns out to be the case, I can assure you that I and *millions* of other Americans will be incredibly pissed off.

    I'm not sure this whole thing was planned out right, except maybe with the question, "How can the electronics and television industries make a shitload of money in one fell swoop?" being the only objective. What of the millions of people who can't *afford* new HDTVs or the little box to convert down to "normal" broadcast signals of today? Do they get told, "Sorry, you're fucked"? There are plenty of people out there that simply will not stand for this, if the options are either buy a new television or give up TV.

    Do I have my facts messed up? Is this really what's going to happen in a scant 6 years' time? If so, it's going to backfire bigtime. Expect to see common analog signals being broadcast far into the future alongside HDTV signals, until the marketshare of people with older, "inferior" TVs is such that ignoring them and turning off the analog broadcast towers for good is more cosf-effective than not.

    If I'm wrong, someone please enlighten me.

    - A.P.

    "One World, one Web, one Program" - Microsoft promotional ad

  • Was I the only one who expected to see an announcement of a £99 digital TV of questionable quality, when reading about the "Sinclair effort".
  • Basically the Cable companies and the governement have consipired to create an extremely inefficient use of the bandwidth they do have.

    In my area, the gov't mandates thatstandard cable contains about 10 UHF channels that I couldn't get with rabbit ears if I tried, three of which are really bad QVC ripoffs. On top of that, there are several "community access" channels, whose only programming seems to be really ugly videotext announcing various public library programs with the radio playing as a soundtrack. Add to that the two channels which do nothing but promote pay-per-view movies, the four slots for showing PPV, the scrambled pornography, and the standard free over-the-air channels, there is only about 12 slots left for normal commercial cable programming (TNT, USA, CNN, etc), which besides pro wrestling, is nothing to write home about. Internet and Phone access can only be cutting into the limited bandwidth ppol

    My fear is that an expanded digitial spectrum is going to be used this way also - as an effort to maximize pay-per-view profits (and kill the corner video store) or 'extended services' over "the public good" of better picture quality or more free entertainment, such as princess diana death dirges and wrestling. (And, no, I'm not a mark - I don't buy the PPVs or commerative plates.)

    Then again, my TV is a Commodore 1702 monitor, so maybe I'm not the target market for these ploys.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.