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Broadcasting today.

"We're comfortable being broadcasters. We're good at the business we're in. Others may want to use bandwidth for other things, we want it to deliver the best possible pictures," said a top-level U.S. network TV executive when asked why a broadcaster has to waste bandwidth by transmitting in high-definition [HDTV] when the same picture quality can be obtained by the TV set itself, through a line-doubling device.

The same executive dismissed the problem of HDTV non-carriage by U.S. cable-TV systems. "We're a network; cable will carry us with our full bandwidth [of 19.4 Mbps]."

Unfortunately, U.S. cable-TV systems will not give all broadcasters both a 6 MHz channel for analog TV signals (a "must carry" requirement) and another full 6 MHz channel (which translates into 19.4 Mbps or, by pushing it, a maximum of 24 Mbps for over-the-air TV) for digital transmission. At the most, during the simulcast transition period, cable TV may give television stations 11 Mbps for digital programming (in addition to their analog channel), but not for multiplexing.

HDTV is certainly good on a large screen, but cannot be appreciated with screens below 38 inches, which are usually found where television is most often consumed: kitchens and bedrooms. A 19-inch portable does not need high-definition. In addition, it has been demonstrated that TV programs recorded on HDTV but broadcast in digital on standard-definition (SD) do not lose the "effect" of HDTV over a digital TV receiver.

HDTV has a future, but only as a production tool in the 24-frame progressive standard, or 24p (which is Sony's HD production format, designed for the Hollywood film and television community).

Today, independent producers are being lured by 480p's (actually 483 lines) inexpensive cost and ability to transfer to film with high quality. Each line contains 720 pixels, which works fine in the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio.

There is nothing earth-shattering in the plans for DTT or DTV-T. As expressed by Liberty Media's John Malone, "There is no economics in [terrestrial DTV]." In its January 2001 issue, DV magazine explained "why the DTV transition will fail," and, in an editorial, DVs senior editor Jim Freeley stated that, "since its U.S. debut in 1981, [digital] HDTV has been pushed, developed and deployed by panels of experts and corporations who were trying to improve the viewing experiences of a theoretically existing market....The [U.S.] Consumer Electronics Association recently asked the [federal TV authority] FCC to force broadcasters to create more DTV and HDTV content. I haven't heard many consumers demanding that." Frank Beacham wrote in TV Technology magazine, "why implement a terrestrial DTV system at all?" considering the fact that broadcasters will have to sacrifice bandwidth for the sake of robust reception. In the U.K., because of the lower power level of digital transmission and because one or more DTT multiple xes have to be transmitted on channels outside the existing aerial group, many existing aerials are not adequate for DTT reception (it will require a wideband aerial).

In Sweden, where DTV-T has been in operation since 1997, only 50,000 homes had purchased set-top boxes (decoders) by 2001. During the same year in the U.S., where, on average, 12 percent of TV sets are replaced a year, the sales of digital TV sets reached less than 100,000 (and even that was mostly to stores). In addition, current digital TV sets are designed to receive terrestrial digital signals only.

There are 1,196 full power commercial television stations in the U.S. (out of a total 1,688 licensed TV stations). May 2002 was the month that all of them were supposed to start providing a digital signal in addition to their current analog signal. By that date, nearly 70 percent of those stations were not ready and asked the TV authority (the FCC) for a six-month extension. At that point, the FCC set out a voluntary plan for broadcasters, cable systems and the consumer electronics industry. The top 10 MSOs (cable operators) committed to the plan, agreeing to carry at least five digital TV signals by January 2003. Furthermore, the MSOs (which include AOL-Time Warner, Cablevision, Adelphia, Comcast, AT&T Broadband, Charter, Cox, Insight Communications, CableOne Inc. and Mediacom, covering 85 percent of the cable homes in the U.S.) agreed that the carriage of these five TV stations will be at no cost to either the broadcasters or the cable operators. The FCC is looking for the top broadcast networks to provide HDTV programming in at least 50 percent of their primetime schedule, network affiliates to pass the networks' digital signals to consumers unimpaired by January 1st, and electronic industries to manufacture at least 50 percent of larger-screen television sets with digital tuners by 2004, 100 percent by 2005, and smaller-screen TVs by 2006.

Recently, the FCC mandated that by 2007, all television sets sold in the U.S. must include a digital tuner. The U.S. Congress expects to raise $70 billion by auctioning off broadcast frequencies that TV stations will no longer need when they go digital -- and that money is already being written into the federal budget. But, before that auction can take place, TV stations must move to their new digital channels -- and that transition has been happening at a slow pace. Even after broadcasters make the move, they'll likely continue to use those analog frequencies, while viewers make the transition to digital TV sets. By setting a 2007 deadline, the FCC is making sure that consumers start buying those sets. Despite this digital mandate, many over-the-air broadcasters are trying desperately to hold onto their local franchises.

Critics say that digital tuners will add $200 to the cost of a TV set, therefore the FCC is forcing consumers to invest in a technology they may not want or even need.

In Europe, the DTT situation is even more dramatic, with Spain's Quiero TV shut down after losses of more than 500 million euro and the U.K.'S ITV Digital ceasing operations and relinquishing its license to U.K regulators after losing some 1.3 billion euro.
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Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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