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Subj: Further Adventures
in 8VSB Land
By: Larry Bloomfield
(Ed Note: Portions
of the following appeared in the Broadcast Engineering, March 2000
issue, under Beyond the Headlines. An expanded version is
printed here with the publisher's permission.)
Is it Over?
No doubt, by now,
your are aware that on October 8, 1999, the Sinclair Broadcast Group
(SBG) petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for
an Expedited Rulemaking, requesting that the Commission modify its
rules to allow broadcasters to transmit Digital Television (DTV)
signals using both Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing
(COFDM) as a modulation system standard in addition to the current
Eight levels of Vestigial Sideband (8VSB) standard. In an attempt
to bring this matter to a close, the FCC summarily denied this petition
on February 4, 2000, with a unanimous vote of 5 to 0. But,
is the matter going away that easily?
The SBG's petition
had signatures that represent nearly twenty percent of the current
full power NTSC stations. SBG was not alone in the petition-submitting
department; Univision filed a petition of their own also last November,
which basically echoed SBG's petition. In addition to this,
agencies within the Federal government, such as the Department of
Defense (See Broadcast Engineering January 2000), have also asked
the FCC to hold open public hearings on this issue. Others have
conducted similar tests and came up with similar results.
Earlier in the same
week the FCC denied the SBG petition, Mark Hyman, Vice President
of Corporate Relations for SBG set up a demonstration for Congress
in one of the hearing rooms in the US House of Representatives.
The purpose was to show them the 8VSB receivability problems.
consisted of said-by-side tests using two analog TV sets (a 9 inch
Memorex AC/DC portable and a 2-inch Sony watchman) and the latest
ATSC-6Mhz receiver, the RCA DTC-100. The antenna used for
the DTV set was an amplified device. The tests revealed that
only one out of five Washington, DC DTV stations could be received
without having to reposition the antenna for each station, whereas
all 14 NTSC stations came in fine. The analog sets needed
no antenna other than the rod and loop that came with each.
If more than 6 or
7 people were in the House hearing room, the one DTV station that
could be received went away. Hyman said: "Even Ralph
Justice of CEA paid us a visit. He checked out every wire,
connector, behind the curtains and under the tables to make sure
we were not doing any smokes and mirrors routine. He saw the
problem, but would make no comment, leaving shaking his head."
Although many detractors
in this issue have accused the proponents of COFDM of attempting
to delay or even sabotage DTV, I have never spoken to anyone, who,
on or off the record, has ever even remotely hinted at wanting to
delay the progress of the implementation of digital television.
The politics in this matter, on both sides, have all the ear-markings
of a knockdown-drag out fight for a public office in Washington,
The primary issues
purported by the proponents of COFDM say lies in the inability of
8VSB to replicate each stations current NTSC coverage area due to
problems relating to reception. Since the whole purpose of
commercial television is to deliver as high a number of viewers
to advertisers, then common sense says that anything less than current
NTSC coverage would not be acceptable, irrespective of the reason.
The FCC said: "Numerous
studies conducted to date support the conclusion that NTSC replication
is attainable under the 8VSB standard," in their press release.
"The concerns raised in the Sinclair petition had done no more
than to demonstrate a shortcoming of early DTV receiver implementation,"
and continued, "Manufacturers are aware of problems cited
by Sinclair and are aggressively taking steps to resolve multipath
problems exhibited in some first-generation TV receivers."
The FCC Office of
Engineering and Technology (OET) said that they have "analyzed
the relative merits of the two standards, and concluded that the
benefits of changing the DTV transmission standard to COFDM would
not outweigh the costs of making such a revision." In
addition to this concern they said, "Allowing more than one
standard could result in compatibility problems that could cause
consumers and licensees to postpone purchasing DTV equipment and
lead to significant delay in the implementation and provision of
DTV services to the public." Concluding their argument
of delay saying: "Development of a COFDM standard would result
in a multiyear effort, rather than the "unrealistic" 120
days suggested in the Sinclair petition."
Responding to the
FCC dismissal of their petition, David D. Smith, President of Sinclair
said: "Although the Commission dismissed our petition, we welcome
their larger interest and intent to investigate all aspects of DTV
and its fundamental failure to date. Further, we are hopeful that
our continuing efforts to shed light on the relevant DTV issues
affecting our industry can now be supported by the industry as a
whole. We look forward to participating in this review which the
Commission committed to begin within 30 days."
There is no secret
that the ATSC, Consumer Electronics Association, et al. hard to
bury the SBG petition, but living in earthquake land, has prepared
me for aftershocks which can be equally as impressive as the initial
In a press release
issued the same day of the FCC decision, the Consumer Electronics
Association (CEA) President and CEO Gary Shapiro issued a "victory"
statement: "As the only organization to file a petition
with the FCC calling upon the agency to dismiss Sinclair's proposal,
we commend the commissioners for today's unanimous decision. With
this ruling, DTV's future is clear and paved for success. The FCC
has wisely provided broadcasters, manufacturers and consumers with
the certainty they need to move forward with the transition to digital
will allow television manufacturers, broadcasters and all others
involved in the DTV transition to return our full attention to what
matters most -- providing consumers with the full benefits of digital
"I hope this
ruling will close the door on this issue. As demonstrated by more
than ten years of laboratory and field tests, 8-VSB is clearly the
best system for broadcasting digital television in the United States.
And retailers report that consumers who are viewing over-the-air
digital television love what they're seeing."
CEA had not better
let their guard down, as this contentious issue may not be permanently
laid to rest with the decision either. Remember, the FCC said that
it "recognized the importance of the issues raised" and
would seek further comment on the issue during its biennial review
of the progress in DTV rollout.
Having no allegiances
on either side of this issue, it is interesting to observe the way
things have gone and wonder by whom, when and were the next move
will take place. Based on other information, one would be
foolhardy to assume that this issue is over.
uses information from SCRI, a New York based firm, for its "Frame
Grabs," from time-to-time. Des Chaskelson, Director of
Research at SCRI International said: "In our most recent annual
survey (January 2000), sixty-four percent of the respondents stated
that they were interested in going to COFDM." Chaskelson
said that broke down to 26.2% were somewhat interested, 18.7% were
very interested and 18.7% were extremely interested in making the
move to or going directly to COFDM. "With over twenty-two
percent of the full power television stations responding to this
survey, it is certainly representative of the industry," Chaskelson
Should we have spoken
Looking back to the
early 1990s, NBC was involved in the primitive 500-carrier COFDM
system, the precursor to the present day DVB-T system. It
would appear that NBC has never really put much stock in any of
the claims made by proponents of the 8VSB methodology and decided
to examine the reception issue for themselves.
who were once fellow employees at the Peacock factory (NBC) served
to confirm this observation when they recently disclosed to me some
rather interesting information. It is my understanding that
in a General Electric Corporate R&D report commissioned by NBC,
GE's R&D folks were asked to compared ATSC and DVB-T. This "confidential"
report indicated that the DVB-T/COFDM was the superior system.
From my information,
NBC then conducted a series of tests, which went on for about three
weeks, just after the first of this year. These January field
trials were designed to validate or refute the conclusions of that
earlier report. I have had bits and pieces of it read to me
over the phone; it is devastating in its criticism of ATSC.
The test site was Philadelphia, PA, using the facilities of WCAU-DT
(CH 67) that markets NBC O&O. The tests were conducted
with a true 6Mhz DVB-T UHF system. The test station was operated
at 150 kW ERP, using a 15Mbit/sec video signal so they could examine
bit rates comparable to 720P performance. The stream was multiplexed
or "bit stuffed" with another 3Mbit/sec signal similar
to what would be the case with a mobile DTV or datacasting service.
According to my sources
the receiver used for testing 8VSB reception was an RCA DCT-100,
a recently introduced DirecTV/ATSC receiver & HDTV decoder,
widely regarded as the best 8VSB receiver currently available to
NBC, along with their
parent (GE) company's Research and Development folks conducted the
hush-hush tests by themselves. DVB loaned and installed the
equipment, but was not around during the tests. NBC/GE
R&D did a straightforward A/B comparison with an identical ERP
ATSC/8VSB DTV station. At all test sites and using "all
types of antennas," the test results were virtually identical
to those of Sinclair, in particular at the very high ERP's by COFDM
standards: The COFDM out performed the 8VSB, hands down.
It wouldn't seem
reasonable that NBC would do all this testing only to keep a lid
on it. I could not get the PR folks at NBC to either confirm
or deny a letter to the FCC, but they did let slip that the tests
have taken place. When NBC believes in something, they have
a track record of getting their way. Remember the CBS color
wheel vs. the RCA all electronic NTSC color system?
An NBC Vice President,
Peter Smith, who works on the network's DTV projects, confirmed
that NBC had run tests that compared COFDM with 8-VSB in Philadelphia.
Smith said: "We have complete confidence in Sinclair's test
results." When 8-VSB receivers could not pick up anything,
they tried COFDM, and it worked fine at "most" sites.
NBC said they tried
multiple generation 8VSB receivers; even one with the advanced equalizer
8-VSB chip. All were disappointing and were considered inadequate
for urban reception.
Smith said that NBC
was in the process of presenting their findings to the FCC at the
same time the FCC decision on the Sinclair ruling was being issued.
The NBC test results were not know by the FCC in time to have any
impact denial of the SBG petition. Smith said that NBC was
also in almost complete agreement with Sinclair as to what should
be done about the problems and NBC, without question, favors selecting
a specific version of COFDM for use here in the US
Smith concluded by
suggesting that NBC plans a next round of testing in Washington,
What is further interesting
in this novella is that the NBC testing of DVB-T was known widely
in the upper echelons of the DTV industry in Europe; dating back
to the earlier GE R&D adventures. It is very impressing that
the lid was kept so tight on this story until the last week of January.
Prior to the NBC
revelations leaking out, the FCC were divided 2:2 on putting the
petition out to comment with Kennard's casting vote for holding
the course. One cannot help but wonder if this move on the
FCC's part isn't a tactical strike to suppress this issue before
the NBC tests and the Congressional demos were publicized, but the
FCC did leave an escape hole. In their press release on the
dismissal of the Sinclair petition they said: "…the issue of
the adequacy of the DTV standard is more appropriately addressed
in the context of its review of the entire DTV transition,"
promising that within 30 days, they (FCC) will commence its biennial
review of the DTV transition and, as a part of that proceeding,
will encourage parties to comment on concerns regarding the 8-VSB
Get engineers together,
especially at a conference with a little libation, and the game
of "One Upsmanship" will take on totally new dimensions.
Such was the case at the SMPTE conference in San Francisco in early
February of this year.
Based on information
disclosed in private conversations, more than one of the high-priced
help from ABC let it slip that they too had been doing some receiver
field tests and confided that ABC had reached similar conclusions
in its internal studies. If these ABC engineers have their
way, there's no question that ABC will take its turn at bat. Can
we now expect to see a split between ABC, NBC, possibly Fox, the
independents and CBS et al on the modulation standards issue?
Most everyone who
first got onto the 8VSB bandwagon has had some second thoughts.
My sources in Televisa, Mexico's leading network and affiliated
with Univision here in the US, tell me that the preferred technical
choice for DTV, south of the border, is now DVB-T and a political
decision has been deferred, while they wait to see what we do here
in the US. Most other third party countries, which were considering
ATSC, such as Brazil, have simply put these decisions into slow-motion
while waiting for the plot to thicken here in the land of plenty.
(This story will
be continued in Tech Note #523 to be out either later today or tomorrow)
in San Francisco
By: Larry Bloomfield
On the first Thursday,
Friday and Saturday of February 2000, San Francisco played host
to the 34th Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers'
(SMPTE) Motion Imaging Conference at the swank Fairmont Hotel on
Nob Hill. Charles Hintz of California State University, Hayward,
and Richard Mizer of Digital Diversified, Inc., chaired the program.
In attendance were senior technical representations from virtually
every major motion picture and television enterprise in the western
The first day consisted
of an all-day seminar, followed by two days of paper presentations.
The topics of the papers presented were in the areas of Bandwidth,
Bitrate and Resolution.
Those present were
exposed to a aggregation of information that ranged everywhere from
informative to nothing more than pure, unadulterated infomercials;
all of which were given by a cadre of very bright and intelligent
speakers ranging in quality from gifted to those who sounded like
they were auditioning to be busy signals for the telephone company.
There were several
things that, even after a few days, left me, as both a member of
SMPTE and an observer, uneasy. I probably would not mention
them, but déjà vu: others in attendance also expressed similar concerns.
I was embarrassed
that high priced salesmen were permitted to hawk their company's
wares instead of letting those present in on the technology that
got the wiz-bang devices or technology to the marketplace in the
first place. Their talks amounted to nothing more than "Oh
what a great, new, wonderful product we've got and it will save
the world." Admittedly, all were interesting, irrespective
of the nature of the presentation.
The second thing
that was embarrassing was to see the several very gifted engineering
types, who know their stuff, are prominent in the industry, stand
up before their peers and display their inability's at being able
to address an audience. No one is asking for a network staff
announcer, but I've heard 1Khz test tones that had more inflection
than they did. Perhaps someone else could have been chosen
to give the same presentation that would have been easier on the
audience and the ears.
From my vantage point,
there was a preponderance of balding and or graying heads present.
Except for the excellent job done by the student-volunteers from
Napa Valley College's Telecommunications Technology Class of 2000,
who are members of SMPTE Student Chapter 11 in the San Francisco
section, there was an amazing lack of youth in attendance.
No one is criticizing those who attended, but merely pointing out
that there should have been more "grass roots" participation.
Although the range
of information covered both the Motion Picture and Television communities,
there were a number of sessions that were of particular interest
to broadcast engineers and the engineering staffs at transfer and
post production houses. It is not possible to address all
the subjects or name all the presenters at the SMPTE San Francisco
bash, but I will attempt to share with you some of the subjects
that were covered. The SMPTE staff announced that copies of
the papers and proceedings would be available for interested parties.
There isn't anyone
who's been in the TV business for any length of time who hasn't
had to deal with "chip charts." An enlightening
presentation was given on the different types of charts that have
been used in both motion pictures and television and the advances
that have been made in this area of the industry. The anatomy,
attributes and drawback of modern day test charts and the benefits
of engineering test materials in the production environment and
their current under use, was discussed.
A paper that included
design considerations for HDTV lenses and explained the Modulation
Transfer Function (MTF) considerations of the different types of
lenses that are available was also a timely topic. It was
pointed out that the development of lenses for the HDTV market has
been a long and arduous one. Some of the techniques involved
in putting an HDTV lens together were also covered.
It was announced
that there are continuing developments in the area of better CCD
cameras and the advantages of twenty-four-frame, progressive scan,
and high definition production were also discussed. It was
mentioned that YUV would be replaced in the future in recording
equipment with red, blue and green and more than one presented said
that in the future, television technology will not only be able
to replicate film quality, but will surpass it. It was emphasized
that the industry should not be satisfied with what is now called
Electronic Cinema and should strive for much better quality.
Issues of upconversion
options in digital television were discussed and "QoS"
or Quality of Service, a term that is being bandied around in digital
television circles these days was address and explained in the light
monitoring multi-program DTV and MPEG. The factors surround
HD encoding and the specification EIA-818 was addressed. It
was pointed out that the biggest problem in MPEG encoding is a noisy
signal. It seem that encoders see noise as additional video
information and can work overtime for nothing. Along with encoding,
the benefits and disadvantages of both constant bit rate and variable
bit rate methodologies were discussed.
One company discussed
a new universal ½-inch VTR Based on MPEG 422P@ML for Production
Application and how it, the D-11 video recorder, would accommodate
that company's legacy ½-inch formats. This was followed by
a discussion about digital image compression in the film chain.
This subject, like many others was considered timely in light of
the fact that most network television shows are shot on film and
then transferred to tape for air.
One of the industry's
VSB gurus spoke about Digital VSB Fundamentals and Applications.
It was interesting to hear a progress report on MPEG-4 for audio-visual
and IP service applications. It was mentioned that MPEG-4
will be able to do live non-broadcast strings with no prior downloading
required. The standards surrounding MPEG-4 have yet to be
adopted, but work is in progress. In this light, it
was interesting to hear of the implementation of worldwide uncompressed
One of the oldest
tape companies in America discussed the new "Tape-less Tape"
operation at the Fox Network center. It was pointed out that
it has been performing nearly flawlessly. A logical follow
up to this topic was the discussion on video server architectures
and the HD still store challenge.
With the possibility
of some of the stations making the transition to digital considering
multicasting and the centralization of group operations, advanced
M/E architectures for multi-program environments received a very
warm reception. In the same vain, keeping the plant in time has
always been an issue and presentation on digital plant synchronization
served to inform those who will need to know these techniques in
the not too distant future.
We've all heard of
convergence. It was driven home in a talk about DVD meeting
the Internet. More and more stations are looking to the Internet
as a possible means of distribution.
The formation of
the SMPTE Digital Cinema Task Force was discussed, DC28 - with subgroups
addressing Mastering, Compression, CAS (Encryption) , Transport
(delivery/storage), Audio, Theater Interface, Projection, and Management
The home stretch
of the conference was dedicated to D-ILA, Home Cinema and Digital
Cinema Projection. The final presentation was a prelude to
the closing evening event. It was a discussion of the all-digital
pipeline: Toy Story 2, from Pixar Animation Studios in Richmond,
CA. The finally was truly impressive. It was also amazing
that AMC theaters would give up one of their viewing rooms on a
Saturday evening, in the heart of San Francisco, to let Disney,
Pixar and Texas Instruments hold a private showing of Toy Story
2 for the SMPTE assemblage. Pixar went into great detail about
the QuBit recorder technology used with Toy Story 2. The incredible
part about the movie we saw was that at no time was the feature
ever on film. It was computer generated and displayed electronically,
from start to finish.
We are truly living
in a very interesting time. Technology is advancing so rapidly
it is nearly impossible to stay abreast of it without a great deal
of effort. Considering the fact that this is only the beginning
and significant improvements in electronic cinema are just around
the corner, it can only get better. It will impact the broadcast
industry as well. We will have continuingly improving material
to air in HD.
It was very interesting
to listen to the questions and answers as each paper was presented.
The technical back and forth served to sharpen everyone information
flow. There were many similarities between these discussions,
but it is not possible to talk about one part of digital video without
it having an effect on most everything else. One observer
said it: "It was a bunch of middle age men talking about
the number of pixels per micro-mirror, giving rise to the memory
of middle age theologians' and their heated talks about the number
of that could fit on the head of a pin." One could certainly
take that tact when things are moving so fast it difficult to discern
where, when and how the technology is going.
The general tone
of the conference was polite but objective skepticism was expressed
over most current and proposed solutions. There were definite
calls for a system and standards that are clearly superior to film,
not just comparable. Unfortunately, there seems to be an attitude
in some circles that things are "good enough," then "progress"
in this area might not wait for the traditional processes of standardization.
It was refreshing
to see new players, like QualComm, unencumbered by legacy customers,
have some very interesting proposals in the areas of image compression
-- intra-frame variable block sized-DCT which, I believe, yields
2:1 efficiency improvements.
It would not be fair
to close this report without mentioning further the great job the
folks from Napa Valley College rendered in helping with the audio/visual
areas of the SMPTE conference, while being afforded the opportunity
to hear about the latest technology. This two-year college
is a reservoir of talent that has a tradition of filling many of
the entry-level position in the industry.
** ** ** ** ** **
(Ed Note: The Editors
and Publishers of the Tech Notes wish to thank Des Chaskelson, Research
Director of SCRI International for his generosity in posting the
Tech Notes on the SCRI web site. http://WWW.SCRI.com).
Subject: HDTV Marketplace
Trends and Product Reports: 2000 - 2004
From: Des Chaskelson
, Research Director, SCRI International
The HDTV Marketplace
Trends and Product Reports are now available. Data for the reports
was derived from extensive surveys of US television stations in
January 2000. The Trends report contains over 100 pages of data
and analysis. Each product report contains data on the percentage
of stations purchasing HD and SD units, by year (2000 - 2004), plus
total units (HD and SD) by year. Over 35 products are covered.
For table of contents see online at:
&/or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
** ** ** ** ** **
The Tech Notes are
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in DTV, HDTV, Electronic Cinema, etc., by Larry Bloomfield and Jim
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