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Tech Notes

Published by: Larry Bloomfield & Jim Mendrala

E-mail = or

March 20, 2000

(Yes, two in one day!)

Tech Note - 053


Talent does what it can, but genius does what it must!

Our Mission: Sharing experiences, knowledge, observations, concerns, opinions or anything else relating to Electronic Cinema, DTV, etc., with fellow engineers and readers. We do hope that everyone will participate with comments, experiences, questions and/or answers.  To remove yourself from this list, send an E-mail to: in the subject place the word Remove.  We now have over 590 subscribers & growing.  This is YOUR forum!  The Tech Notes are posted and past issues available at: and


Subj: Further Adventures in 8VSB Land

By: Larry Bloomfield

(Ed Note:  Portions of the following story appeared in the Broadcast Engineering March 2000 issue under "Beyond the Headlines."  An expanded version is printed here with the publisher's permission)

(Continued from Tech Note #52)

What others are saying

Shortly after SBG filed their petition, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), filed an opposition to Sinclair's petition and a motion for its immediate dismissal. CEA argued that the petition failed to assert any valid basis for re-opening the DTV standards issue at this late date, and presents only arguments that are repetitive of those previously considered. CEA's position was that re-opening the DTV standards proceeding would create uncertainty and benefit only those seeking to delay the transition to digital broadcasting, arguing that the industry recommended 8VSB modulation standard was selected in an open and scientifically rigorous process that included the relative multipath capabilities of both COFDM and 8VSB.

The tug-of-war continued with SBG responding to CEA saying, contrary to CEA's assertions, they have "provided a compelling and convincing basis for initiating a new rulemaking proceeding on DTV standards." Stating further that they have "raised crucial and previously unrecognized issues relating to ease of DTV reception with simple antennas under dynamic multipath conditions."

In a letter from the FCC dismissing the SBG petition to SBG's attorneys, they said:  "Information from a number of DTV receiver chip-set manufacturers, such as, Motorola, NextWave Communications, Inc., Thomson Consumer Electronics, and others, indicates that manufacturers are aware of these problems and are aggressively taking steps to resolve the multipath handling limitations exhibited in some first-generation DTV receivers."

There are those who don't think the Sinclair petition went far enough.  One such DTV pundit, who asked to remain anonymous, said:  "Instead of opening up ATSC for a COFDM graft, I would like to see adoption of DTV-T intact--or maybe with little Australian-style teaks. Maybe that could come out of the biennial review?"  One other comment heard in San Francisco at SMPTE was:  "Time to sell any Television related stock you hold.  Well it looks like we'll all go down with Zenith. Is the third time also a charm for bankruptcy?"  While John Sprung, television executive at Paramount studios said:  "This has turned out to be the Monica Lewinsky of digital television.  Everybody knows the truth; nobody cares enough to do anything about it."  And finally: "Don't sell your TV stock just yet, but if DirecTV is ever spun out from General Motors into a listed company, rebalance your portfolio immediately!"

In what some have call a politically astute move, The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) voted to dismiss SBG's COFDM petition to the FCC, but does plan to test COFDM for existing and enhanced digital services.  MSTV is an association that represents some very powerful station groups in the US. 

Although the MSTV task force found that the 8VSB transmission standard not to be deficient, its findings have led them to demand that manufacturers improve 8VSB's implementation, blaming the problems with 8VSB on a lack of receiver standards.  MSTV went on record as saying: "the implementation of the VSB standard by receiver and chip manufacturers was "inadequate," and would "continue to monitor and test 8VSB implementation. If anticipated implementation improvements are not realized, it will revisit the standard."

While the MSTV task force said neither 8VSB or COFDM modulation formats have any advantage, one over the other, in perfect conditions, it claimed COFDM has a "significant advantage" over the ATSC standard for time-varying multipath conditions.  Concluding that: "Broadcasters and manufacturers should do a better job sharing technical information in 8VSB improvements."

"We're just happy to see some resolution," said a spokesman for Sony. "This will help us move forward with manufacturing and engineering plans," he said.

It has been amazing to me how many people I've spoken to since the FCC made its announcement.  By the numbers, all have had something to say, but refused to go on record.  The same was true at the SMPTE conference in San Francisco when the FCC decision was announced to the assemblage.  One executive said: "The lobbyists must have being working overtime on this."  Another said:  "Cable and DBS are the future. Broadcasting is a "sunset" industry after this." Yet another said, commenting on the announcement: "I don't think this will stand.  8VSB's a turkey and when it all falls apart we'll have to change. Trouble is we've got to stay in business till then." 

Replying to one of the executives above, the only pro-8VSB comments I hears were:  "'8VSB is fine and you guys are wreckers. It's all a lie about reception. Everybody is going to have to have HDTV by 2006 and if they can't afford it then tough: they don't need TV" - Shades of Marie Antoinette.  A recent DTV set purchaser present said: "We've won and you have lost. You can go to hell with your mobile DTV."

A well-known authority on DTV from Europe, attending the SMPTE conference, was heard to say:  "As they say 'there but for the grace of God go we.'  I simply cannot understand why the US broadcasters did not speak up and why NBC did not publish its findings. It gives a new meaning to term 'Silence is Golden.'  They're going to get it in the end. The broadcasters are the authors of their own misfortunes"

Drawing this report to a conclusion, I would suggest asking these four questions to test the commercial viability of the DTV issue:

1 Is the technology effective, reliable and stable?

2 Do the business model(s) permit a return on investment in a realistic timeframe and can market mechanisms be found to drive forward economies of scale and scope?

3 Is it simple for the consumer to use and affordable out of disposable income?

4 Is the content/services proposition sufficiently differentiated to justify a consumer change?

Just remember that technology decisions can only be made after the entire industry, both broadcasting and the consumer end of the pipeline, have reached a consensus on a viable business model for the future of the industry.  It would appear that rather than endorsing the status quo, the FCC has simply taken a face-saving, more comfortable "cover your….." approach, by endorsing the findings of their own OET report, but leaving the door open for a thorough examination of all of the issue. Perhaps it's part of a larger process that is not focused on a single, but important technology issue. Perhaps this is the FCC's way of permitting everyone to comment on any aspect of the DTV transition, without having to endorse the one position or another.  Or, perhaps, this is just some more political mumbo-jumbo from a Washington, DC based government organization that can't or won't see the forest of the trees. 

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Subj:  Live Long and Prosper! 

By: Larry Bloomfield

The phrase "Live long and prosper is" is either a Vulcan greeting from Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame or Ted Small, Director of Engineering at KFXK-TV, speaking about his remarkable video tape headlife. 

It was just about three and a half years ago when I had the chance of visiting Small and the KFXK-TV facilities in Longview, TX.  This was the fall of 1996 and at that time the station was in the midst of a very heavy-duty building and facilities upgrade and remodeling program.  During my visit to KFXK-TV, Small show me his S-VHS tape equipment and discussed his interest in choosing a tape format that would be backward compatible.  It was even then that Small expressed strong interest in D-9 over other digital formats for a variety of technical reasons.  I recall him mentioning its "robust 4:2:2 sampling, gentle 3.3:1 compression ratio and a reliable tape transport" at some of the other stations Small had spoken with about his matter. 

Little did Small realized, back in November of '96 when he made the decision for both KFXK-TV and their sister station KFXL-TV to go with D-9, that he'd get the headlife he's bragging about today.  Small said:  "We expected durability and reliability, along with superior picture quality, but what we got in addition to that surprised us: headlife that far exceeded industry norms."  Small says he has a group of machines that have gone in excess of 10,000 hours, and one D-9 edit recorder with over 13,000 hours on the original heads.  Small says:  "Talk about your return on investment." 

In speaking recently with Small, he said that in March of last year (1999), the Fox Television network shared with their affiliate stations that they had saved over $33 million dollars, attributing it to choosing the D-9 format.  While Small said that KFXK did not quantify their savings, he believes the numbers do add up to substantial savings.

Small said:  "I initiated the format change with the expectation that D-9 would provide the station an easy upgrade path to digital broadcasting while offering extremely high quality digital video at an affordable price here in a relatively small market. D-9 has met all of our expectations, and then some."  Later in our conversation Small said that before purchasing the D-9 equipment, "we factored the cost of head replacement at 3,000 hours per machine into their operations budget, and still found D-9 to be an extremely attractive investment"  But, as Small recalls, a surprising thing happened along the way.

"As our original D-9 machines approached 3,000 hours, we looked for visible signs of head wear, and found none. We looked again at 4,000 hours, and again at 5,000 hours. Still no visible head wear. The D-9 machines have more than lived up to our expectations.  We clean the heads weekly and replace the pinch rollers approximately once a quarter, even though it's not required. The D-9 just allows us to easily perform minimal routine maintenance and it has really paid off for us. To make a long story short, we have one BR-D80 machine with over 13,000 hours on the original head, and no visible signs of wear - incredible!"

Small attributes his long headlife to the way they clean the heads.  He said:  We use a lint free cloth, an appropriate grade isopropyl alcohol and follow basic cleaning standards that you'd use on most any VCR head.  We also carefully clean the pinch rollers. When it comes too massive head clogs, we use an alcohol saturated cotton swab and very carefully use the same technique around the head and drum."

Small outfitted KFXK's master control with four JVC BR-D50 D-9 players and four JVC BR-D80 D-9 recorders. The D-9 equipment is used to record syndicated programming from satellite feeds for later playback. Small says that their picture quality has improved as producers can now edit raw footage from the field without compromising picture quality; even when fancy layers and effects are added. Small says:  "I'm really sold on the D-9 equipment and their performance."

In addition to the Fox programming on KFXK and KFXL, Small said that this same equipment is also used to serve two low-power UPN affiliates in Longview and Tyler, Texas.

Other than the diligence in cleaning the heads properly, Small could not pin down exactly why he got the headlife he did, but he can truly be proud of such performance.  KFXK-TV, a Fox affiliate, is a full power station that serves the Longview and Tyler, Texas markets along with their low power sister station, KFXL-TV, which serves Lufkin and Nacogdoches, TX.  KFXL-TV has a web site at

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Subj: Answering the Question:  Is Film Really Dead?

by: Michael Karagosian

(c)2000 MKPE Consulting All rights reserved worldwide.

(Reprinted here by permission of the author.)

Film is dead! Long live digital cinema! Or so the pundits might like you to believe. The truth is that film is nowhere near dead, and digital cinema, while a potent replacement for film, is really much more than that. But we'll get into the story of digital cinema a little later.

Let's start with film. Film is the primary image format of today. There is no disagreement that its image quality is unequaled by any digital projection format. But we rarely get to see the best of what film has to offer in the cinema. Exhibitors are famously spend-thrift, and there are relatively few screens having state-of-the-art film projectors delivering the rock steady images that are possible. Studios have to watch their costs, too. High-speed duplication of prints is necessary to keep the cost down, but it does not guarantee the best picture to the viewing audience. Technicolor, whose dye transfer print technology was first introduced commercially with Disney cartoons in the 1930's, has been working on a relatively high-speed dye print process that, true to their trademark, produces a spectacular color image on screen. Buena Vista's (Disney) 13th Warrior was released last year in this format on a limited basis, with great reviews.

While today's digital projection can provide compelling competition for standard 35mm exhibition, it still offers no competition to the visual impact experienced in Large Format (LF) houses around the world. Once considered a museum novelty, LF is now growing into its own as a commercial format. As with standard exhibition cinemas, LF is also experiencing a building boom, and the number of commercial 15/70 theatres is expected to surpass the number found in museums and non-profit venues by the end of this year. (If you're not familiar with the jargon, 15/70 stands for 70mm film where each frame is 15 perforations wide, a format made popular by IMAX. This versus 5 perfs per frame for the standard 70mm exhibition format. 15/70 films can also be printed down to the 8/70 format, 8 perfs per frame, whose screen count is also growing.)

The number of LF productions is growing, too. Fourteen new 15/70 films were released in 1999, including Disney's Fantasia 2000, versus one production in 1990. Those numbers may seem tiny next to the 500 or so films reviewed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) last year. But LF has established itself as good business. It has been said that one LF theatre can produce the revenue of three standard exhibition screens. One day we may see digital projection in these theatres, but today these are solidly film-based, and the growing number of LF theatres entertains audiences with the most stunning visual images that film can offer.

Digital cinema, however, is busy making itself known in the standard 35mm exhibition world. It is here that digital cinema has the potential to overtake. Promoters of the format point to the low cost of distribution and the robust quality of the picture. Several players have made their mark in the sand concerning digital cinema, and in less than a year of public attention, there's already been one casualty. Cinecomm, one of the many faces behind the original digital screenings of Phantom Menance, has disappeared from the scene after losing the support of Qualcomm, who chose to go it alone. Digital cinema has great potential, but it's only in its infancy, and there remains a lot of growing up to do.

Demonstrations of digital cinema have been taking place across North America. Texas Instruments, whose DLP Cinema projector prototype is today's choice for commercial digital exhibition, has placed 12 of their projector prototypes in cinemas across the US and Canada. Note the use of the word "prototype" and not "beta". These are proving sites, particularly for TI as they attempt to establish their technology as fit for the grueling 14x7 work weeks that feature movie exhibition often demands. Movie studios are using these sites to learn from audience reaction, too. Digital cinema presentations are not highly promoted. You can learn the locations where digital cinema is being presented, along with show times, at   As a side note, TI is planning to license their technology to a few select projector manufacturers by the 2nd quarter of this year.

Given the momentum that digital cinema is developing, what and who is driving it? The answer to this question is complex. In as much as the more progressive movie studios are trying to drive this technology, in some ways they are merely reacting to the same trends in technology that have been driving the music industry.

Consider the financial impact. Having sat in digital cinema standards meetings where I commonly hear words such as "we only want to replace film", one has to wonder if that's really true. The numbers speak otherwise. Put on your thinking hat and follow some of the higher math. The studios spend approximately $1B annually reproducing films for distribution to exhibitors in the US. And there are 35,000 screens in the US. If we were to take that $1B in savings from one year and buy 35,000 digital projectors, they'd have to cost $28,500 each. Considering that these will be the best HD projectors around, that would be a fantastic price if you could find one! More realistically, though, these projectors are going to cost around $200,000 each, at least in their early years. At that price, they might pay for themselves in 7 years. But hold on here, we all know that 7 years in the digital world is next to eternity. Those projectors will be obsolete and in need of replacement before then, requiring additional investment. With a scenario like that, it is conceivable that the payoff in digital cinema for the big movie studios could take 10 years or more.

Our higher math indicates that digital cinema is a costly replacement for film. Is digital cinema still good business? Of course. It is more than an upgrade from film, it is a whole new medium. Digital cinema opens many new doors, from expanded sources of cinema entertainment and new advertising revenue, to grander forms of movie entertainment. Think of movie productions that have different scenes and different endings each time you see them, or movies with special effects such as those seen today only in theme parks. Digital cinema is the path for differentiating cinema from the home. It's an investment in the future.

It is also an investment in maintaining control of the distribution channel. There is a big risk here as well for the studios. They could easily fall into the same trap as the music companies. Digital distribution will not only open the door for direct distribution from low-cost desktop-style studios, but it will also open the door for direct pirated copies of first-run releases over the Internet. What could be more devastating to the studios than that?

What lies in the studios favor today is the high cost of the exhibition-grade digital projector. If the projectors were cheap, then digital cinema would be ubiquitous. Even if the studios stubbornly stuck to film distribution, the temptation would be there for major producers to distribute their digital productions directly to the exhibitors, bypassing the studios. Fortunately for the studios, the projector cost remains high, and their financial assistance is strongly needed to get digital cinema rolling. That leaves open a window of opportunity that won't stay open for long. Now is the time for the studios to jump in and define the medium to their liking.

Does the word reinvention come to mind? The movie studios are ripe for it. On one end, they're getting squeezed by independent, low-cost, high quality desk-top productions, and on the other end, they could be bypassed completely in the distribution model. What choice do they have but to embrace technology and reinvent themselves?

Complicating the situation, and any complication works for the studios at this point, is the fact that there is no regulatory agency or trade organization that has the power to enforce international standards in digital cinema. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has established a technology committee for digital cinema titled DC28, under whose umbrella a series of study groups started this year. These study groups are not authorized to establish standards, however. SMPTE historically creates engineering documents that describe existing methods introduced by industry. They have not served as a regulatory agency, i.e., SMPTE does not have in its scope the ability to stamp products as compliant to a standard and prevent them from being marketed if not compliant. SMPTE is expected to eventually introduce recommended practices, possibly standards, for digital cinema. It could be years before this happens. And the risk exists that American-generated standards will not receive international support.

As one industry friend of mine has said, who for his own protection I will refrain from naming, "digital cinema is a free-for-all". This is true right now, but again, a little chaos at this time works in the favor of the studios. I.E., no standard is better than a standard that doesn't fit their business model.

Having mentioned chaos, let's look at what's on the near-term horizon. We're going to see the battle of the business model. First, there's the pay-per-view model. Real Image Digital, a company backed by Technicolor and with technology support from the Sarnoff Corporation, has announced that they will be installing beta sites of their digital cinema system in February. Real Image supports a pay-per-view business model, where they provide the equipment and the studios pay Real Image to show movies on their system. It's a very intriguing idea, and it will certainly have its time in the sun, but it doesn't fit the current distribution model. More importantly, it doesn't preserve control of the distribution channel by the studios. Another player, AndAction, has announced that they too intend to provide complete systems, with a focus on secure transmission of the media file. They haven't announced their business model, but from talking with them, they recognize the importance of preserving the studio's control of the distribution channel. Other players are in this, too. Cinea, who describes themselves as the only "spinoff" of Divx, is working hard on a delivery and security method. Qualcomm is working on ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) for compression and security, and hope to support all business models. All of these companies have web sites, for which you will find links at the URL

There is time for the battle of the business model to play itself out. Early digital cinema systems are bound to be very manual in nature, without sophisticated satellite or land-based network links back to the studios. We see this already in the digital demonstrations that are happening today. It will take a few years for the technology to mature, not just the projection technology, but also the delivery methods, with their associated security and management systems. As this progresses, we'll see true beta sites where these technologies are put to test.

Given the creative history of cinema, I don't expect there to be a shakeout where only one system is clearly the winner. Remember, there is no regulatory agency here to enforce a single standard. Just as technology has brought digital cinema to the forefront in movie presentation, technology too may provide the way to allow creative competition at several levels, hopefully without creating chaos for the exhibitor. DSP technology has the potential to support a variety of compression and decryption methods, by downloading code right along with the media file. A future movie producer, for instance, might license the encryption and compression technology du jour for digital distribution of their movie. Digital cinema is destined to continue the rich and wildly creative history of cinema.

If you haven't noticed, I've carefully avoided the use of the term eCinema in this article. I, along with many other authors, have been guilty of using this term in the past. The term is problematic. eCinema encourages visions of ecommerce and etailing, visions which no studio wishes to promote. Today the term digital cinema is used to avoid any association with Internet sales of movies. In large part, this change took place at the request of the studios. Just as the studios have taken it on themselves to advantageously name digital cinema, the studios will take it upon themselves to advantageously define it. They will do so without the benefit of a regulatory agency, and without the benefit of standards. But they will do it to survive.

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Subj: A Professional Invitation

By: Larry Bloomfield

The following are answers sent to Robin Rowe, a Movie Editor, who recently subscribed to the Tech Notes.  Rowe had gone back into some of our older Tech Notes on one of the web sites and had a few questions.  I hope I've answered them for him.

"Thanks for you inquire. I'm more than happy to answer your questions.  When I said: "Although the ATSC technically classifies 720 lines as high definition, true HDTV is 1080 lines, " I was referring to the international definition of HDTV and the ATSC with Tony (can't remember his last name) at ABC is heading the US delegation to get 720P accepted internationally as HDTV. I've heard no word on the progress.

You said: "Under your theory neither 1080i or 720p would qualify as HDTV, although you later state that 1080i is HDTV. The actual frame resolution of 1080i is only half of that or 540 lines. Granted it's a different 540 lines on alternate frames, but as I recall subjective viewers differ on whether 1080i or 720p is actually sharper."

In theory, I agree with your statement. I have been a proponent of 720P asking the question, "how can you take two different pictures from different points in time and expect them to look as good as a progressively scanned picture?"

And yes, both formats have approximately the same bit rate. I have seen both 1080i and 720p side by side, and they both look good. If I were forced to choose, I opt for the 720p because of my bias. It is interesting to note that a new company is on the news front, iBeam and the group owners of the stations who subscribe and support it will go to 720p irrespective of their network affiliation - NBC or CBS.

When you said: "Motion picture resolution isn't just pixels," I agree. I used a Kodak statement in the SMPTE journal as my source for the comparison, which is their info.

I even went further then saying that HDTV provides wide-screen picture quality similar to 35mm film. I said that the D-Cinema in use to day is lesser quality than the broadcasters are transmitting. The TI system puts about 1.3 Megapixels on the screen. You do the math: 1080 x 1920.

That wasn't going too far. There are too many who say that is just fine and don't wish to push the limits to what we could have in the electronic motion picture technology. I saw Toy Story 2 all in digital from start to finish, never on film, in San Francisco as part of the Feb. 2000 SMPTE conference. I was impressed. There are many points, which made it better than a 35 mm film presentation, but it is not the best we could have today. There are no standards establish, as yet, for D-Cinema. I hope and pray those who are establishing them at this time don't settle for anything but the best. We have the technology; let's use it.

As for my roll and interest in this, I suggest you check out my bio at Mendrala's is there also. If you have any questions after that, I'd be more than happy to answer them. As for what I do, I know write and am a consultant to several firms. I had an accident several years ago that will only permit me to do that now. I've been doing Beyond the Headlines for Broadcast Engineering for nearly 2˝ years. The folks at BE saw some of my early work in the Tech Notes and like it. The rest is history.

As you saw in my invitation letter, I like to stir the pot. It never hurts to have a protagonist who is not afraid to take the bit in their teeth and get people to thinking. I know doing that, sometime, pissed people off, but oh well. I get sore when I use mussels, which haven't been used for a while. I'm never afraid to answer questions as that tends to either make me rethink issues and either come up with a better way/answer or confirm the path that I've taken. Keep up the good work.              


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(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.

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:

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The Tech Notes are published for broadcast professionals, and others, who are interested in DTV, HDTV, Electronic Cinema, etc., by Larry Bloomfield and Jim Mendrala. We can be reached by either e-mail or land lines (408) 778-3412, (661) 294-1049 or fax at (419) 710-1913 or (419) 793-8340. The Tech Notes are sent (BCC) directly only to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, however feel free to forward them, intact (including this message), to anyone who you think might be interested.  There is no charge for this Newsletter, no one gets paid (sigh), there is no advertising and we do not indorse any product or service(s). The ideas and opinions are those of the individual authors. We still administer everything manually. We don't use any "majordomo" automatic servers. News items, comments, observations, opinions, etc., are encouraged and always welcome. We publish when there is something to share. Material may be edited for brevity, but usually not. Tech Note articles may be reproduced in any form provided they are unaltered and credit is given to both Tech Notes and the originating authors, when named. If they are to be used by a publication that normally compensates their writers, please contact us first.