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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
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
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."
happy to see some resolution," said a spokesman for Sony. "This
will help us move forward with manufacturing and engineering plans,"
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
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
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.
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.
"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!"
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
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 http://www.fox51.com.
** ** ** ** ** **
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
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
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 http://www.ti.com/dlp/products/cinema.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
** ** ** ** ** **
Subj: A Professional
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.
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
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 http://www.hdpicutres.com.
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
** ** ** ** ** **
(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
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)
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The Tech Notes are sent (BCC) directly only to those who have asked
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There is no charge for this Newsletter, no one gets paid (sigh),
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The ideas and opinions are those of the individual authors. We still
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