Published by: Larry Bloomfield & Jim Mendrala

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  September 10, 2000

Tech Note – 064


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Subj: Reader Responses

From: Albert Abramson

Re: Tech-Note #63 "Digital Cinema"

(Ed NoteMr. Abramson is the author of "Electronic Motion Pictures")

Just received your technical note 063 and found the part on "digital" cinema most interesting. But you forgot to include the most important part of this new coming process. WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR IT? As a long time advocate of Electronic Cinema, see my first book Electronic Motion Pictures (Univ Cal Press 1955) I feel very strong about what is going to happen to the film industry over the next 25 years. The technical problems will be solved as they usually are in the marketplace. But there are two sides to the story.
Who is going to benefit the most from this new process? The answer of course is the movie studios. They are slowly drifting to the use of tape for their recording process. Film is great at 24 frames but tape (at 24 frames) will equal it or surpass it within the next generation. The costs of shooting on tape, editing on tape and projection on tape (or disc) are much less than film.  But as costly as film is they are (at present) willing to pay the premium for film production. It is a very high cost effective system, but it is "tradition."
How about the theatre owners? What do they have to gain? Will the public pay a premium price to see a film projected electronically? Not if they can see the same film projected with the same (or better quality) next door. I don't think so.  Who will have to foot the bills for an electronic projector, a receiver and/or disc player in order to use the system? Unless the studios are willing to share some of these costs, I think the whole process is a long way off.   Thanks for your attention,

Albert Abramson


From: C. T. Hart

Re: Digital Cinema Article in #39

I am told that the Barco unit was NOT used for the Titan AE show.  It was replaced by a T.I. Mk V, which had the proper color space, dark chip, etc.

Response: Jim Mendrala

Barco at that time did not have a digital cinema projector using the dark chip nor the extended colorimetry but participated in the demo as they are licensed by Texas Instrument (TI) to build digital cinema projectors using the TI black chip. Most likely TI provided them with their Mk V with a Christie lamp house. Christie (formerly Electrohome) is also licensed by TI to build digital cinema projectors using the black chip. Since this was just a demo and not an installed projector you are correct in your assumptions. Barco probably did the footwork and TI worked with them.



(Ed NoteSince it may come as a shock to some that we, here in the US, are not the only ones on the planet, it is always a delight to share what others are doing in a country where the emerging technology of the wonderful world of television, cable in this case, has flexed its wings to the tune of a different drummer.)

Subj:  Chinese Cable TV Giant Reportedly Emerging

From: Matt Pottinger (Reuters)

Having stitched together a national cable television network reaching 90 million families, China plans to create a new telecoms giant to run the operation, a state newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The new state-run corporation, to be established by the end of this year, will provide not only national cable TV broadcasts, but also Internet service, the China Daily quoted top television industry official Xu Guangchun as saying.

That would make it a direct challenger to state giant China Telecom and other Internet service providers, and would herald the collapse of rules that strictly forbid the TV and telecoms industries from venturing into one another's business.

“The flagship company would be engaged in national cable TV broadcasting and the Internet,” the newspaper quoted Xu, minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), as saying.

Another SARFT official, Zhu Zhentie, was quoted as saying: ''We are also preparing for the convergence of the broadcasting network, the telecom network and the computer network.''

90 Million Homes

The article offered no further details, but the planned company appears to be the culmination of a project SARFT began years ago to link China's estimated 2,000 cable stations to a national high-speed backbone.

That project, called the Information Network Center, is near completion, linking the country's estimated 90 million cable TV subscribers, according to industry analysts.

 While the ownership of the company is unclear, its establishment appears to be a step toward separating SARFT’s business and regulatory functions -- a trend that Beijing is enforcing in other state industries.

SARFT currently plays an awkward dual role as regulator and part owner of the country's cable and broadcast TV stations.

Still, analysts said there were steep barriers to the company becoming a powerful telecoms force.

Deadly Competition

For starters, state telecoms firms will almost certainly protest any intrusion on to their turf. Past attempts at merging telecoms and TV services have lead to violent, even deadly, conflicts.

In the southern province of Hunan, more than 100 people have been injured or killed in clashes between China Telecom and cable TV operators, leading to the moratorium on convergence.

But even if the new cable giant is given a green light to precede into Internet and telecoms services, it will face stiff competition on several fronts, said David Wolf, director of technology for Burson-Marsteller in Beijing.

If it tries to become an Internet provider or wholesaler of network bandwidth, it will be up against more entrenched carriers, including China Telecom and China Netcom Corp, Wolf said.

And as a national broadcaster, it would be stepping on the toes of China Central Television, which has a monopoly on national television content and broadcasts.

“I can't see how they can add value to the network on the TV side,” Wolf said. “China has one national broadcaster and only wants to have one national broadcaster.

 “There really is no business plan for how you can be a profitable national cable broadcaster with nothing but infrastructure,” he said.


Subj:  Ten Reasons Why Broadcast Engineers Should Have DTV Receivers

From: Stuart Calcote – Electronic Pictures Corporation (dba HD Pictures -- from an article that appeared on TV Broadcast’s web page.

In my travels across the country with the DTV Express and subsequently conducting DTV RF seminars at a variety of locations, I have been struck by the number of broadcast engineers, in markets where there is a DTV station, who do not have a DTV receiver.

It has been my experience in the past that whenever a new broadcast system or feature came out, broadcast engineers were usually the first to try it out.

Sometimes it was buying the product, but mostly it was assembling components that would receive the signal even if it wasn't very glamorous or high performance.

Now, I realize that DTV receivers were quite expensive at first, usually well out of the range of most broadcast engineer's personal or even a station's capital budget. But, low cost receivers are now available including the RCA DTC-100 and Hauppauge WinTV-D PC card.

At the very least, I would expect broadcast engineers to borrow a DTV receiver or get together and share one with several friends.

While it is nice to have a giant screen or even an HDTV display capability. It's not essential. What is essential is trying it out, gaining experience, chatting it up and learning about the technology. What better way is there to learn about DTV than actually working with it?

Cost has not been the only reason engineers have not been quick to get a receiver. There seems to be a general malaise about DTV originating from station management that filters down to the engineer. As a result there is less incentive to obtain a receiver.

This situation places the engineer in jeopardy of not having enough information about DTV when management suddenly decides it must move quickly to install DTV facilities to meet FCC deadlines or compete with other DTV stations that have greater motivation to develop the new technology. Bear in mind that steep learning curves lead to frustration and mistakes in judgment and increased stress. I believe it behooves station management to ensure that engineering personnel are encouraged to obtain a DTV receiver or to provide one for experimentation. It won't be wasted money. Look at it as additional training if nothing else. Connected to a regular NTSC receiver or VGA PC monitor, a DTV converter will still provide most of the benefits and attributes of DTV.

Still need more reasons? Here's my top 10 list:

1. Monitor your own DTV station.

What engineer does not monitor his/her own station on a regular basis-even if it is not a favorite program? Of course! It is the right thing to do for the company and for personal satisfaction that an installation you worked on is performing properly.

2. Monitor other DTV stations.

Watching other stations, perhaps the competition, to see what they are doing is a natural thing to do. Are they doing a good job? Do they have problems? Do they look better than you? Are they using some new technique or feature? Now, that is important! Your news and program directors probably spend as much time watching the competition as their own station.

3. Learn about DTV.

You have heard and read all kinds of stories about DTV reception, quality, and problems. With so many different reports, what is to be believed? Find out for yourself. Conduct your own tests, attend conferences and DTV seminars, develop your own experiences, and react to your own curiosity.

4. Demonstrate to others what you are doing with DTV.

Showing off something new is a natural thing for most people, and engineers are no exception. Show how clean the picture and sound can be with DTV. Show multiple standard definition programs, HD, and the other features of DTV. It is very satisfying.

5. Try new configurations of DTV transport stream and observe results.

Experiment with different settings on the ATSC encoder to improve acquisition time, create accurate PSIP information (channel and configurations), and EPG (what programs are being transmitted and when).

6. Coordinate PSIP, EPG, picture, and formats, or other attributes, with other stations.

Again, from my experiences from traveling to many cities over the last two years, there appear to be few attempts to coordinate DTV broadcast attributes such as picture and sound formats, PSIP, and EPG data among stations in the same market. While individual stations make their own decisions about how to represent DTV to the viewer, it is the viewer (as well as the local TV dealer) that has become confused by the lack of coordination. Not so with cable and satellite.

In the Washington, DC, area alone, there are five DTV stations with five different appearances on a DTV receiver. One (ABC) merely transmits their normal programming as a SD program on DTV in 4:3 aspect ratio leaving black bars on both sides of a widescreen display. Several other stations upconvert their current broadcast programs to 1080i HDTV. One of these (CBS) expands the 4:3 program to 16:9, which fills the widescreen display but cuts off the top of people's heads and the bottom line of graphics. Another station (NBC) adopted a 14:9 compromise that looks quite good on a widescreen display. The fourth (Fox) adds a local logo in the right side black bar. The fifth station (PBS) runs both a continuous HDTV demo loop (from PBS or a local server) and an SD version of their normal programming; very nice-HD and local programming. To their credit all stations except ABC and Fox transmit network-originated HDTV.

The PSIP data is different for each of these stations. There is no EPG information nor an indication of closed captioning or secondary audio channel (SAP) for descriptive video service (DVS). Neither broadcaster nor receiver manufacturer have coordinated their programming or important receiver information display to provide the viewer with the information necessary to decide what program to watch and how best to use it. A few months of this confusion is understandable. A year? No!

Yes, DTV is complicated. The ATSC digital transport stream structure is complex and versatile, and it is worth your time and effort to become more familiar with the ATSC standards (see for details).

7. Report results to receiver manufacturers.

Consumer electronic equipment manufacturers are constantly looking for the reactions of users to the features and cost of their products. It takes time for viewer comments to be incorporated into new models. Manufacturers would like to hear from individuals who have made a point of methodically testing a new device and have documented good and bad features.

8. Show you are interested in the issues and want to be part of the action.

Most broadcast engineers want to improve their own situation within a broadcast organization as well as the station's welfare. Some, with enough time, participate in industry-related groups, societies, and organizations that develop standards or report on the state of the industry.

I urge all engineers to look for ways to participate in some manner-writing, investigating, active participation, or just showing up at meetings and giving their opinion on an issue. Make sure local SBE and SMPTE chapters have their meeting programs on the subject of DTV.

9. Be first on the block with DTV.

Weren't you first to have a stereo phonograph, color TV, stereo sound TV, a CD player, a VCR, a PC, modems to access chat rooms and data bases (and then the

Internet), cordless telephones, pagers, cell phones, and other gadgets?

10. Foster DTV.

If we want DTV to be successful, it has to work not only for the broadcaster but for the consumer as well. To that end engineers can help TV set retailers do a good job of receiving and displaying your DTV station and work with manufactures of both transmission and reception equipment to understand the operating environments for their products and to incorporate improvements. Of course, you want your station to succeed and remain in business. This is your opportunity to make a difference and an impact.



Subject: Possible trouble in Tinsel Town

Since the posting of Tech-Notes No. 64, a problem has arisen regarding an article I wrote entitled: "Possible Trouble In Tinsel Town."  The article has subsequently been removed from our website. 

In the article I said that I was privy to a conversation with an individual who identified himself as an employee of Laser Pacific.  I have since found out that the information I received was strikingly similar to an anonymous posting on an industry related website and have subsequently discovered that my source was not, in fact, an employee of Laser Pacific. 

The story also implied that I had spoken to Paramount's Director of Technology, when in fact his quote was also obtained from the same source. I was negligent in not ascertaining the veracity of this information. 

To Laser Pacific, the Director of Photography of Diagnosis Murder, and to Viacom Productions:  It has never been my intent or position to bring any harm to any individual or company. If the publication of this story has done so, I offer my sincerest apologies for any harm or damage to its/his reputation as a result of this article. It was never my intent to discredit the integrity or quality of anyone’s work, person, work ethic or product. 

Be assured that in the future I will be much more vigilant in checking the authenticity and credibility of the information presented and passed on to the readers of Tech-Notes. 

Larry Bloomfield


Subject:  Keeping Track of History

By: Larry Bloomfield

There’s an old saying: "If you don't learn from history, you’ll be condemned to repeat it."  With this in mind it has always been my purpose and direction to get as much down on paper, as possible, about how things were and are being done, not just in the early days of television, but in the recent past as well.  I don't believe there's an engineer out there who’d disagree with the fact that the technology is moving so fast and changing so rapidly that many of the things we did last year are done drastically different today.

If some diligent scribe doesn't take the time to record these things, they will fall through the cracks and be lost to history.  Case in point: ask anyone at a local television station, who's been there less than 10 years, what is telecine?

In this effort, I sent out a number of e-mail asking for input on the history of automation.  This is an area that has little documentation of its history.  I was truly amazed that within 48 hours, I had over four-dozen responses.  It truly speaks well to those who feel, as I do about preserving our industries technical history.  In addition to the e-mail, I also contacted my PR sources at the various networks.  Of all spoken with on the subject, I only got one negative response.

In speaking with Dana McClintock, VP of CBS PR, in a very typical New Yorker cavalier attitude, he could have cared less about most anything technical and although he did see the need for this kind of thing, he expressed the fact that he was totally unwilling to spend any time attempting to document these things or assist in the documentation of CBS's technical history, irrespective of the subject matter.  I told him that I was exceedingly disappointed in his attitude.

I also told McClintock that I see many of the high-priced CBS engineering managers at conferences, trade shows and speak with them in telephone conversations and would like to have his stamp of approval on any technical information relevant to CBS's technical endeavors over the years, providing I pass a draft past the supplier for purposes of accuracy.  He had no problem with that, giving me cart blanche, but reiterated he didn't think the CBS engineering management would have the time or would take the time for such an endeavor.  I believe he is in error.  It will be interesting to see if I get any other responses. 

I really appreciate the time and efforts of those who have responded and will be in touch with them and those they’ve referred me to. 

On the other side of the coin, it is beyond my wildest comprehension why these non-technical types still have the attitude that the engineers are “necessary evil.”  The bean counters perceive engineers and the engineering department has a big money pit.  They seem to forget that none of them would have a job if the engineers didn't keep things working flawlessly, as they usually do.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the more vociferous engineers to pay a visit to the McClintock's of this world and let them know in which basket the eggs really reside.  But, then, that brings up another old saying: "Never try to teach a pig how to singing.  First, you'll annoy the pig and secondly you'll waist your time."



Parting shots: 

By:  Larry Bloomfield

Good idea or not; business plans or not; 8-VSB/COFDM or not: Since the government seems to be pushing us into the wonderful world of digital television, let alone high definition, it would be a good idea to take a moment and do some soul searching, right about now, to see where we, as individuals, stand in this quagmire.  Be it moving at a snail’s pace or faster than the preverbal speeding bullet in your particular microcosm, it appears to be totally inescapable. 

This leaves you three basic choices:  One, you can ignore it; let it pass you by and end up looking in from the outside. Two, you can join in on all the fun or three, you can step up to bat and lead the league to the digital television pennant, with all the self-satisfaction that goes with that.  It’s basically the old saying: “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way!”

In any event, I believe the choice is obvious. To go forward, continuing education is an absolute must!  Keeping abreast of today’s technology requires as much effort, or even more, than that which you’ve expended to get where you are today.  Despite the title or position, no one person knows it all.  And it doesn’t come by osmosis. As my dad often said:  “When I stop learning, call the undertaker; I will have assumed room temperature.” 

Educational opportunities avail themselves all the time.  You just have to know about them.  If we are notified here at Tech-Notes, we’ll publish them!  One such event is the excellent seminar put on by Broadcast Engineering magazine at the end of the year, but other opportunities are available on a nearly endless, ongoing basis.

Companies not only have a responsibility to have the very best trained people, but the managers that work for them must make time for their own education and that of their charges.  If they don’t, it would be a good idea for them to keep their résumé current.

Marketing managers take note! Historically every manufacturer who has lead the industry in training and training materials, irrespective of the media, have also lead in corporate sales and a nice fat bottom line; and I know fat!  Good case in point:  the excellent training tapes on NTSC waveform monitors and vecotrscopes put out by Tektronix and there are others.  I have been told that the cost of producing such freebees is only a small fraction of the very great returns on such an investment; might even be immeasurable.

Anything that allows a person to educate themselves, at their own pace, on the ever advancing technological exigencies of their industry, has got to make the provider key in consideration when it comes time to buy.  It only makes sense.

Craft and trade unions should also take note.  Unions are not only there to be a collective bargaining unit, but also to be a resource to provide competent craftspersons to the industries they serve. This can only be done by assisting the membership with an ongoing training program.  If your union doesn’t have such an effort, I’d start to ask some rather pointed questions or take the bull by the horns and get something started.  Who know, you may end up as the next business agent.

Before I get off my soapbox, one more excellent source for information and education are the SBE and other industry-related society meetings.  Vendors are more than willing to show up and show you their latest wiz-bang device or technology.  These arrangements are usually only a phone call away. I know of some venues where the vendors bring goodies and will even foot part of the cost of the meeting or refreshments.  I won’t even go into the value of the information exchanges that take place at these events and they’re not just for managers.  Students thinking of careers in broadcasting should be encouraged to get involved.  Some television facilities will cover the cost of the meeting and membership.  I’ve still not figures out why more don’t avail themselves of this resource.

If you don’t have an SBE in your neck of the woods, you can look into forming one.  The rewards in educational benefits are well worth the efforts.  If that is not feasible, call the manufacturers whose equipment your are using, if they are still in business, and ask them if they’ll come out to your station and talk to your crew on what’s going on.  I did this in the 200th market and we had a monthly meeting with our crew, the local cable company and the folks at the local PBS station.  The vendors usually provided us with a buffet and refreshments to make us both physically and professionally satisfied.  Our GM usually stopped by to learn too.

Tech-Notes will do our part!  We will post an education page where anyone having a seminar can post when, where and subject matter.  Freebees will take priority over tuition based events, but megabytes willing, all will be listed or a link to a website where the information can be obtained. 

It’s now up to you.



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