February 19, 2001

Tech Note – 073

Sponsored by: Bloomfield & Associates


Sharing experiences, knowledge, observations or anything relating to Digital Television, Digital Cinema, etc. with fellow engineers and readers is our purpose. Our mission statement, other relative information and this current issue of the Tech-Notes is now posted on our website. You can also find all our past issues there as well. We’ve had over 5750 visitors since July 1st, 2000. Thanks. We are growing. We now have over 1070 subscribers. Thanks to our regulars and welcome to the new folks. This is YOUR forum!

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Reader Responses

Subj:  Tech-Notes #72

From: Dale Cripps

 Very interesting issue today. Quite a strong statement made by Mr. Miller, though overly long for my tastes.  Still, his point should be reviewed by all. We have major institutions charged with fraud by Miller.. Can that charge be left un-refuted?

 Dale Cripps


Subj: Tech-Notes #72

From: Jay Ankeney

 My goodness, did you really have to include a nearly 5,000 word rant against the FCC and 8-VSB? I'm sure the passion was well intended but if they obsolete the few DTV sets sold already, over-the-air digital television will be dead. This is a fix it or lose it situation.

 On the other hand, Ed Norris's personal experiences were a worthwhile read.

 Jay Ankeney


Subj: Tech-Notes #72

From: Ed Williams   ewilliams@PBS.ORG

 Have you lost your mind?  What is the point of cluttering up your mailing list with Bob Miller's diatribe of misstatements, erroneous conclusions, inaccurate reporting and disrespect to public officials?  Surely, as a "reporter" and engineer, you know the difference between a reasonable letter of concern and one from and an apparent lunatic.  Miller has just lost whatever shred of credibility he might have had prior to the letter.  Even you would have asked Miller to rephrase the letter into an article to make it sound the least bit credible.

 At least the letter from Roy Trumbull, as disappointed as he is with the current system, has offered some potential solutions.

 Nice piece on Unit Conversions by Jim Mendrala.  I saw the same article in Spectrum.

 Cheers, Ed Williams – Sr. Engineer – DTV Strategic Services Group, PBS


(Ed Note:  At least we know someone is reading the Tech-Notes.  We try to give everyone a fair shot at expressing themselves.  Send us your comments.)


Subj:  Tech-Notes #72

From: Janet West

At the recent Celluloid or Silicon event in the UK sponsored by the Department of Media, Culture and Sports, there was a debate regarding the pros/cons and the implications for a cinema chain to convert to electronic distribution. A comment was made that it was felt Europe would take the lead over the US in converting cinemas. I'd be interested in any comments regarding this and whether any of your readers have actually visited the Lowes complex in New York.

Regards – Janet West, producer/writer

(Jim Mendrala responds)

 Janet, Europe could take the lead in converting cinemas to electronic distribution because I hear the theatres are smaller and already are presenting television commercials prior to the main feature attraction. The discussions being held in Hollywood suggest that digital cinema should be a better experience than film and much more than just HDTV on the screen. Digital cinema, so far, has presented a better, more consistent and colorful image on the big screen. Only time will tell as to who is right.

 There aren't any Standards yet for digital cinema and SMPTE is looking into the matter. DC28 is the Digital Cinema Study Group and consists of 9 sub committees. They cover Steering Group/ System Liaison (DC28.1), Mastering (DC28.2), Compression (DC28.3), Conditional Access/Encryption (DC28.4), Transport/Delivery Systems (DC28.5), Audio (DC28.6), Theatre Systems (DC28.7) and Projection (DC28.8). Our government has shown an interest and a conference was held last month by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Department of Commerce. The MPEG group has a strong interest in digital cinema. Technicolor/Qualcomm will be introducing their take on a digital cinema system soon as well as Sony and Panasonic.

 If you only consider the TI (Texas Instrument) DLP Digital Cinema projector (with the "Black Chips") as the projector of choice and accepted by the Hollywood community for digital cinema then there are, at present, only 32 installed worldwide.

 Digital cinema is not quite a reality yet. It is still in its infancy. Only 15 films have been shown to date on those systems.

 As far as any of our readers visiting Lowes complex in New York? We haven't heard from anyone yet but I would assume that some might have seen a movie or two there. Out here in southern California we have three theatres, The El Capitan in Hollywood, the AMC 6 in Burbank and the Edwards Cineplex in Irvine.

 Jim Mendrala


Subject: Tech-Notes #72

From: Bill Beck

 Vaudeville comedians who’ve become engineers may find this definition handy: The time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement is defined as 1 bananosecond.

 Broadcast engineers, 1,000,000 microphones equals 1 megaphone.  Whoa--- wait a minute      1,000,000 microphones  = 1 phone 1,000,000 phones = 1 megaphone

 Bill Beck, UNOTV

 (Ed Note:  We stand corrected – That’s a record; three pages of reader responses. Thanks)


Subj: Prospective on Quality

From: Bruce Jacobs

 A year and a half ago I wrote a major piece for "Current" (the newsletter of public broadcasting) that the editor titled not inappropriately "HDTV: Too Good, Too Expensive".

 Since that time, on a number of occasions, I have observed truly great HDTV video on great displays and wondered if I overstated the case. Should write a counter to my argument?

 Then, on New Years eve, I overhead a long-standing friend talk enthusiastically to someone outside the business about his TiVo. This friend is a talented editor who I used to work with and who was ALWAYS hounding about problems he saw in the video. Imperfect comb filters, time base errors, 8 bit banding, imperfect monitors, 1 IRE level and 1 degree phase mismatches were all frequent items of his complaint. He was nice, but relentless. His clients know and appreciate his drive for perfect quality.

 But when asked how much his TiVo can store, he said quite bluntly "I care about content, not quality, so I set the bit rate for minimum to get the full 30 hours." When in the consumer's couch, everything changed.

 I don't feel like writing that counter argument anymore.

 Bruce Jacobs, Chief Technologist, TPT - Twin Cities Public Television,

St. Paul, Minneapolis – Stay Curious!


Subject: FCC Considers Regulating Interactive TV Market

From: Craig Birkmaier

 This is going to be one of the most important proceedings at the new FCC to watch.  Wrapped up in this proceeding is the  failure of the old FCC to stimulate any kind of open TV platform, the failure to open the markets for cable set-top boxes, the failure of OpenCable to create a cable-ready TV standard, and the failure of everyone to come up with a meaningful system for content management and copyright protection.

 This should be an interesting exercise, as on one hand the new commission will be driven by the desire to allow the marketplace to deal with these issues, while on the other hand, the "marketplace" is obviously NOT working. Perhaps the reason is that the operation of the marketplace has been so distorted by government regulation of the television industry. It may require stripping away some of this regulatory largess before any progress can be made, or a compromise in which the FCC agrees to de-regulate in return for inter-industry agreements to create a common platform.

 There is little doubt that this is the most important proceeding related to the television business that the Commission will consider in the coming year.

 Regards – Craig

 (Ed Note:  More on the same subject)

 From: Tech Web

 The Federal Communications Commission said it will examine the nascent interactive television market to determine whether rules are needed to ensure competition as the industry develops.

 The FCC said that comments filed in the AOL-Time Warner merger review prompted the agency to adopt a notice of inquiry on interactive television services.

 The comments raised the possibility that a vertically integrated cable operator and interactive television services provider, such as AOL Time Warner (stock: AOL), could discriminate in favor of affiliated interactive services.

 AOL introduced its interactive television service, AOLTV, last fall with e-mail, chat, and instant messaging features, as well as picture-within-a-picture access to the Internet while the user is watching television.

 As AOL Time Warner, the New York company will have access to a treasure trove of Internet content.

 The commission approved the notice last Friday following its approval of the Internet media megamerger.

 The inquiry into interactive TV services allows the FCC "to get ahead of the curve" and consider issues of public interest and competition before players are entrenched, said outgoing FCC chairman William Kennard.

 Commissioner Michael Powell, FCC Chairman, also approved the interactive TV inquiry.

 First, the FCC will seek comment on the definition of ITV services, noting that ITV supports the subscribers' ability to choose one or more video programming streams.

 These include integration of video and data, real-time interaction with other viewers, and "t-commerce."


Subj: Blockbuster Posts DirecTV Sales Results

From: Multichannel News – Monica Hogan

 Blockbuster Inc. said Tuesday that it has become one of the top retailers of DirecTV Inc. direct-broadcast satellite hardware.

 In a fourth-quarter earnings report, Blockbuster said it has sold more than 100,000 DirecTV systems since it launched the offer in its 3,800 company-owned stores in the United States in September.

 The video retailer has been attracting new DirecTV customers with deeply discounted DBS hardware, along with coupons for one year's worth of video rentals.

 In a press release, Blockbuster said its success in selling DirecTV hardware positions the company to co-brand the DirecTV pay-per-view movie service later this year.


Subj:   FREE 75 page H/DTV Marketplace Overview 2001 Report to Broadcast / Production / Post Survey Respondents

From: SCRI

 SCRI International, the company who posted the Tech-Notes prior to getting their own web site, is conducting a comprehensive survey among broadcast and non-broadcast pro video facilities regarding the migration to H/DTV. The survey is open to TV and cable stations as well as other non-broadcast pro video facilities (production, post, streaming, corporate etc).

 Save yourself nearly $500. Respondents will get a FREE copy of SCRI's 75 page H/DTV Marketplace 2001 Overview Report, compiled from a wide range of published sources.  If you are a manufacturer or non-survey respondent, it’s $495.

 In addition, respondents get the usual access to SCRI's weekly online Insider Reports, a $495 subscription to non respondents.


Subject: We ain’t going to make it!

By: Larry Bloomfield

 Expressing the sentiments of many broadcasters, Lowell “Bud” Paxson, chairman of Paxson Communications, told NATPE conventioneers, in early February: "We ain't going to make May of '02!” Despite the fact the NBC owns a substantial part of his operation, Paxson and many other broadcaster are seeking to delay the 2002 deadline for going digital, sighting their apparently thwarted battle over DTV cable must carry as one of many reasons.

 Departing FCC Chairman William Kennard didn’t do broadcasters any favors when his FCC failed to grant stations a right to demand dual carriage of both analog and digital signals during the DTV transition. Adding insult to injury, the incentive for broadcasters to carry multiple channels as part of their new DTV operations was also thwarted when Kennard’s FCC denied stations the right to demand carriage of multicast DTV signals.

 "Broadcasters will put together a Normandy invasion to Capitol Hill and the FCC," Paxson said, but “officially,” DTV trade groups seem reluctant to ask for any delay in the 2002 deadline. Off the record, however, both the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association of Local Television Stations (ALTV) they have considered such a request at their closed board meeting.

 Maintaining that a combination of issues will make it nearly impossible for all 1,288 commercial analog television stations to make the May 2002 deadline, industry executives, such as Cox Television’s president, Andrew Fisher say: "It's very, very frustrating to be told we have to rely on the marketplace when other industries have been built on our backs. We really need help." The proof in the putting is the fact that, as of mid-February, only 174 stations have successfully made implemented their digital transmission capabilities in addition to maintaining the legacy analog capabilities.  Remember the analog will continue until at least 2006, under current regulations.

 The demands of so many stations trying to make the transition in such a short time is blatantly obvious. Manufacturers of virtually all facets of digital transmission equipment from exciters, transmitters, transmission lines, towers and antennas are literally burning the midnight oil to keep up with the demands. Many executives sight the lack of cable carriage an insurmountable problem for independents and stations in small and rural markets to build or pay for digital facilities. Hearst-Argyle’s Tony Vinciquerra says: "Smaller markets won't happen in time.” Vinciquerra’s organization has 35 stations that are on schedule to meet the 2002 deadline.

 Although, as of this writing, nothing officially has come out of the FCC, the new Chairman, Michel Powell appears to be on the side of broadcasters and may well fight for a delay despite the fact that he voted with Kennard and fellow concretive, FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, to deny rights for cable carriage of broadcasters' multicast DTV signals and has indicated little hope for any consideration when it comes to dual carriage of both analog and digital signals during the transition.

 At a meeting of ALTV in early February, Powell said: "I'm no fan of these expectations about the time frame in which this transition is going to occur. I find the current time frame extraordinarily unlikely to be achieved. We get the sense we're failing or stalling simply because we're measuring against these expectations."

 Although Powell would not commit the FCC to a mass delay, everyone knows the FCC has the ability to grant extensions, on a case-by-case basis, to individual stations.  The only glimmer of hope could be gleaned from his formal statement on the DTV rules when he wrote, "Recourse to Congress may be warranted."

 Not only is the time frame for the broadcasters end of the television delivery pipeline under question, but Powell also considers it unreasonable to expect the consumer end to remake itself with the new technology and replace consumer sets by 2006. "I look in history in vain to find examples of consumer transformation, be it CDs from records to the introduction of VCR, to find any examples that show this complete a transformation in the time frame expected."

 What’s really crazy about this whole thing is that Furchtgott-Roth agrees that the statutorily mandated deadlines will be impossible to meet. "It's difficult to see how broadcasters in small and medium-size cities can rationally make investments to doing digital broadcasting. It seems a suicidal act at times. I have no doubt the spectrum will not be cleared by 2006," Furchtgott-Roth said. Setting the record straight, he said, "were part of a little white lie to get Congress out of town in 1996," when the DTV statute was passed.

 It appears that the time frame was not based on any analysis of how long the transformation to digital might take, but rather a political ploy in an effort to cut to the auctioning of reclaimed TV spectrum to coincide with Congresses’ search for money to help with their budget-balancing timetables.

 Congresses’ unsatisfiable quest for the almighty dollar is tantamount to a druggie after a fix; no amount is ever enough.  In this light, it’s not incomprehensible when we’ve encountered Capitol Hill staffers, although sympathetic with broadcasters’ dilemma, are girding up for a fight if any attempt is made to delay the rollout.

 It is clear that many of the elected representatives on Capitol Hill don’t fully understand either the 1996 Telecommunications Act or the broadcast industry’s infrastructure. All they can see are dollar signs and what they perceive as the deep pockets of broadcasters and the broadcast industry in general. The Act permits flexibility to digital television stations to provide various kinds of services, but due to this lack of understanding, many derogatory comments have been made by Congresspersons about stations wanting to use their digital spectrum for multicast and data services in addition to high-definition TV. One aide, in reference to these alternate services, was heard to say "You guys need to be wary of this and ready to defend the act and original intent behind it."

 In addition to the Congressional money quest, there are other wireless services keeping a close eye on the television broadcast spectrum and eager to gobble it up, if given half a chance.

 One other legacy issue from the Kennard FCC, lurking to bit broadcasters where it could hurt, is the concept of imposing a fee on “spectrum squatters” that are not prepared to give up their analog spectrum in 2006, irrespective of whether the 85%-DTV penetration has been reached.

 The kind of thing broadcasters can expect can be summarized in a statement made by Andrew Levin, aide to Sen. John Dingell, the Commerce Committee's ranking Democrat when speaking on these issues: "You guys are at risk for being blamed if there are delays."


Subj: DirecTV, General Motors, News Corporation & Microsoft

By:  Larry Bloomfield

 It’s getting to the point where you can’t tell the players without a program these days when it comes to the multi-billion, (yes, billion) dollar deals being put together by these four giants.  At the risk of sounding like the book of Genesis, the who’s begetting who is quite simple: Hughes Electronics Corporation, is the satellite television unit of General Motors (G.M.) that owns DirecTV and simply put, Rupert Murdoch wants to buy in and Microsoft has anything but reluctantly been brought into the deal to sweeten the pie.

 According our reports, the Hughes part of this equation is on the verge of reaching a deal with New Corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s multifaceted communications giant. With out considering News Corp’s other interests such as newspapers, movie studios, television stations and networks, this deal would create a global satellite network reported to be worth as much as $70 billion.

 The delays have been in how to structure the deal so that the combined satellite television operations of the two companies would create additional value for G.M shareholders. Despite Murdoch’s deal killing impatience, the deal will more than likely be concluded by the time you read this report.

 News Corp wants to go ahead with its initial public offering (IPO) of SkyGlobal, a conglomerate made up of their very lucrative Star TV, BSkyB and Sky Latin America, adding DirecTV to the mix, when the deal is completed. To make it all move easily, G.M would spin off Hughes as an independently traded company so Hughes could then merge with News Corp’s satellite unit, SkyGlobal Networks.

 The results of all these dealings and negations will be a company that would have the largest satellite television network in the world, covering nearly everything on the planet except Antarctica and that’s questionable. DirecTV covers most of central North America (primarily the US). BskyB is a dominant force in the United Kingdom (Britain) and parts of Europe. Star TV is a service of note that covers Asia and Sky Latin America is a dominant force from Mexico to the southern tip of Argentina.

 Where Microsoft comes into the picture is once “the deal” has been consummated, they would take a $4 billion stake in the combined operation with the idea of possibly getting involved with the development of digital set-top boxes.

 According to our sources, when the dust settles, it appears that Hughes’s shareholders will control about 2/3rds of the new company and New Corp’s shareholders would control about 1/3rd, with no mention what percentage Microsoft would end up with.

 What has tended to complicate the whole actions is the fact that News Corp is strapped for cash and doesn’t have the pesos to doe the deal with Hughes, ergo Microsoft.  Microsoft was brought into the equation to give financial lubrication to G.M.

 According to our sources, G.M. is looking for ways to raise as much as $8 million and has considered selling its 81 percent stake in PanAmSat Corporation in a move that could raise as much as $5.5 billion.

 One cannot help but look back not too many years ago when dealings were done in the millions.  There isn’t one figure mentioned in this report that is anything but in the Billions.  What isn’t mentioned are the countless jobs, filled by very talented and skilled professionals that get moved along with all the stock.


Parting Shots

By Larry Bloomfield

 One of our readers asked the: “If the proponents of VSB keep saying: "It isn't broke," why then all the push to make it work?”  My response: “Good question!”

 If you have not taken the time to peruse our web site, you’re missing a lot. Besides our mission statement in full, the left hand said is the key to touring a wealth of information.

 Starting with a link to any “late breaking news” that shouldn’t wait for the next Tech-Notes edition, we have link to our very own Glossary of Broadcast terms that we have gathered over the years.  If you don’t see the word, term or phrase you’re looking for and it pertains to broadcasting and/or digital cinema, we’ll get the definition and post it there.

 Educational opportunities are like finding precious gems.  If you know of any, we’ll post them there.  All we need is the information, so keep us posted, if you know of any – formal or informal educational events.

 There are several sites that maintain lists of DTV stations.  We have one too and try to keep it up to date. If you don’t see a station that you know has its digital counterpart on the air, let us know.

 Probably my favorite section is the Television's Technical History - Trivia - Facts - Links & Biographies section. Clicking on this link takes you to a page with four choices: Personal notes, histories, and links to points of interest and Unique biographies.  If you know of any links that would be of interest to our readers and they’re not listed, let us know. Under personal notes, is a set of standards I wrote over the many years I was Chief Engineer at several stations: sort of a how to book with info I could never find except through my own experiences.

 The history of film and digital cinema is a rare commodity and my partner, Jim Mendrala keeps this section up to date with all the current developments in digital cinema.

 This is followed by a message from our new sponsor, our legal disclaimers and some personal information.

 So check it out.  It may not be as much fun as having a date with your wildest dream, but you may find it something to day on a long rainy night when you can’t sleep. 



The opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of their friends, employers, associates or publishers of the Tech-Notes.

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