March 29, 2001
Tech Note – 076
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Reader Responses & Inquiries
Subject: Tech-Notes #75 (Responding
to the Parting Shots)
This looks great, however, one item to consider. Forget for a moment the original motivation to explore analog HDTV (e.g. to keep land-mobile from getting "our" spectrum) and consider that engineers built a DTV standard without ever considering if it could "sell" and if there was money to be made (a necessity in a for-profit business). At some point, the bean counters are necessary. If HDTV were the ONLY business model (and let's assume that 8VSB worked just fine), then I would submit DTV would never succeed. There ain't enough "there" there.
Regards, Mark E. Hyman, Vice President for Corporate Relations, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.
One thing you should mention is: the quality of the dish. Many people, for budget reasons, use inexpensive dish with good numbers. The problem is that these dishes don't hold those numbers due to poor construction allowing the dish to warp under it's own weight.
Burt I. Weiner Associates, Broadcast Technical Services
Subject: NAB 2001 – Visit us at Booth #L430
Hopefully you'll stop by the Pixel Instruments booth #L430, where some of the Tech-Notes folks will be so we can meet you and say hello. The Pixel Instruments booth will be located in the north section of the convention center. As you face the main entrance to the Las Vegas Convention Center, this would be to your left. As a navigational tool, Pixel Instruments will be located next to Omneon Video Networks, below and to the left of Parker Vision and above Sencore. We will post a link to a floor plan on our website.
If you wish to attend NAB, you can save $150. Register on the web for a FREE exhibits pass, compliments of Pixel Instruments at: http://www.nab.org/conventions. You will need to provide the Information Code: JI06 then follow the prompts and provide the remainder of the information requested.
Thanks to J. Carl Cooper, the man behind Pixel Instruments, for making this possible. If you can't visit us at the booth, stop by Pixel Instruments' web site (My son built it from scratch and I'm proud!) at: http://www.pixelinstruments.tv
Subject: The first AM radio station in the
“When KQW, Herrold's reincarnation of his earlier attempts went on the air, it took up where he'd left off. KQW went through some changes, but is now KCBS -- 50KW out of San Francisco, CA,” said Larry Bloomfield in an e-mail about the very first broadcast station
Historians are finally accepting that Herrold did rather pre-date some of his eastern brethren. The ArcPhone was quite some machine, and even deForest appears to have used it at the World's Fair in 1915/16, IIRC.
The Herrold story is also an hour long TV program, hosted by Mike Adams. The script for this program was generously shared with us by Mr. Adams, and is posted on the Broadcast Archive, along with a couple of other bios on Herrold and KQW.
Another of the "Who's on First" discussions is included in the FAQ section, as well as an expanded discussion elsewhere on the Oldradio.com web site.
A couple of interesting developments in my locale last week.
First, a local HDTV early adopter, whose homeowners' association (HOA) required him to submit an official-looking form and a photograph of his rooftop antenna installation -- one that he installed specifically to receive OTA DTV. He has since received a response, in which the HOA is invoking its "right" to request that he move the antenna/mast installation to a less visible location. His original letter explained the process he went through: indoor antenna, outdoor antenna below the roofline, then finally the mast-mounted rooftop antenna, which was the only solution that gave him an acceptable signal. Apparently the HOA believes it has the right to request that he keep trying different antenna types and/or different locations on his property, to determine whether an "acceptable signal" can be obtained in a manner the HOA considers less aesthetically objectionable to his current solution.
Second, a petition signed by over 50 early HDTV adopters in the Phoenix area was recently sent to the owners and management of our local CBS affiliate (which is not an O&O), expressing displeasure over the lack of HDTV broadcasting, despite a substantial amount of CBS HDTV content available. This station has been broadcasting up-converted NTSC on their DTV channel since it first went on the air a little more than a year ago.
The reply was received last week, a portion of which I now quote:
"Our SDTV signal meets the requirement of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for digital television.
"While we appreciate your desire for high definition television (HDTV), the high costs of the equipment and the additional staffing it requires, as well as the relatively low demand in the market, currently prevent us from transmitting it. Once there is a meaningful demand for the service we will re-examine investing the necessary capital to deploy the system."
What I find even more interesting is the fact that the initiator of the petition drive (himself an early adopter) was able to identify and contact all these local HDTV early adopters. There clearly were an additional number here who chose not to sign the petition. My friend with the HOA problems, for example, didn't sign it because he didn't want to "get involved." He just wants to get the best enjoyment out of his expensive new HDTV monitor and hopes that the local broadcasters will someday be part of that enjoyment.
Regards, Frank Eory
(EdNote: The CBS affiliate in Phoenix is KPHO-TV, which is owned by Meredith Corp. In all fairness to both the brave souls who have spend their hard-earned money to buy digital television sets and to the folks at KPHO-TV, where Ed Sutton is the top engineering guy, it must be said, that there is more to this issue than meets the eye.
Phoenix is located in the Mountain Time zone and CBS does not have a separate network feed for this time zone. All programs are delayed by the individual stations. It’s bad enough having to tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment to delay the NTSC feeds, the cost of digital delay begins to take on the appearance of the national debt. Let’s say that the delay was done either on tape or in a video server, it still is equipment that is not showing a return on the investment for the station, at this time. There is little doubt that this will change in the future, but if you had to foot the bill, you’d put it off until you saw that it was a little more justified than it is now.
Let’s look at the other costs of getting a pristine DTV (HDTV included) signal on the air in Phoenix or any place else where they have opted to up convert the NTSC. If the delay business were a non-issue, the cost of an IRD (integrated receiver decoder) satellite receiver system is peanuts compared to the other costs, but you have to have a place where you can put it. That alone could drive the cost up to the stratosphere.
The next cost would be that of transporting the digital signal through the plant, even if it is a short route. The infrastructure has to be in place or you’re back to square one. Now let’s say we got the digital signal received and though the plant, next comes the cost of getting the DTV signal to the transmitter. That’s another story. If you’re lucky enough to have your transmitter in town, it’s not as difficult to run a fiber, but if you’re up on a mountain top, which is the case with most of the west of the great planes stations (South Mountain in the case of Phoenix), you need an STL that is capable of digital. The FCC has, as yet not licensed STL for digital. All DTV stations that use an STL to get their digital program material to the transmitter must operate on an STA. Once the signal is at the transmitter, if the station is on the air digitally, it’s a piece of cake. Chances are that KPHO-TV’s digital encoder would handle the HDTV bit stream.
The cost of getting DTV on the air in Phoenix probably isn’t much different than most anywhere else, but I’ve yet to see a commercial television station that was in the business to lose money. I have no doubt that as soon as there is an economically feasible way of getting CBS’s commendable twelve plus hours of HDTV weekly programming on the air in Phoenix, you’ll see it happen.
Meredith has 11 full power and one LP stations on the air. Where HDTV could be readily accommodated, they have done so. It’s only a matter of time and money. I’m sure if anyone wanted to contribute the several hundreds of thousands of dollars to put the equipment in place to delay and accommodate the HDTV signals, you’d see HDTV in Phoenix post haste, but don’t hold your breath on that one.)
Subject: Wrapping up the first quarter of
The following is a continuation of this subject from the last Tech-Notes. Late last year and early this year, we asked our readers to look into their crystal ball and let us know what they think will have the greatest impact on broadcast engineers in the year 2001? Here are the remainder of the responses we received.
Panasonic’s Gord Stephen, sees training for engineers as a big issue. “With more and more demands placed on engineers, especially keeping multi-stations on the air, engineering, operational and systems training become critical. I don't know if the networks have anything in place to keep their staff abreast of the changing environment, but I think that they have a responsibility as employers to develop their engineering staff.”
In answer to Stephen, SBE is holding some training events, as is Broadcast Engineering, but projects like DTV Express that have all but been abandoned, are moot testimony that corporate broadcasters, manufacturer and the like, don’t have a clue where best to invest in the future and to continue much needed services.
Stephen sees Internet integration as a viable issue in the future. “With more and more broadcasters looking at the Internet as revenue streams, engineers have to be able to develop systems to interface their local programs with both their video and Internet platform, Stephen added. The engineers have to develop a comprehensive local information platform and the engineers must understand how to move usable video onto the Internet site.” It is interesting to note that many stations are streaming their locally produced material on their websites, but copy write issues prohibit much of anything more.
New York base Doug Sheer, of DIS Consulting Corporation sees an economic recession “we appear to be in, which might well last until at least midyear.” Sheer say: “Ad revenues are down, growth in network ad revenues is expected to grow 1% in 2001 compared with 12% in 2000.” It is apparent that with the reduced income, funds won’t be available for much of anything beyond normal housekeeping.
Sheer is hoping for: “A new group of meddlers at the F. C. C. who might meddle less.” There is no question that the face of the FCC is bound to change. No less than 3 of the commissioners, including the top dog are due to go during the next year or so.
Harris Broadcast’s Bob Weirather, out of Quincy, IL, looks at what is necessary to jumpstart the industry. Weirather says we need: “10 ( or any other number) ways to get on the air in DTV by 2002 and meet the FCC requirements. And not to be anything similar to a late night hosts list !” Weirather believes, and rightly so, that we need a “Best practices in digital TV studios,” and concludes by saying we need to “Improve image and results on the Internet.”
One of the items touted to be of prime importance is the MSTV report that is due. MSU-WKAR-TV’s John Shutt says: “I believe that by far the one thing that will have the greatest impact on broadcasters in the year 2001 will be the MSTV report and the ensuing fallout over it. The 8-VSB/COFDM debate will come to a head, and we may well see a petition to the FCC this September or October from a majority of broadcasters asking that the FCC either replace ATSC or supplement it with DVB-T.”
Continuing, Shutt added: “Absent such a sweeping turn of events, the greatest challenge to Broadcast Engineers in 2001 will be felt by engineers in markets 31+ as they try to find the resources necessary to meet the May 1, 2002 deadline for having an on-air DTV signal. When May 1, 2001 arrives, I expect to see a bunch of “stories” in the trades about how there are only 12 months left to the deadline.”
Concluding his coments, Shutt made an observation that was echoed my several others: “Expect to see a sudden shortage of tower crews, antenna manufacturers swamped with last-minute orders that they cannot possibly fill, and I predict at least one tower collapse due to inexperienced cell phone tower crews attempting to strengthen a 1000'+ broadcast tower.”
There is no question about the trend for stations and groups to cut costs by combining efforts. Evertz Microsystems’ David Strachan made a one word observation of what he sees in this New Year: “Consolidation! Many things are happening in parallel with the gradual adoption of HDTV. We believe that the most significant is the proliferation of SDTV channels and the consolidation of these channels under the responsibility of fewer engineers. This trend will increase the demand to monitor a plethora of video, audio and other data associated with an ever increasing number of channels.” Strachan concluded by saying there is an ever increasing need to be able to identifying any problems which may occur within the new digital video structure of multi-channel facilities. Several companies are addressing this very issue and new equipment will be joining the market place to address these issues over the next year.
Bob Johnston of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto sees the recent introduction of MPEG -2 422P at ML 8MB distribution; 422P at ML 20MB contribution links within their network as a new issue they’ll have to deal with this next year. Perhaps some of the new test equipment coming on the market will help in this matter.
Tony Wortmann of WJAG/KEXL, Norfolk (Nebraska) Online says: “Probably the greatest impact will be computer software and hardware that isn't supported longer than 1 year. The industry is demanding more life out of computer systems than the computer manufactures are providing. Software that needs to be updated before it's installed and hardware you can't replace after 1 year are hurting the industry and filling our dumps with needless garbage.” Wortmann only needs to review the long list of available, but used, analog television equipment that can’t seem to find a home anywhere.
One respondent, who asked not to be identified, said that Competition from other media should be our greatest concern. “From roughly 1927 to roughly 1976, broadcast TV was pretty much the only source of moving images in homes. Cable TV was used primarily to improve reception of broadcast TV. Then came home video, which cut significantly into broadcast viewing time, but wasn't live.
“Now cable and satellite programming have also cut significantly into viewing time, and, perhaps more significantly, their distribution is so extensive that networks have threatened affiliates with non-broadcast distribution in their areas. Add streamed video and audio through dramatically increasing broadband connections, and broadcasters are increasingly besieged.”
He concluded: “DTV could help, but not if DTV signals aren't readily receivable.” Gee: One can’t help but wonder if he could be referring to the 8VSB/COFDM issues?
In this light, one observer said that it is now very clear to him and fully understandable how we can get into these quagmires like the debate over 8-VSB vs. COFDM. On this issue, however, we can’t look to Florida for a recount.
Richard Monn and Warren Behrens of Hearst Broadcasting both think "DTV Must Carry on Cable is a major issue. Monn would like to see a resolution to the 8VSB vs. COFDM debate and sees the 2Ghz freq band shakeup as an important factor.
Behrens expressed his frustration; one echoed by many other: "First, where will my home for DTV be? My current tower will not support another antenna.” As many other stations, Behrens says: “I am looking to partner.
“Second, will I be able to receive my transmitter, antenna and line on time, will the manufactures be able to handle all the orders.” And finally he asks the question that many have been asking: “Will I live through it?”
Tom Wimberly, Chief Engineer at KERO-TV in Bakersfield, CA says we must have a standard on DTV set tuners and he also speaks of the necessity of must carry on cable of the broadcasters signal with what ever the standard is transmitted by the broadcaster: be it 8-VSB or COFDM.” Wimberly also feels that: “The networks must start producing more high-def programs to better jump start the change over.” Adding: “I think 2001 will see a hurried pace by the small market stations to get in place their DTV system to meet the May 1st 2002 deadline.”
Wimberly says that his observations are necessary pieces for an overall conversion to take place, otherwise: “we will be mired in a dual system for many years to come, well past the 2006 deadline. As a side note I think the broadcast engineer will see more clustering of stations like Ackerley has done and McGraw-Hill is doing. We're going the way of radio to reduce staff, ie: cost. This is a rather ironic twist at a time when technical people are needed most in this DTV conversion process,” he concluded.
Jim Waschura of Synthesys Research in the Silicon Valley area and active member of several SMPTE committees, says: “Just some thought on the greatest impact on broadcast engineers, eh? Well the transport of digital video through public-switched networks, the rise of non-streaming data application replacing streaming - Use of FTP and Teleport machines for transporting content off-line through Internet and new standards that are "layered" (Data-ization of video) instead of "vertical" (defining physical-layer up to presentation-layer) – In particular, SDTI and finally, having to deal with Telco companies.”
Long time activities in broadcast television as a salesman and “rep” in Southern California, Barry Enders points out a very important issue that many of us have encounters: “How to dispel the misinformation in the TV stores. Maybe an informational PSA all stations could run. Its time to move forward not continue stalling! Concljuding his input by adding: “Progress not bickering!”
John Stapleton, of East Brunswick, New Jersey’s Coast To Coast Consultants adds his two cents: “The 2001 wish list for most impact by/on broadcast engineers is 1)In wake of need to concede HDTV is "still born," new "weapon of television" (see Ed R Murrow quote attached) "evote" tactile video cheap touch screen” convergence" incorporated within versatile video transformation device (US pat.6124893 royalty free to collaborators) will enable 1.3 billion TV sets to receive HD DTV and vote on politicians as well as products advertised and provide e-coupons for positive feedback to TV ads.
“Secondly, a new "weapon of television" fiberoptic network cross point switches ultimately can incorporate within the 405THz-810THz visual spectrum 20 billion audio channels with 10-13 decades of dynamic range over 10 octaves from 20Hz-20KHz and thereby maximize communication/information via match filtering the 50 bits/ second average cognitive capacity of 6 billion people on the planet.
“And lastly, a new "weapon of television" sight for the blind by reversing thermal vision devices so as to create "vision thermalization" in bandaid forehead display (with 10ppm sensitivity) via the heat dissipated by thin film transistors (TFT) modulated by a CMOS or CCD camera signal. This would give broadcast engineers 10 million new customers. For e-film experience of ultimate telepresence for those with vision, using same fault-tolerant TFT, higher anticipated yields would permit active matrix to address both the OLED organic light emitting diodes backlighting each LCD pixel sandwiched between planar optics such that this contrast combiner for any ambient lighting effectively doubles the display density (D=-Log Relative Brightness)
Trinity Broadcasting Network’s VP of Engineering, Ben Miller, lements: “22 DTVs to build by May of 2002 and no CPs granted yet.” That says a lot and there’s many more in his position, too.
Regner Capener, Chief Engineer at KTLM-TV says: “The number one thing to impact our engineering department in the coming year at KTLM-TV will be the installation of our DTV transmitter and antenna. Because we are co-locating our DTV with our NTSC, it requires putting up a temporary antenna while the changeover is made at the top of our 2,000-foot tower. We just completed the shakedown period with a new NTSC transmitter, and anticipate the same thing with the DTV transmitter. This impacts us from a personnel standpoint, as well as consuming an enormous amount of time,” an all too familiar situation across the country.
Continuing: “Concurrent to this installation, because the stability of our electric utility is so poor, we are installing a gas turbine generator at our transmitter site. We have the logistics, therefore, involved in this changeover.”
As all stations face some level of transition, Capener speaks of a very familiar situation: “Although we are a 601 house, there are many parts of our operation that are not HDTV ready, including our master routing switcher and production switcher. These will have to be changed out with a minimum of interruption to our daily production and news operations.” Stating the obvious situation at many stations, Capener concludes: “By mid-year, therefore, our engineering department will be taxed to the max from a manpower and time standpoint.”
Mike D’Amore at Philips says: “I think the greatest impact will come from the multitude of new delivery mediums the broadcaster will have to deal with. No longer are broadcasters the conveyers of content by just terrestrial means. Today they must have a internet streaming, cable, and satellite delivery strategy. In other words, broadcasters have to stop thinking of themselves as being in the "Broadcast Business", they need to think outside of the box, and realize that they now are in the "Content Publishing Business"!
B.G. Randlett, Chief Engineer at KTBY-TV seems to sum up many of the responses: “Over coming the fear of having to replace everything with something that’s digital.”
Neil Mitchell at Silicon Valley’s Teralogic raises an interesting point: “Will the FCC pay more than lip service to driving the transition to Digital TV and hold the broadcasters to their commitments?”
Burt Weiner, long time television engineer in the Los Angeles area observes the biggest impact in the year 2001 will be: “Management and thinking that broadcast engineers are a commodity rather than people.’ Amen!
Wes Bakken of Portland, Oregon’s KATU-TV says that his biggest concerns are: “Moving translators out of the 60's/ 50's channels, Embracing digital and loosing channel 1 of the 2 gig freqs.” The latter has impacted many of us already.
David Snyder at National Teleconsultants in Southern California raise an interesting question and raises a very serious question: "Where to find qualified design engineers. Schools don't teach it generally, and the current work force is getting older or firmly entrenched in their current positions. How do we fill the void?”
Ed Williams, Senior. Engineer for DTV Strategic Services Group, at the Public Broadcasting Service in the Washington, DC area says: “I think the biggest problem next year will be the big construction crunch in trying to get 1000 stations on the air within the next 17 months (May 1, 2002). That is a rate of nearly 60 per month or 2 per day if we start right now. There will be many problems and some won't make it for very good reasons including towers, antennas and installation crews. The FCC has shown no signs of accepting any delay and will not accept inability to purchase equipment.
“Some stations are just now thinking about digital. However, as we all know it takes a while for digital to sink into our brains and thinking and way of doing broadcast television. Digital is different – REALLY DIFFERENT! And different things require time to study, contemplate and finally accept. This is why it is necessary for broadcast engineers to have and use DTV receivers and to attend multiple DTV technical forums over the next two years. Public television stations have an extra year to construct but will be hampered by the hectic schedule of the commercial broadcasters that will monopolize the resources and cause prices to remain high for DTV transmission equipment.”
Although there were many more responses to the question about what engineers will be facing in 2001, there just isn’t enough space to print them all. We will conclude with the comments of ABC-TV’s Lee MacPherson, who observes:” “The introduction of server-based systems and complex automation and archiving systems will make a big demand on the skill set of engineers. Based on our experiences (we've had tapeless automated systems for 2 years, now) it will be virtually necessary to have very strong MIS skills on site at big-market stations. A LOT of training needs to happen to make video engineers as proficient in these skills as they will need to be. We are running Unix, Linux, Solaris, HP-Unix, NT, '95 and Mac OS here and have to be comfortable enough with these OS's to talk intelligently with factory tech help personnel.
“Networking skills take a long time to build up by trial and error--especially when you are on the air 24/7 the right way to handle this is probably to bring in real MIS people and teach them broadcasting--while they teach the TV engineers networking.
by Larry Bloomfield
If there ever was a time for engineers to shine, it is now. Until recently, we’ve been relegated to the ranks of a necessary evil, but that’s all changing. The folks in the ivory towers and the bean counters would fall flat on their butts in this world of new and evolving technology if it weren’t for good, qualified engineers to rely on.
On the other side of that coin, it is our responsibility to keep abreast of the latest in the technical exigencies that shape our industry. If we don’t someone else will step in and do the job. Let’s make that possibility one of the most difficult.
I, for one, wish to strive for technical excellence in all that I do or encounter and politics be damned! That’s not always easy as some of the positions I find that I must take are not always ones I particularly like.
Parting Shots does not have to be my bully pulpit. Anyone with an opinion on what, or how, things should be, even if it isn’t particularly popular, is welcomed to share this last segment of the Tech-Notes. If your company doesn’t permit you to take stands or offer opinions, we will gladly protect your anonymity, so here is your opportunity. Stirring the gray matter is a most enjoyable thing to do. It helps keep your own mind active and like any other mussel, if you don’t exorcise it, it will atrophy. Go for it collogues!
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