Tech-Notes
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August 29, 2001
Tech-Note – 089

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 ~~ Reader Responses, Inquiries & Comments ~~ 

RE: Tech-Notes #88 About on Birkmaier’s reply to Tech-Notes 84 Low cost HDTV
From: John J. Stapleton   JJSTAPLE@aol.com

Craig Birkmaier clearly understands and appreciates the spatial and temporal  issues in visions sciences as well as the technology.  When I said few months  ago that HDTV maybe "still born" I should have been more positive and crystal  ball that it will soon be leap frogged.  If no one has already set claim to  UHD we respectfully propose, in response to Intel challenge, Ultra high  definition, introducing "telepresence" surround sight and sound with 144  Megadots yes, 250 dots/inch viewable at arms reach (20inches) or even 13  inches such that 16000 /64"x 9000/36" pixels subtend the arc minute defined  as 20/20 vision and two retinal photodetectors.(2x2.5micron)  Although 72  times better than HDTV 2 megadots, the nominal compression ratio of 60 would  increase to 500 so we could communicate for the Intel challenge its  100Megadots x60 Hz in good old 6MHz TV channels.  Stay tuned. 

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RE: Tech-Note #88 D-Cinema - The Next Big Thing
From: John J. Stapleton   JJSTAPLE@aol.com

Calling CBS Doctor Flaherty the "father of HDTV" is great for it is  said "failures are orphans and success has many fathers." Thanks to his/CBS  invite to their first demo of HDTV in NYC c. 1981 our hindsight is 20/20.  In  early 1980's UHD seemed possible. It became probable in early 1990's and  practical in 2004-2006. Regrettably the compression that became essential for  HDTV transmissions spawned multicasting cable wish for higher quantity (low  quality programs) instead of high picture quality and high quality programs  and the mistaken notion that 4, 5 or 6 programs per channel capacity would  multiply ad revenues by 4, 5 or 6.  Obviously the fovea limits focus to one  program and thus one advertisement at a time. Has Doc Flaherty solved the  Catch 22 Chicken & egg problem with enough eyeballs for advertisers so we can  turn off the counterproductive simulcasts of HDTV and NTSC? . 

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Subject: The hold up! 
From: Charles McDevitt   cfm@cogit.com 

It seems that like people believe that COFDM would suddenly "solve" the  DTV "problem". Ok, COFDM has some real advantages over 8-VSB, I'll give you  that.  But if anybody thinks that 8-VSB is what is slowing down the DTV  rollout, they are being naïve. 
Most people I talk to don't know digital TV even EXISTS, let alone know (or  care) anything about modulation systems.

As long as 8-VSB works adequately (and from my experience, it does),  consumers won't ever consider modulation formats in their decisions.   Here  in San Francisco, we have lots of DTV stations available, an absolutely no  consumer awareness at all. 

If consumers became aware of the COFDM vs. 8-VSB issues, I believe it would  only slow down acceptance, as people would be afraid to buy into a technology  that might become obsolete.  The only way we could get to COFDM without  totally stalling the DTV rollout for many years would be to require  manufacturers to make TVs and STBs "dual mode" so that they would work both  now, and after any COFDM switchover.  But how much would that cost?  How  practical is it? And of course such "dual mode" sets would be mandatory if we  let each station decide between 8-VSB and COFDM, rather than mandating one or  the other. 

It seems to me that if we want DTV (and HDTV) to succeed in the near term, we  need to live with 8-VSB. 

From my point of view, the following issues are what are really holding up  the DTV revolution: 

  • Lack of consumer awareness.  Consumers need to know about it before  they can desire it.  From asking around, less than 1 out of 20 have ever  heard of DTV. 
  • No HDTV/DTV on cable (for most of us). 
  • No affordable STBs for viewing DTV on an ordinary TV. The cheapest  boxes out right now seem to be the RTC-100, which works for this purpose, but  also contains DirecTV and HDTV support, and consumers don't know it can be  used for this purpose. 
  • No DTV/HDTV recorders available.  American consumers have gotten used  to time shifting their viewing, and aren't going to give it up to get digital  TV. 
  • No pre-recorded HDTV format available for rental or purchase.   Consumers watch many of their movies by renting DVDs or VHS tapes... If HD- DVD was a reality, many would upgrade their sets just for this! 
  • Fear of standards wars.  For the few customers who know about DTV,  they likely know about the copy protection debates.  And they don't know if  any current investment will be compatible. . 
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Subject: Tutorials and Practical Applications 

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) with the cooperation of the  Society of Broadcast Engineers will hold a technical seminar on its Program  and System Information Protocol (PSIP), Data Broadcast Standard, DTV Closed  Captioning, and DASE efforts on October 23 and 24, 2001.  The seminar will  take place at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.  Seminar  sponsors include Tandberg Television, Harmonic, and NIST. 

Noting the past success of these technical seminars in DC and California,  Mark Richer, ATSC Executive Director explained,”Our seminars are well- received because they focus on real-world issues and opportunities in  implementing DTV.  I believe this third seminar will be our strongest yet." 

The ATSC is working to educate the industry on the essential elements of its  standards.  The seminar will include tutorials and presentations by subject  matter experts on the following topics: 

  • Overview of the ATSC DTV Standard
  • Basic elements of MPEG2 Systems
  • Understanding the PSIP Standard
  • Practical Implementations of PSIP
  • Closed Captioning Requirements and Responsibilities
  • Practical Closed Caption Implementation
  • Practical Considerations of The ATSC Data Broadcast Standard
  • Implementation Recommendations for Data Broadcasting 
  • Data Broadcast Experienced in the Field
  • Emerging Data Broadcasting Services
  • Practical Data Broadcast Implementation
  • Introduction to DTV Applications Software Environment (DASE) 
Register online at: http://www.atsc.org/seminarsignup.html
Visit our web site for other Educational Opportunities. http://www.Tech- Notes.tv.

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Subject: ITS National closes its doors 
By: Fred Lawrence 

2001 marks not only the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the International Teleproduction Society (ITS) , but also its end. The National Office of ITS will closed its doors August 15,  2001. 

The ITS Board of Directors issued a statement telling its members that  they “deserve to understand why this is happening, but should also feel proud  to have been part of an organization that made a powerful, positive  difference to our industry, an industry in search of knowledge, community and  answers in times of transition.” 

ITS concentrated on how the postproduction businesses might be better served  by joining forces and sharing knowledge with competitors, colleagues and  peers.  This was the true value of ITS

Throughout its existence, ITS has helped its members to run their businesses  more successfully.  It has opened communications between manufacturers and  facilities, between people on the East Coast, West Coast, and all points  between.  ITS has brought about legislative changes that have saved members  millions of dollars. It has honored outstanding creative work by thousands of  individuals and has built a multi-faceted forum for shared knowledge and  understanding of industry technology. 

ITS suffered from financial problems and was not immune from the economic  uncertainty pervading the industry. The Board sited economic challenges as  membership, sponsorship, and participation levels dropped in direct response  to the state of the industry. Despite efforts by the ITS Board and staff to  work through and develop workable solutions to manage their finances and  still provide the services and programs needed by its members, other recent  incidents pushed ITS to the brink. Because of the irreparable harm done to  the association, it was necessary for them to cease operations. 

It is ironic that in a time where there has never been a greater need for an  organization such as ITS, that the organization is unable to continue. 

It is important, whatever the fate of ITS as a national association, that the  work of ITS continue as the post production industry finds its way on the  path to its future. This work can be best accomplished through the efforts of  the chapters, which will continue as they are organized separately from the  national association of ITS. 

Stepping to bat, the Southern California Chapter is committed to keeping a  trade association active. For the present, they have agreed to host the ITS  email lists and maintain a Web presence. They are actively planning ways to  continue to provide events focused on our industry such as the Technology Retreats that have been  held in Palm Springs. 

It is through exchange with colleagues and vendors and through mutual  sustained effort that create a stronger business environment and industry.    The spirit of ITS must and will survive. . 

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Subject: DTV's image blurs in viewers' mind Source: Crain Communications - Electronic Media 

The promise of prettier pictures may no longer be enough to sell digital  television to consumers. 

According to the surprise findings of a study released by the Consumer  Electronics Association, only 45 percent of consumers now say they find the  concept of getting a better picture appealing-down from 50 percent last year. 

At the same time, the study, Consumer Perspectives of Digital TV II, found  that 33 percent of consumers found the concept of better pictures  unappealing, up from 23 percent the previous year, a finding the study  characterized as "alarming". 

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television,  said, "The true question is whether they're talking about people who have  seen true HDTV, because seeing it is believing it.'' 

On another front, the study found that interactive TV, another traditional  sales point for DTV, may be losing its punch. This year, the study found that  only 30 percent of respondents thought interactivity added greatly or at  least somewhat to DTV's appeal, down from 48 percent last year. 

Nonetheless, 62 percent of the respondents felt that surround sound added at  least somewhat to DTV's appeal, up a point from the previous year, while 61  percent said the same thing about being able to watch wide-screen movies  without black borders. 

The cost of the transition also appears to be of growing significance to  consumers, according to the study, with 37 percent citing that as their  greatest concern this year, up from 26 percent last year. 

In addition, the number of consumers who say their next TV set will be a DTV  model has dropped to 39 percent, down from 50 percent in July 1998 and 62  percent in January 1999. 

Still, the study said the perception of consumers about the arrival of DTV is  largely positive overall, with 61 percent of respondents having at least  mostly positive thoughts on the concept-and that's up from 46 percent in  1998, the study said. 

The study speculated that at least part of the reason the appeal of DTV could  be moderating is that viewers are becoming aware of the costs of replacing  sets. 

"This trend should reverse itself as awareness peaks and digital TVs come  down in price,'' the study said. "However, another angle to consider is that  as prices for digital TVs fall, some people may be holding back on their  purchase in hopes that prices will fall even further." 

Although consumers are not aware of all the industry bickering about  various digital TV issues, the message from the survey is clear: "Stop the  finger- pointing and give me my DTV," the study continued. 

"If all the players do not come together soon, consumer fatigue on this  issue could pose a significant problem, resulting in billions of dollars in  lost revenue.'' 

Mark Hyman, vice president, corporate relations, Sinclair Broadcast Group,  said, "`Kudos to CEA for admitting that it is not all about home theater-size  HDTV displays. We need more, not fewer, incentives for the American public to  invest in DTV products."

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Subject: Fox being Foxy with HDTV
Adapted from a story by Suzanne Lafrance Digital Television 

Quietly, on the second floor of a building on Pico Boulevard in west Los  Angeles, the future of digital television is being decided. That's where Jim  DeFilippis and his team are housed. Two floors below is a space known simply  as "the lab," where the future of digital television is being invented. All  this is located at the epicenter of Rupert Murdoch's U.S. Empire, the  Twentieth Century Fox lot, which houses offices, studios, and stages for both  the movie and television portions of the business. 

In the lab, DeFilippis, vice president, Television Engineering, News  Technology Group, continues the quiet work of what promises to be a very  noisy digital revolution. Certainly, experiments with digital video for  television production did not begin here, nor would DeFilippis or his team  make such a claim. Panasonic's early efforts in the 1970s are well  documented, as are the CBS/Sony attempts beginning in the early 1980s and  known as 1125/60. Although these experiments eventually eased off, they  provided the basis for other research along different paths. Not only helping  Philips, Panasonic, and JVC commercialize their products, the significance of  the Fox advances is that, for the first time, high definition video is being  employed as a standard production tool for the creation of TV programs. 

Remarking on this standardization, DeFilippis said, "This coming season, the  Fox Network will require all shows to deliver both a 16x9 as well as a 4x3  version of each episode. We currently have over 12 shows delivering in 16x9.  We are also working on 5.1 surround sound delivery for movies and live  sports." 

As DeFilippis notes, "Three years ago producers were very reticent, but now,  they are calling, asking how to go about doing it." In other words, they've  bought into it. 

"In the spring of 1997 we began digital shooting trials and playback tests to  determine the proper direction for Fox to take," says DeFilippis. "So we had  a four-way demo with analog NTSC as our baseline. The second part of the test  looked at interlaced versus progressive, and we determined that 480p would  give us the quality we needed while preserving precious bandwidth." So, for  emissions, the team settled on 480p/60. 

"For production," said DeFilippis, "we needed a format that would give us  both quality and flexibility in post. We needed a camera system that would  allow us to shoot film style and would also be extensible into the future,  for release in whatever format is required." 

Thus it was that Fox signed a deal with Thomson, which recently acquired  Philips broadcast, for four Philips LDK 7000 digital cameras in 720p/24. "We  felt it gave us image quality and the dynamic range, equivalent to film shot  for TV," notes DeFilippis. 

The high quality images, transported as a 1.5Gbps digital video signal, will  be recorded using a JVC D9 VTR, with approximately one hour of recording time  per cassette. Also part of the new digital capture package at Fox are two  Panasonic AJ-HDC27V variable frame rate progressive scan high definition  cameras. 

Although there was a lot of cooperative effort between Fox and the  manufacturers as they developed these technologies, a great deal of input was  sought from the people doing the actual production work. "We involved  directors of photography because the lighting is so important and we were  trying to get video cameras to shoot in typical film lighting," DeFilippis  notes. "This was an important step so that the crews could work in the ways  they are used to working, which is film-style." Through the efforts of  DeFilippis and the entire team at Fox, the distinctions between the film  world and video world are beginning to blur. 

Clearly, it has nothing to do, as some have posited, with saving money. "The  real issue," maintains DeFilippis, "is greater quality, a greater range of  capabilities, and greater efficiencies in the working process. The investment  in crews, actors, and all the other things that go into a production are so  big that the cost savings on this end are incidental." 

Indeed, he believes so much in the quality of 720p/24 that he unequivocally  states, "Digital TV production will take off and will only be limited by  equipment availability." 

Though it's clear that the technology is always evolving and the standards  will change, DeFilippis has some advice for stations: "Go component digital  as fast as you can. Use 4:2:2 sampling and be careful to keep the video  compression reasonable (4-5:1)" 

And get ready, because if the guys on the second floor have anything to say  about it, it's coming, and it's coming fast.

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Subject: Doing away with NTSC
From: Nicholas Bodley   nbodley@alumni.princeton.edu

I do worry a bit about those who couldn't afford the conversion boxes, or who  are in fringe areas, but after all, Community Antenna Cable Television came  to be used for something very different from its original intent. 

Maybe it's not Good Thinking (not thoroughly thought-out, by far), but NTSC  could become like the 78 rpm record standard: Never totally discontinued  (ntdc :), and also like the Channel 3/4 short-range cable connection used to  link a VCR's output to a receiver via its antenna input. 

I used to think that loss of over-the air NTSC in, say, the next decade would  be tragedy, leaving out the poorest of us, but am moderating my point of view. 

I also agree that bandwidth-hogging is becoming increasingly unacceptable. 

Long-term, the time-domain approach (such as micropower impulse radar and  (iirc) sophisticated stud finders(!)) could ultimately make far better use of  the spectrum. 

Nicholas Bodley

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Subject: DVI 
From:  Zenith 

"In order to get the benefits of DVI (digital connection) they will need to  upgrade units with a DVI connection.  It is not backwards compatible; you  would need to use an analog input such as RGB or component. Additionally,  unlike 1394, DVI will NOT allow any copying." 

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Subject: DTV's image blurs in viewers' minds 
Source: Crain Communications -- Electronic Media 

The promise of prettier pictures may no longer be enough to sell digital  television to consumers. 

According to the surprise findings of a study released by the Consumer  Electronics Association last week, only 45 percent of consumers now say they  find the concept of getting a better picture appealing-down from 50 percent  last year. 

At the same time, the study, Consumer Perspectives of Digital TV II, found  that 33 percent of consumers found the concept of better pictures  unappealing, up from 23 percent the previous year, a finding the study  characterized as ``alarming.'' 

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television,  said, "The true question is whether they're talking about people who have  seen true HDTV, because seeing it is believing it.'' 

On another front, the study found that interactive TV, another traditional  sales point for DTV, may be losing its punch. This year, the study found that  only 30 percent of respondents thought interactivity added greatly or at  least somewhat to DTV's appeal, down from 48 percent last year. 

Nonetheless, 62 percent of the respondents felt that surround sound added at  least somewhat to DTV's appeal, up a point from the previous year, while 61  percent said the same thing about being able to watch wide-screen movies  without black borders. 

The cost of the transition also appears to be of growing significance to  consumers, according to the study, with 37 percent citing that as their  greatest concern this year, up from 26 percent last year. 

In addition, the number of consumers who say their next TV set will be a DTV  model has dropped to 39 percent, down from 50 percent in July 1998 and 62  percent in January 1999. 

Still, the study said the perception of consumers about the arrival of DTV is  largely positive overall, with 61 percent of respondents having at least  mostly positive thoughts on the concept-and that's up from 46 percent in  1998, the study said. 

The study speculated that at least part of the reason the appeal of DTV could  be moderating is that viewers are becoming aware of the costs of replacing  sets. 

"This trend should reverse itself as awareness peaks and digital TVs come  down in price,'' the study said. ``However, another angle to consider is that  as prices for digital TVs fall, some people may be holding back on their  purchase in hopes that prices will fall even further. 

“Although consumers are not aware of all the industry bickering about various  digital TV issues, the message from the survey is clear: ‘Stop the finger-  pointing and give me my DTV,’” the study continued. 

“If all the players do not come together soon, consumer fatigue on this issue  could pose a significant problem, resulting in billions of dollars in lost  revenue.” 

Mark Hyman, vice president, corporate relations, Sinclair Broadcast Group,  said, “Kudos to CEA for admitting that it is not all about home theater-size  HDTV displays. We need more, not fewer, incentives for the American public to  invest in DTV products." 

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Subject: GM Serious on DISH Bid-And DISH Likes That
From SkyReport 

An executive with General Motors, which controls the highly sought after  Hughes Electronics and DirecTV, gave some indication on the auto giant's  opinion of EchoStar's unsolicited bid for the assets. And apparently, GM is  paying attention. 

GM Chief Financial Officer John Devine said Wednesday the auto giant is  taking seriously EchoStar's bid for Hughes and DirecTV. "If it's a serious  proposal, and we think it is, we're going to take it very seriously," Devine  said at an annual auto conference in Michigan. "We're going to evaluate it.  This is an important issue for us, and we're going to take the time it takes  to get it right."

EchoStar made a proposal to GM to combine with Hughes and DirecTV in a tax- free, all-stock transaction valued by the company at $32 billion. The move  complicates News Corp.'s plans to get the coveted Hughes assets, which the  media company wants for its developing Sky Global satellite spin-off. 

EchoStar Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen said he was encouraged that GM is  taking the proposal seriously. "I continue to believe that the GM board will  recognize, as we do, the extraordinary compelling benefits that an EchoStar- Hughes combination would offer shareholders," he said in a statement. 

"Our proposal represents a significant premium for GMH shareholders and will  bring unparalleled synergies of up to an additional $56 billion to all  shareholders of GM, GMH and EchoStar." 

Meanwhile, Kudelski, the Swiss company that provides EchoStar with some of  its technology, said it's willing to raise about $1 billion in cash if it's  needed by the U.S. satellite company in its bid for Hughes and DirecTV, wire  sources reported. 

Chairman Andre Kudelski told Reuters he made the offer to EchoStar Chairman  Charlie Ergen. Kudelski would raise the cash by issuing a fresh 25 percent  equity in the company, the wire service said. 

EchoStar didn't have anything to say about the Kudelski speculation, or about  recruiting other companies for its effort. "We have been contacted by a  number of companies but will wait for a formal response from General Motors  before we engage these companies in further discussions," EchoStar  spokesperson Marc Lumpkin said.

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Subject: HDTV in Space 
Adapted from: SkyReport 

NASA will take a giant leap for humankind when the first commercially  provided and flight-certified high definition television (HDTV) camera, which  will provide more visual clarity of space activities, rides aboard Space  Shuttle Discovery to become a permanent resident on the International Space  Station. Discovery is currently scheduled for launch on Aug. 9. 

High tech cameras and equipment are a prime benefit of the multimedia  agreement between NASA and Dreamtime Holdings, Inc., Mountain View, CA. NASA  has partnered with Dreamtime to collaborate on a variety of multimedia- related services and products. 

The HDTV camera will provide high resolution images for documentation of  space activities and for enhancement of data collected by NASA scientists,  researchers and engineers conducting experiments. Imagery will be accessible  to the news media and to the general public through the Internet and other  distribution methods. 

The camera hardware includes a Sony HDW-700A HDTV camera, telephoto lens,  wide-angle lens, battery packs and tapes. The accompanying batteries can be  recharged in orbit, enabling continuous documentation of station activities. 

Although HDTV cameras have flown aboard other space shuttle missions, the  NASA/Dreamtime camera is the first to go through flight certification for the  International Space Station. This process also makes this the first  commercially certified HDTV camera that is, certified at no cost to the  taxpayer. 

Images from this camera have five times the clarity of a standard digital  camera. Not only will it be able to document space from a new perspective, it  also will allow the recording, in real time, the science of space. 

In addition, the partnership will include the digitization of a significant  portion of NASA imagery and create a multimedia database that will allow  greater public access to basic research capabilities and free downloads of  low resolution versions of those images. It also will help enhance public  awareness of NASA by developing documentaries and educational programming for  television broadcast. 

Nothing was mentioned about making their efforts available to the NASA  channel carried on a number of cable and satellite systems.

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Subject: Hollywood Moves to Rent Movies Online 
By RICK LYMAN 
From the pages of the New York Times 

Five major movie studios, including some of Hollywood's top players, unveiled  plans today for a joint venture that would allow computer users to download  rental copies of feature films over the Internet. 

The service, which will be available only to those with high-speed Internet  connections, is an attempt to get ahead of piracy problems that have plagued  the music industry through services like Napster and which were beginning to  be felt in the film industry with newer file-swapping services. 

"I think the majority of consumers believe that copyright has value and that  if they have a pay vehicle to watch movies on the Internet, they will pay for  it," said Yair Landau, president of Sony (news/quote) Pictures Digital  Entertainment. "We want to give honest people an honest alternative." 

The venture is also seen by many studio executives as a first step toward  true video-on-demand, when consumers will be able to watch any movie they  want, whenever they want. Initially, the films will be available for download  only onto personal computers, or television monitors linked to an Internet  connection, but eventually video-on-demand service is expected to include  cable television and other delivery systems. 

"I think anybody who is in the movie business wants to reach the day when you  can watch any movie you want, any time you want," Mr. Landau said. "I  personally believe that launching an Internet service like this is a  necessary first step in that regard." 

The studios that will be partners in the service are MGM, Paramount Pictures,  Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures. Noticeably absent were  Disney and 20th Century Fox, although sources close to Disney said that it  intended to announce its own video-on-demand service within 10 days. Fox  issued a statement late this afternoon saying that it, too, would announce  plans soon for such a service. 

Executives at Sony's Moviefly, an Internet movies-on-demand effort that will  provide the technical backbone for the venture, had been saying since early  this year that they intended to go online as soon as they could. 

They delayed the move, the executives said, in hopes of persuading as many  Hollywood studios as possible to join the effort, a process that took longer  than expected as each studio brought its concerns about pricing, security and  competition with other outlets like cable television.

"It's very expensive to create something like this, so economics plays a role  in bringing so many studios together," said Jack Waterman, president of  worldwide pay television for the Paramount Television Group. "And this allows  a lot of companies to come together to create a common viewpoint on the  technology and security behind the system." 

In the coming months, a chief executive will be hired for the new venture,  which will have an equal number of representatives from each studio on its  board; a name will be chosen; and the site will be tested extensively to make  sure its security system works as promised. Then, the first 100 or so films,  a mix of recent releases and films from studio libraries, will become  available, either late this year or early next. 

The selection of films, and how much it will cost to download them, will be  left to the individual studios. Studios that are not part of the venture will  also be allowed to post films on the site. 

The average feature film is about 500 megabytes in digitized form and will  take 20 minutes to 40 minutes to download, Mr. Landau said, depending on the  type of broadband connection. Download times would be untenable for those  with slower Internet connections. Studio officials estimate that there are 10  million households with broadband connections, a number they expect to  increase significantly, as well as 35 million screens in offices and colleges. 

A film will remain on a computer's hard drive for 30 days but will erase itself 24 hours after it is first run. In that 24 hours, consumers will be  able to watch the film as many times as they wish — pause, fast forward and  perform other functions typical of a videocassette or DVD. 

Studios traditionally release movies in a series of so-called windows,  starting with theatrical release, followed by videocassette, DVD, pay- per- view, pay-cable networks and, eventually, broadcast networks. Executives at  several studios said films would be released on this new system, initially at  least, only when they entered their pay-per-view window, usually months after  the theatrical release. The rental cost will be about the same as a pay-per- view film, the executives said. 

"We are not looking to undermine DVD, which is a great business," Mr. Landau  said. 

The new venture will be neither the first video-on-demand service (cable  operators in a few markets have offered such a service to some customers,  though the movie selection has been limited) nor the first time that feature  films have been available for download on the Internet (companies like  CinemaNow and SightSound Technologies have offered a limited roster of films  for download). But it is the first effort involving Hollywood studios and  offers the promise of thousands of potential films. 

"This announcement confirms that film producers are eager for the Internet to  enlarge and flourish," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture  Association of America. "For the first time, in the very near future, a broad  selection of motion pictures will be available online, protected by  encryption, and delivered directly to consumers at a reasonable price." 

In general, the studios have been hesitant to allow the distribution of  digital copies of their films on the Internet, fearing they would be too easy  to copy and share through unauthorized sites. What has made studio executives  agree to this venture has been a growing confidence that the necessary  security is in place to prevent copying of the downloaded files. 

However, since almost all film pirating has involved the latest releases and  this service will make movies available only months later, it is unclear what  effect it would have on illegal copying. 

"That remains to be seen," said Ric Dube, an analyst for Webnoize, a research  company that focuses on digital entertainment industries. 

"What this does is to compete with piracy more effectively than the movie  industry has in the past," Mr. Dube said. "And the real issue isn't whether  it will affect piracy, but whether the movie industry is willing to tolerate  the amount of piracy that's going on in order to grow their market."

The music industry, which shares parentage with many of the studios involved  in today's announcement, has also fought against file-sharing sites like  Napster, and had a harder time because of the relative ease of downloading a  piece of music.

But movie studios have also been faced with file-sharing sites like Aimster,  which allows swapping of both audio and video files. 

"The film industry does have a better history of coming through on plans like  this than does the music industry," Mr. Dube said. "So when five major film  companies say they will use an online channel to distribute their films that  means a lot more than a similar statement coming from five music companies." 

The real question, though, is how many people really want to download movies  onto their personal computers. 

"To be really honest, we have no idea," Mr. Waterman said.

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 Parting Shots
 By Larry Bloomfield 

It is difficult, at best, to understand why the Congress, through the FCC,  have mandated the transition to digital TV, then put up obstacles that seem  to make it nearly impossible to Achieve. 

Yes, I know that it’s all supposed to make available spectrum so the money  grubbing Washington politicians can hold auctions to pay for their boondoggle  projects and irresponsible spending. (Can’t help but wonder when the last  time they pass appropriations for farmers not to grow certain crops or to pay  for thousand dollar plus toilet seats. They do have a reputation for a bit of  pork-barrel legislation.)

That aside, it seem ludicrous to require stations to make the transition to  digital and then say that the very cable systems that have been carrying  their analog signals for years have a choice when it come to carrying the new  or old technology. Ask any of the 205 stations now broadcasting digital  signals in the 68 markets they serve how many have their digital signals  carried on any of the cable systems that carry their analog signals. (These  figures are on a link on the Tech-Notes web site.) 

We’ve all heard the high numbers were it comes to household penetration  touted by the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). NTCA would have  us believe that viewers are abandoning over the air reception in favor of  cable in droves. Yet, these are the same folks who won’t lift an F connector  to help in the transition to digital by carrying both analog and digital  signals until the transition has been completed. 

Even the TV set manufacturers recognize this dichotomy. Their spokes agency,  the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) says “Cable carriage is imperative  for DTV’s success.”  Duh! There’s nothing like stating the obvious, but the  FCC seems not to understand or recognize the obvious. Perhaps the FCC is the  victim of the old saying: “The most obvious is the most unobserved.” 

We’ve got some fresh blood at the FCC and I understand that Clinton-appointed  FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, will leave the agency on September 7th.  That completes the circle. Hopefully they’ll wake up to the fact that the  success of digital television hinges on access to cable and DTV carriage is  essential to meet this goal. 

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope. The FCC has issued a Further Notice of  Proposed Rulemaking on the matter and CEA has filed comments. 

I could agree more with CEA's Vice President of Technology Policy Michael  Petricone who said: “Without assurance that digital broadcast signals will  reach the 70 million American households that rely on a cable signal,  broadcasters and programmers will have little incentive to produce compelling  digital programming. Consumers will have less incentive to purchase digital  television products and it will become less likely that the digital  transition will be completed by the 2006 target date. Cable carriage of DTV  is imperative.” 

“We must not allow cable gatekeepers to prevent consumers from enjoying DTV  or using services that allow them to navigate among content choices or access  interactive and advanced services,” CEA's Petricone commented. “As we noted  in our comments to the FCC, these options and services are the very future of  television.” 

There are some rumbling that PBS and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting  have even started to stir the pot about getting their member station’s  signals carried in digital, as they become available, in addition to carrying  their analog signal – at least until analog goes away. There are those who  think that the non-commercial, educational folks will have an even greater  impact when it comes to getting the dual carriage issue put through. All I  can say to that is: Good Luck! -- From your attorneys pens to the conscience  of Congress. (Now there’s some mighty powerful wishful thinking.) 

Digital content must precede consumer demand for digital equipment. In their  comments to the FCC, CEA rebuked the "chicken and egg" portrayal of the  digital television transition so often batter about when discussing this  issue. They stated, "Consumers should not be expected to purchase digital  receivers in anxious anticipation that value-added content will eventually  become available, especially given the current dearth of high-quality,  digitally originated programming." 

Hello FCC. The era of shooting yourselves in the foot has got to come to a  close. It’s time to do what is necessary to get digital off the ground.  You’ve dilly-dallied around enough. The dual carriage is a must or DTV will  be a bust! 

That’s it for this time; let’s go to press! 

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