December 17, 2001
Tech-Note – 094
Happy Holidays
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Subject: NYC-Television Recovery
From: Mark Schubin
Analog reception in New York - WNBC and WPIX have moved back to the Empire State Building:
That has resulting in a big improvement for reception of both stations at my apartment.  WNBC has gone from unwatchable to fair-to-good; WPIX has gone from barely watchable to fair-to-good.
Other than WNBC and WPIX, all the others are the same.
Subject: Thomson Multimedia to acquire Grass Valley Group
From a Grass Valley Group Press Release
Thomson multimedia announced last Friday (Dec 14th) that it has entered into an agreement to acquire the Grass Valley Group, a privately held digital media company headquartered in Nevada City, California.
The Grass Valley Group is well known in the digital broadcast equipment and Internet streaming markets, with a complete line of hardware and software products for creating, storing, manipulating, and distributing high-quality video content.  Its installed base of servers, switchers, routers, modular products and digital news production equipment touch nearly 80 percent of the world’s television signals.
The foreseen acquisition will further extend Thomson Broadcast's digital solution portfolio and strengthen its position as a supplier of integrated and networked broadcast equipment for content providers. Valued at U.S. $172 million to be paid in cash at closing, the transaction remains subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to be completed in the first half of 2002
“There will be a significant gain in this combination for our customers in professional content creation, editing and distribution — no matter where they are in the digital media chain. The Grass Valley Group’s video expertise will leverage our capacity to help video professionals work on any content, any time, any place” said Marc Valentin, Vice President -- Thomson Broadcast.
“Becoming part of a global portfolio company focused on the digital media opportunity is one of the best things that could happen to the Grass Valley Group’s customers and to the company itself.” said Tim Thorsteinson, President and CEO of the Grass Valley Group. “In a nutshell, it means uninterrupted product delivery, accelerated research and development, and tremendous distribution and service reach”.
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Subject: Conference Draws Momentum for National Warning Organization
(EdNote: There’s little question that the current emergency alert system (EAS) just isn’t effective. Knowing that something should and must be done, it looks like that may just happen.)
More than 120 leaders from the emergency warning community met November 30 and unanimously called for the creation of a public-private partnership aimed at improving the delivery of timely and accurate emergency information to people at risk.
The group came together at a special conference arranged by the National Warning Organizing Committee, a group of emergency warning advocates representing the public and private sectors.  Conferees included federal, state and local government officials, not-for-profit organizations, and representatives from the private sector.
The mission of the new organization is to improve the delivery of warnings and emergency information to the public through better education, research, standards creation and policy recommendations.
Committee Chair David Liebersbach, Director of the Alaska Division of Emergency Services, appointed Peter Ward, formerly of the U.S. Geological Survey and chair of a White House-appointed working group on natural disaster information systems, to head up a committee to determine the new organization's structure and governance. 
Ward, who also serves as the new organization's spokesman, stressed that "The need for a partnership of this kind has been underscored in numerous studies and by many national committees over the past few years."
Liebersbach added: "It is gratifying to sense the momentum for a partnership of this kind.  We're moving ahead on a national initiative which will enhance ongoing efforts to save lives by providing integrated solutions for rapid, reliable and precise emergency warning and notification to the public."
The conference was hosted by The MITRE Corporation in McLean, Va.  MITRE ( is a not-for-profit national technology resource that provides systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support to the government.
Subject: Observations on computers and platforms
From: Duane K. Dunn
Actually I’m not a fan of what has transpired in the PC and IT worlds. We continually abandon hardware, software and even precious documents and media in a mad rush for the next better thing. As these things continue to become pervasive parts of all our lives whether or not we like it, I think it unwise that we let Microsoft, Apple, the government, HP, or anyone else own, or define, our basic information and supporting infrastructures. 
Who should define the file formats, language of word processing, IT, databases, display resolutions ... ad nauseaum?  We have far too many Windows variants, Apple just abandoned its long standing OS for version 10 a Unix variant, so virtually overnight I became an Apple idiot.
It seems that there are 3 major computing camps now, Microsoft, Unix variants such as OS-X, Linux, Sun, and the mainframe types. These continually spew out new software, hardware, protocols and connectivity.  We now have USB, SCSI, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, and too many OSes. Do we really need USB-2, 1394B, SCSI-320 and endless software revisions? The answer is yes, if we want to support companies but we end up causing problems for end users. It is too important to let that situation happen forever.
A stock G4 Mac has FireWire, USB and gigabit Ethernet and a dialup modem. This is sufficient for real-time DV effects.  If you need higher data rate SD or so-called HD then you put in an Adaptec SCSI for $350 and supporting drives and PCI card from Pinnacle or Matrox.  I note with interest that Imation has a FireWire Travan drive at 20gig, DVD RAM does almost 10gig and both are inexpensive.
The small market TV station where I currently work will probably not ever invest the millions to go to 601 digital.  We have the same Philips (Thomson) router but analog.  It is more likely we will integrate the video area network with Omneon or a Grass Media Area Network.  Omneon has DV FireWire networking, gigabit Ethernet, Fiber Channel, and most vendors such as Pinnacle are migrating to SAN (storage area networks).
The $400 ipod with 1000 songs in your pocket is a belweather of what is to come, cheap mass storage and home networking.  This 5 gig drive can hotplug and doubles as a hard drive if you prefer.  It could store 20 minutes of DV. Who will be first to make such a device talk to a DV camera directly? Ikegami has its expensive solutions for harddrive acquisition.  So, one could easily record directly to DV harddrive and/or DV tape.  Hotplugging the non-linear drive may be faster than tape.
We have an Odetics circa '92 which we cannot upgrade to include News room integration or disc server caching without upgrade from DOS to Win 2000 "Aero" version at $50-$70k just to be able to upgrade.  We are spending about $300,000 this year for minimal DTV compliance relative to mandates and not market conditions or sound business.  Even Odetics now pushes DLT datatape for archiving.
With the downturn of the fortunes of Internet and broadband, the expense of last mile infrastructures, and company failures and splits there is a window of opportunity for broadcasters to get something out of DTV.  Internet media streaming is a bad idea but DTV is made for it.  AT&T  bet the farm on broadband and had to retrench.  They have spent a staggering $5,000 or so per customer with insufficient return. 
Meanwhile, our station will spend $300,000 on a DTV transmitter to reach a fraction of our normal 600,000 audience which is 80% cable; it will reach only a small footprint in our long and narrow territory.   So, we would be investing 50 cents if we could reach all viewers but if we can only reach 6,000 then it costs $50 dollars each.  Still a bargain compared to broadband.   Why not pay cable to "must carry"?  It would be worth it especially in our unusual footprint.  It would be wise to equip consumers with iBlast or Wave Express technology for low cost point of entry into DTV streaming of media.   If we cannot produce and distribute media more efficiently then we deserve to die the death.
Subject: Fritz Nixes Sat Mix
From: NAB
The National Association of Broadcasters say they will oppose satellite TV provider EchoStar Communications Corp.'s proposed purchase of Hughes Electronic Corp.'s DirecTV.
The $26.1 billion combination would create the biggest satellite television provider in the United States with 16.7 million subscribers, but has already raised concerns among federal communications regulators.
“EchoStar has a history of challenging Congressional mandates, ignoring FCC rules, and bad faith business dealings -- all to the detriment of consumers,”' Edward Fritts, head of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), said in a statement.
In the past, broadcasters and satellite services have dueled over carrying local broadcast television stations in their local markets.
“The NAB has consistently requested that DBS companies expand our local to local delivery to more markets,'' said EchoStar spokeswoman Judianne Atencio.
“It's disappointing that the NAB would now switch gears and oppose a merger that would expand the delivery of local network channels via satellite to nearly 85 percent of U.S. households,'' she said.
Two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives are slated to hold hearings that will touch on the proposed combination, the Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Charles Ergen, the company's chief executive, is slated to testify at the hearings. He has argued that antitrust enforcers have examined satellite service in the context of the broader pay television market and that should work in the favor of the proposed combination.
Yet, officials at the Federal Communications Commission have raised questions about reduced competition in rural markets and one company holding the prime direct broadcast satellite slots.
“The burden is on EchoStar to explain how America will benefit by combining the only two satellite companies that compete with cable,'' Fritts said.
Subject: CNN Completes Multicasting Trial
Compiled by: Fred Lawrence
CoreExpress and Path 1 Network Technologies have announced the successful conclusion of a 90-day field trial with CNN to test multicasting of broadcast quality video over an IP network. The field test has shown that IP networks can be used as a high quality and reliable means for exchanging live and taped news material between CNN affiliated stations.
The field test which linked Los Angeles, Washington D.C., St. Louis and Atlanta, required coordination by seven companies, including BellSouth, CoreExpress, Path 1 Network Technologies, Leitch, Cisco Systems, Pixelmetrix, and Tandberg Television.
“The possibilities yielded by this field test are very exciting,” said Tony Seaton, vice president, Corporate Technology and Standards, Turner Broadcasting System. “The trial achieved the desired level of multicast capability, latency and video quality and delivers the level of service we need to exchange news with CNN affiliates ranging from large metropolitan to small market stations.
“Why should these terms not be commingled? Granted the "thing" we call the Internet is directly interconnected to many private IP networks, such as the one(s) used in the CNN test. But the basic underling technology is similar, if not identical.
“The point is that IP networking is going to play a major role in the distribution of digital media content.
“And even more important, what is really important is not the Internet, but inter-networking.
“Does it really matter if we utilize private networks for IP applications that do not need to be shared with the public network?
“And, all Internet "broadcasting" services and protocols were first proved on private IP networks before being run on the real Internet.  That's a good idea when you're testing multicasting, because the percentage of Internet switches and routers that can pass multicast packets is still way too small. But, it's getting better.”
Subject:  Set Top Box to address DTV reception by legacy NTSC Analog TV sets.
Compiled by: Larry Bloomfield   Larry@Tech-Notes.TV
On question that has been in the back of many current NTSC TV set viewers is: “What will become of my current set if and when all the TV stations make the change to digital?” It was only a matter of time when someone would step up to bat and fill that void.  With an unlikely name like “WOW,” the Salt Lake City based company will address this issue with tests and be ready to go for the Winter Olympics in February 2002.
WOW Digital TV has been formed to provide the U.S. market with the first low-cost enhanced digital broadcast platform that allows viewers to watch over-the-air television (network and local programming) with HDTV quality picture and sound. WOW Digital TV will also enable broadcasters to enhance their programs with compelling original content that will accelerate consumer adoption of digital television while also generating new revenues. To this end, the company has already entered into a strategic U.S. broadcast interactive television (ITV) software alliance with OpenTV, it was announced today by Steve Lindsley, WOW Digital TV Founder, Chairman and CEO.
WOW Digital TV will be initially showcased in partnership with Bonneville International’s KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, as part of its local programming and news coverage of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in February. KSL-TV, a leading NBC affiliate, will produce more than 70 hours of local coverage of the games. This coverage will be enhanced by WOW Digital TV and transmitted over KSL-TV’s digital channel.
The KSL-TV transmissions will mark the first time enhanced television content has been broadcast over the digital spectrum and received on an over-the-air television set-top-box in the U.S. Viewers will be able to access expanded information about the events, results and local activities. In addition to primary video feeds, the viewing experience will be enhanced by the ability to choose between multiple video feeds from various locations via a remote-controlled on-screen menu.
OpenTV’s interactive-enabling software will integrate with the WOW BOX™ in providing digital TV viewers enhanced, on demand access to enhanced TV content with a click of their remote control. OpenTV is the world’s leading interactive TV technology provider with its middleware having been deployed in more than 20 million digital set-top boxes worldwide. The company has extensive experience in providing cable, satellite and terrestrial operators in 50 countries with the most advanced interactive TV solutions.
Rumors have it that the WOW Box will retail for somewhere in the neighborhood of Two Hundred Dollars.
Subject: Do TV Images look soft or is it my imagination
By: Jim Mendrala   Jim@Tech-Notes.TV
Where I live, I cannot get OTA (Over the Air) signals that are considered good. I live in a valley, called Val Verde, 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles, CA and Mt. Wilson where the majority of the TV and DTV transmitters are located. Since there are only about 1,000 homes in Val Verde there isn’t any cable company that services my area. Even the phone company cannot provide DSL service to my area.
Two months ago I got tired of watching the “hour glass” as I surfed the Internet using a 56k modem that never connected much above 24600 bps to my old Internet service provider. So I decided to go with StarBand. StarBand is an Internet service provider that uses a geosynchronous satellite to provide a high-speed downlink as well as a fast uplink.
One Antenna, Two-Way:
StarBand uses a single satellite dish antenna (24”x36”) for receiving AND for sending information. Plus, the StarBand antenna can accommodate both the Internet and EchoStar's Dish Network satellite TV programming. StarBand service brings the Internet and hundreds of channels of television into my home, all through one dish antenna.
StarBand is up to 10 times faster than dial-up can provide. With download speeds up to 600 kbps, downloading a file that used to take me up to 5 minutes with dial-up now takes me as little as 30 seconds!
As a StarBand subscriber I have the opportunity to be part of a unique satellite multicast network. In the future, I should be able to surf the Internet and receive channels of high-quality content from top entertainment and information partners, including MP3 files, software downloads, subscription content and more.
For the last 6 years I have been a DirecTV subscriber prior to subscribing to the Dish Network. In the early days of DBS the DirecTV pictures were stunning. Sure there were some MPEG artifacts like noisy fades and sometimes some “mosquito” artifacts on edges but overall quite acceptable. Once in awhile during a heavy rain I’d get some MPEG blocking but that was pretty rare.
Last year I purchased a Sony Wega 24” TV set for my living room while waiting for a decent HDTV to arrive on the scene. My preferred viewing distance from the Wega is approximately 8 ft. or 9 screen heights. The flat screen Trinitron display on the Wega has much more than 500 lines of horizontal resolution and a very stable DC restorer. Blacks are black with little, if any, long term drift. I use the “S” video connection for all the heavy viewing and the composite video connection for other videos sources such as my digital still camera, S-VHS machine and sometimes my camcorder. My camcorder also has an “S” video connection as well as the IEEE Fire Wire.
In the bedroom I have an old Sony 17” Trinitron monitor, the kind that many of the off line editing bays used several years ago when doing 3/4” U-Matic editing. It has a horizontal resolution of about 300 lines.
Now let me get back on track with the subject of this article. When I made the switch from DirecTV to Dish, I was not impressed with the quality of the images I was seeing. They were very soft, exhibited lag, had very noisy fades and poor resolution. These are all MPEG artifacts from not having enough bits to do the job properly.
I have spoken with some of the engineers at both DirecTV and Dish and they admit that on some channels they do turn down the bit rate so as to not overwhelm the statistical multiplexers or Muxers as they are called. This way they say they can get more programs into the limited bandwidth available on the satellites transponders. Pay-for-view seem to get top priority with the higher bit rates as they usually look pretty good. Kind of like DVDs’.
I have two receivers at my house. An EchoStar 6000 HDTV receiver and an EchoStar DP301 receiver. Both are DVB compliant. The artifacts I’m seeing are common to both receivers. The interesting thing though is that the Dish Networks HDTV demo channel, #9443 and the CBS-HD feed from the east coast, on channel #9453 look great even when viewed using the 480i output to my 24” Sony Wega. The pictures are sharp and crystal clear. In the CBS case, however, the same program in SDTV on channel #243 looks very soft, has lag and poor resolution. Other network feeds such as NBC and ABC are very soft, have lag and poor resolution also.
Is this my imagination or are the pristine images that are being provided by the various networks, to the two DBS companies, DirecTV and Dish, (now merging into one company per FCC approval) being degraded to VHS quality?
With the FCC in a decision last week that all DBS must carry all local TV stations will this further the degradation of the images? When a TV that has less than 350 lines of resolution displays images with less than 200 lines of resolution I think it is time to take a closer look at what is happening. When my camcorder images look sharper than what the networks through the DBS companies are transmitting I can imagine what might happen on the cable companies when they standardize on a set-top-box and go digital. Why do we as consumers have to watch less than VHS quality? What ever happened to true broadcast quality? If we are to continue into the digital world with digital television then I think it is time to think about switching over to HDTV because even though, at this time, most people only have analog SDTV sets an HDTV picture at 480i resolution looks like studio quality SDTV as seen on studio monitors.
Distribution of content can take many avenues. Who is going to be the watchdog for quality control purposes? As we have seen during the 911 crises only a minority are receiving images OTA. The broadcaster probably doesn’t know or even cares about how his signal is being degraded as it is being distributed to the viewing public. We would like to hear your comments on this developing problem.
Subject: Master Control Going Digital at US TV Stations
FROM: Des Chaskelson, Research Director, SCRI International
SCRI International (, announced more results of their DTV Migration Survey of US TV Stations, which shows the impending migration to digital in the master control suites.
According to SCRI's recent survey of US TV Stations, almost three in ten stations (28%) have already converted their master control suites to DTV, and by 2002, about two out of three (65.3%) will have done so. Since the master control suite is the heart of any television station, this move is imperative. It is not likely that a station will up convert its NTSC (analog) programming for very long, once digital television receivers are in use. Owners of digital television sets will soon be spoiled by the superior quality of digital at the station on their screens, much the same way satellite viewers and those who subscribe to digital cable are reluctant to step backwards to the poorer quality of a soon-to-be bygone era..
In contrast, only 7.1% of stations have already converted master control to HDTV. By 2002 just over four in ten stations (42.9%) are expected to have converted their master control suites to HDTV, with the two-thirds installed base expected by 2006. Again, the relatively large number of stations that are still unsure (31.4%) will probably mean that the actual conversion rate will be higher. This is especially true, as pointed out earlier, when more HD program material becomes available both locally, syndicated and from the networks.
According to the NAB, as of November 19 there were 219 DTV stations operating in 76 markets. There are 154 days to go (including weekends and holidays) to the May 1. 2001 DTV deadline.
SCRI's DTV Migration Survey Series tracks both technology and product trends and usage among both broadcast and non-broadcast sectors. To view the table of contents online, go to: 
Parting shots
By Larry Bloomfield    Larry@Tech-Notes.TV
DTV obstacles
I see three very distinct and absolutely important obstacles to the transition to DTV:
1. Cable must carry. Out of the reported one hundred one million US TV households, depending on who you talk too, there is more than sixty-five percent of them tied to a piece of coax and broadcasters are at their mercy when it comes to digital. Most NYC TV viewers, for instance, didn't even know that the transmitters at the WTC were off the air because they were on cable. Cable has got to carry the digital feeds or they can forget the transition.
Not too far removed are the direct to home satellite carriers.  It must be said on their behalf that they are making inroads, but still not doing enough (or should we say the one satellite carrier is). Yes, Dish is carrying CBS HDTV, but that’s the only broadcast network. DirecTV carries NO “broadcast network” HDTV. As we see more and more HDTV shows “bill-boarded” on PBS, NBC and ABC, can’t help but ask why?  
I have been told by one viewer who has a Dish model 6000 HDTV receiver and displays its output on a standard TV using the 480i S-video output says that the pictures are stellar when compared with their NTSC counter parts. There are other viewer reports along the same lines from other sectors.
HDTV Magazine, published by Dale Cripps, is a subscription service, delivered daily on line that lists US HDTV programs. The list is growing.  Why aren’t they all available? Perhaps the satellite folks are still reeling over the recent decision that will force them to carry all the station in the markets they currently carry in addition to the four major networks.
2. TV sets. I think Congressman Edward J. Markey of MA is on the right track in sponsoring a bill that will require all TV sets after a certain date to be capable of receiving DTV signals. What good does it do to have a DTV station if no one has a receiver that can receive it? They did this when UHF came out and now it's time to include that capability into today's TV sets.
3. The third item that needs to be addressed is an inexpensive STB that will convert the OTA DTV signals to NTSC analog so the legacy TV sets can at least see them until they are either replaced or phased out. Perhaps the story we carried above about the WOW Box is the answer.
We haven't "Somehow lost our way on the road to DTV," as one engineering boss put it. I talk to CEs and DEs all the time.  Although they say it is a pain and strain, they're doing it!
I don’t believe the road we are now following will lead to the demise of over the air reception of TV, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a service developed that would address portable TV sets and we'd see the high power TV stations go by the wayside. I know this is treason, but people just don't sit at home around the Radio or TV anymore. It is a totally different society from what we can remember as kids.
I haven't watched OTA TV in years. I've been using satellite for the past five years and have had both DirecTV and Dish. At the beginning of the five years I did supplement the Satellite with some cable, but the service was so lousy in comparison, I dropped it.
This does not mean that I don’t get to see OTA or cable TV; I do and cable still stinks, in my opinion, but then I’ve not been exposed to “digital cable.”  There is one thing that is consistent, be it satellite, cable and even over the air, and that’s audio levels that are all over the place.
There was a time when we were doing production, we would send a “0” level tone out of our audio board with a color bar picture from the switcher, all emanating from our studio. This was supposed to be recorded at the head of the show or piece for reference purposes. You know; --- something to set levels during playback by. I question if any of the facilities that air shows or other material ever pay attention to those references, if they are even there anymore. 
One former chief engineer of a prominent LA independent TV stations told me recently that he caught uneducated production types splicing the bars and tone at the head of their material. I can believe it. I have seen audio levels on any of the channels I watch vary as much as 30 db from station to station and as much as 20 db on any one of the stations.  Where has Quality of Service (QoS) gone?
There was a time when we all took pride in the craftsmanship that we put into our work. Those days seem to have gone by the wayside. There is no way one person can keep track of dozens of channels in the Master Controls for these satellite up link facilities. The only time they seem to respond is when someone calls in and then that’s a miracle when they do.
In closing, I’ve heard the comment: “It’s all digital now. We don’t have to watch levels anymore.”  Since there are gentlemen and ladies reading this, I will not respond here in print as I did when I hear the comment. With what the networks, post houses, and stations pay these folks today, there is no excuse!
What do you think about all of this?  Time to get out of the bully-pulpit, but first: However you celebrate this special time of year, may 2002 be filled with peace, joy, happiness and prosperity for you and your loved ones. With best wishes,
Later. Larry
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