Sie sind auf Seite 1von 8

DIGITAL TELEVISION: THE FACTS AND NOTHING BUT THE FACTS Peter H.

Putman, CTS, ISF Digital television is here, and it's going to change the way you watch and interact with your television. Datacasting, HDTV, Dolby surround soundtracks, and multiple sub-channels of programs are all part of the DTV revolution. There's no end of confusing information being circulated about DTV. Perhaps you've heard about the "18 different HDTV standards" or the fact that your old analog TV "will be obsolete as of 2006." You're probably wondering just how much money you'll need to spend to enjoy DTV. Maybe you aren't sure if the end result will be worth all the time, money, and aggravation. To help you get started, this guide will answer the most common questions about digital television and HDTV, and help you cut through all the "hype" and "clutter". What exactly is digital television? DTV is a new all-digital system for transmitting, receiving, and viewing higher-quality television images and stereo (surround) audio. What are the goals of digital television? To offer better picture and sound quality through the use of digital signal processing, and to allow the introduction of new digital services such as multicasting and datacasting. Another goal is to transmit multiple streams of video on a single channel. The FCC has mandated that DTV signals be freely available over the air in every locality nationwide that has analog television. How do current TV broadcasts and DTV compare to each other? There are some similarities. Both use VHF and UHF broadcast frequencies, although some stations may wind up switching their channels after the full implementation of DTV. While analog and digital television broadcasts have a modulated carrier wave, the way that signal is modulated is quite different. While analog TV uses an amplitude/modulated (AM) signal for pictures and frequency

modulation (FM) for audio, DTV signals use digital "packets", or bursts of data, to transmit pictures and audio. Four modulation systems are currently being used for DTV: * The United States uses Eight Level Vestigial Sideband (8VSB) *Europe, parts of South America, and much of Asia and Australia/New Zealand use Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM). Japan has its own variation of COFDM. Digital cable television uses Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). Satellite DSS systems use Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK). I've heard that all television broadcasts must be digital by 2006. True? The FCC's plan for DTV implementation commenced in November 1998 with 26 "pioneer" DTV stations. DTV stations representing the top four networks in the top 10 markets were all supposed to be on-air by May 1999, with an additional 119 by November 1999. At this writing (4/02) there are about 270 DTV stations broadcasting. All commercial DTV stations are supposed to be on-air by May 1, 2002, but over 850 have applied to the FCC for an extension of the deadline. On January 1, 2007, all current analog commercial TV broadcasts are scheduled to cease, provided 85% of homes are capable of receiving DTV. Given the slow pace of the digital TV transition, that deadline is likely to be pushed back a few years. What will happen to my old analog TV set after the transition? Good news! You'll still be able to use it, if it has AV inputs. All current DTV set- top boxes provide at least one downconverted video signal. This is usually composite video (sometimes S-video too), which plugs into the AV inputs on your TV set. It is expected that newer and cheaper set-top converter boxes will continue to come to market and support older analog TV sets. I'm confused by all the new DTV standards. Can you explain them? It's not as confusing as it looks. Actually, there are four basic DTV picture resolution standards. The additional options have to do with how fast the pictures are refreshed and scanned on your TV screen.

Our current NTSC analog TV system makes pictures with 525 total scan lines (about 480 visible) from the top to bottom of the TV screen that are refreshed 30 times per second. These are actually interlaced (alternating) scan lines -half the picture is traced in 1/60 of a second, and the other half in 1/60th of a second. The DTV transmission standards do include a digital version of this 480line, 30 Hz signal known as 480i. These scan lines can also be traced progressively, like a computer monitor. This 480p system results in a picture with fewer motion artifacts and no visible flicker; as if you were using a line-doubler. Both 480i and 480p digital signals are considered to be Standard Definition Television (SDTV), for the images they present are not transmitted with any more vertical lines of picture information than the current NTSC system, and will often have the same aspect ratio (4:3). However, 480p images will appear to have improved vertical picture detail over 480i images, thanks to the use of progressive scanning Only two DTV picture scan rates -- 1080 interlaced (1080i) and 720 progressive (720p) -- are considered High Definition Television (HDTV). In the 1080i system, 1080 picture scan lines are traced from top to bottom as interlaced fields (540 lines in the first field, and 540 lines in the second). There are 1920 pixels (picture-forming elements) on each line. Therefore, the total image resolution is 1920x1080, or just over 2 million pixels. The 720p system scans 720 picture lines from top to bottom in 1/60th of a second, to eliminate flicker. There are 1280 pixels on each line, resulting in a total image resolution of 1280x720 or 921,600 pixels. In the same time interval that one-half of a 1080i image is shown -- or about 1 million pixels -- all of the 720p image will be scanned, or just under 1 million pixels. For this reason, proponents of the 720p system claim that it has the same perceived image resolution as the 1080i system. Indeed; tests have been done to verify this equality in perceived image detail. OK, but where does the 'digital' part come in? All of the program information - video, audio, time, and program guides - is sent out as compressed data, using the MPEG-2 compression system. These packets of data are received and decoded by your digital set-top

receiver or integrated DTV set. It's just like listening to a CD or watching a DVD, only the data rate is much higher. Which networks use which system? CBS television and CBS affiliates broadcast 1080I, as do NBC and its affiliates. PBS affiliates have also adopted the 1080i standard for primetime shows, using multicasting of SDTV channels in the daytime. Subscription services HBO and Showtime use the 1080i format to broadcast movies and special programs. A new DirecTV service, HDNet, features sports and other programming in 1080i. ABC Television and its affiliates are broadcasting 720p. WB Network has also announced it will broadcast prime-time shows in the 720p format. Fox stations are currently broadcasting 480p digital television, with no immediate plans for any carriage of high-definition TV signals. You mentioned "multicasting". What does that mean? Multicasting is a process whereby more than one program (called a minor channel) is transmitted by a broadcaster on the same DTV channel. The maximum data rate for digital TV is 19.39 megabits per second (Mb/s). How each broadcaster chooses to use the space in that digital "shoebox" is up to them. CBS, ABC, and NBC O&O stations use the maximum data rate for their HDTV broadcasts. Some stations put two minor channels into one data stream. PBS transmits four SDTV minor channels each day, allocating about 4 Mb/s to each channel. At night, they can switch to a pair of channels - one SD, and one HD. Do I need a special TV set to watch DTV? Depending on the TV set you have now, you may be able to watch DTV simply by adding an external DTV receiver, or set-top box (STB) New models with a simple interface are coming to market for under $400. * If your TV is a "multimedia" type with progressive-scan inputs for connection to a computer display card or DVD player, you'll be able to see some DTV signals by adding an set-top box receiver (STB). Depending on the set's scan rate, you'll have compatibility with 480p at minimum, and possibly 1080i and 720p.

* If you have a newer set with component video inputs (marked "RGB" or "YPbPr"), you'll be able to watch all DTV formats. However, you won't be able to watch true widescreen TV unless your TV set has a widescreen picture tube or projection screen. Widescreen DTV signals will appear as letterboxed images on 4:3 DTV sets. Is the difference in image quality that much better in a digital broadcast? Absolutely! Just moving from an analog TV system that is subject to pulse noise, ghosts, color errors, and "snow" to an all?digital system makes a tremendous difference. And it gets even better as image resolution is increased AND the picture aspect ratio becomes wider. Many people have commented that watching HDTV is like "looking through binoculars," "looking at a photograph", or "actually being there". That's how good the picture quality is. What will it cost me to get DTV and HDTV? Right now, a DTV set-top box will cost from $400 to $800, depending on the model. DTV-compatible direct-view TVs range from $1,700 to $4,500, while projection TVs with DTV inputs start at $2,000 and go up from there. You can also watch DTV on a front projector. LCD and DLP models range from $3,000 to $12,000, while CRT projectors range from $9,000 to $35,000. Plasma TVs will also show DTV signals, but these are costly. The cheapest start at just under $6,000 and run as high as $20,000 to $30,000. (All prices given as examples are suggested retail.) At least three companies manufacture DTV tuners that plug into a desktop PC, and use its monitor (or an external monitor or projector) to show DTV and HDTV signals. These tuners retail for about $400. If I buy an HDTV/ready set today, will it be obsolete tomorrow? That depends on whether you buy an "all-in-one" integrated DTV set, where the tuner is part of the set. More and more integrated HDTVs are coming to market each year. Otherwise, you could buy a separate TV and set-top DTV tuner. This way, the most you'd have to do in the future is to switch to a new set-top box if you wanted other services, and not replace your entire DTV set.

Will I be able to receive DTV in my area? The FCC has mandated that DTV broadcasts cover existing analog TV service areas. In many cases, a small antenna will be all you need to receive the signals. If you are on cable, you may have to wait a while until your cable system carries the DTV signals. "When" and "How" is up to the cable system operator, and the cable DTV modulation system (QAM) won't work with most over-the-air DTV set-top receivers. If you have satellite TV (such as DirecTV and Dish), you'll be able to watch selected DTV broadcasts by selecting a satellite?ready STB and subscribing to the appropriate service package. Are DVD and HDTV products compatible with each other? As stated earlier, DTV sets with 480p inputs for DVD players will also be able to show 480p broadcasts, and may also be able to show 720p and 1080i. The component video formats are almost the same. DVD interlaced component video connections are usually labeled "YCbCr" or "YPbPr". Do VCRs, PVRs, and other video equipment work with DTV sets? All DTV sets have at least one composite input (sometimes two or three), and at least one S-video input (possibly more). You can connect your existing VCRs, PVRs, and other accessories to these jacks as you would with a regular TV. Also, DTVs usually have an analog TV tuner, so your cable set?top box can also be connected to your DTV. What's the difference between the DTV component video standards? There are two different ways to connect a component video signal. The first, identified as "YPbPr", is a three-wire connection. It consists of one luminance signal marked "Y" and two color difference signals marked "Pb" and "Pr". This is a pretty common connection on all Asian-made DTVcompatible TV sets. The second standard is identified as "RGB". This can be a three-wire, four-wire, or five-wire connection, and is similar to that used by your computer monitor. In the four-wire RGBS and five-wire RGBHV formats, there are three color signals - Red, Green, and Blue - and either one or two sync signals. This format has been used by RCA. Are DTV signals broadcast on special frequencies? No. DTV broadcasts use the same channels as regular analog television. While many DTV stations are now occupying UHF broadcast channels, the

plan is to allow many broadcasters to move back to their original VHF or UHF TV channel once the transition to DTV is complete. During and at the end of the transition, channels 51 through 69 would be auctioned off for other uses. Why is it so hard to receive DTV signals in some locations? When it comes to digital television, it's an "all or nothing at all" proposition. Once the signal is acquired, a steady stream of data assures you'll get a perfect picture and great audio. If that bitstream is interrupted, however, there will be nothing - just a blank screen. In areas with lots of buildings and multipath, frequent drop-out causes this "cliff effect" to kick in. The fix is to use a higher-gain antenna and perhaps even a preamp - assuming the multipath can be tamed. Testing continues to determine the optimal designs for antennas, as well as improving error correction in set-top receivers. New 8VSB receiver designs - such as the 'Casper', recently tested by Link Electronics in Canada - have shown tremendous improvement in handling ghosts and multipath, making the goal of indoor reception in urban areas practical. The key to widespread rollout of digital TV will be carriage on cable TV systems. Consider that better than 70% of all US households are getting television via cable or satellite, and you can see how important it is for broadcasters and cable/DSS providers to sign carriage agreements. Will there be much to watch on DTV? CBS carried all 18 of its prime-time filmed shows in 1080i HDTV this past season (2001), as well as NCAA college football, college basketball, The US Open golf and tennis championships, and movies. PBS continues to run numerous widescreen SDTV shows and a few HDTV programs each month. NBC offered "Crossing Jordan", "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", and the 2002 Winter Olympics in 1080i, and it's expected that letterboxed NBC shows such as "ER" and "The West Wing" will follow next season. ABC presented all of its fall 2001 scripted prime-time shows in 720p, along with Dolby 5.1 surround soundtracks.

HBO and Showtime continue to present a selection of movies and live concerts/specials in 1080i. Mark Cuban's HDNet carries selected Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and National Lacrosse League games in 1080i, and provided shared HDTV coverage of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games with NBC. Fox broadcasts several prime-time filmed programs in widescreen 480p, and also originated the 2002 Super Bowl in a widescreen 480I component format, converted to 480p at each affiliate station. Where can I go to get more information about a specific DTV topic? There are many places to look. Here are a few suggested web sites: PBS Digital web site HDTV magazine Roam Consulting Inc. Get The Picture Copyright 2002 Peter H. Putman / ROAM Consulting Inc. Used by permission. All other rights reserved. Peter Putman is a senior contributing editor for Primedia Business publications. Over the past two decades, he has authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, and columns for magazines including Video Systems, Sound & Video Contractor, Millimeter, Entertainment Design, The Perfect Vision, and EMedia magazines; on topics such as large-screen projection and interfacing technology, electronic cinema, HDTV, DVD, and screening/presentation room automation and design ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// www.whyy.org