Exclusive: FCC OKs Test of TV Transmission Standard
Station owner says it has support from other broadcasters, vendors, standards bodies
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/19/2013 2:41:26 PM
According to a copy of the FCC document obtained by B&C, the FCC has granted Cunningham Broadcasting's WNUV-TV Baltimore a six-month experimental broadcast license to use the CW affiliate as a test bed for a "next-generation" broadcast standard that the station argues could help broadcasters be a player in the mobile, multiplatform and ultra-high definition of the video future. The company says other broadcasters, vendors and trade associations will participate in the WNUV test, according to the original petition for testing authority. Sinclair/WNUV had no comment.
The station is operated by Sinclair under a Local Marketing Agreement.
WNUV has six months to test from Feb. 15, when the authorization was granted, though it can seek a renewal. The FCC's Media Bureau, which granted the experimental temporary authority, makes it clear that only a small number of test devices can be used and no commercial application is allowed, both of which WNUV itself offered up as conditions of the experimental license.
WNUV will conduct its test mostly in overnight hours (1 a.m. to 5 a.m.). Between those hours, it will replace its ATSC signal with the test OFDM DVB-T2 signal, receivable by only a handful of devices. WNUV has promised to make a feed of CW programming that would have aired on WNUV during those times available to cable operators and other MVPDs. It also will broadcast that programming on a digital subchannel of Sinclair's Baltimore Fox affiliate, WBFF, which operates WNUV under the LMA.
The DVB-T2 standard is currently being used in a number of European countries.
"The commercial viability of WNUV as Baltimore's CW network affiliate depends on the station's viewers, and the station will strive to ensure that its audience is not inconvenienced by the testing," the station said.
Sinclair pushed for a flexible mobile DTV standard more than a decade ago and has continued to push for giving broadcasters the technological tools to compete.
WNUV says it will share the results of the test with the National Association of Broadcasters, the Advanced Television Systems Committee and others. In seeking the test permit, it also told the FCC it has the backing of Capitol Broadcasting and Univision-with whom it will share the results.
WNUV told the FCC that it "believes that upon FCC consideration and grant of this request, it will obtain the commitment of many others in the industry to participate in this effort. Discussions (under nondisclosure agreements) have already taken place," it says. It says a large number of broadcasters, as well as vendors and standards bodies will participate in the test.
Sinclair has told the FCC repeatedly it wants the spectrum auction to be a success, but that means for broadcasters as well as wireless companies. Testing the standard on WNUV is a way for the industry to come together on a path forward, the broadcaster is suggesting.
Sinclair signaled the move in comments on the FCC's September Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) suggesting a framework for incentive auctions and broadcast spectrum reclamation. Sinclair said the FCC's goal should include the development of a next-generation broadcast technical standard that would allow TV service to improve, not just survive, the government push toward wireless broadband.
WNUV's request for the testing authority pointed out that the current standard is designed for large-format video to fixed receivers, while, it points out, viewers are increasingly mobile and are viewing video on phones and tablets. As a result, it wants to test the Second Generation Digital Video Broadcasting - Terrestrial (DVB-T2) OFDM transmission technology standard-already in use in some European countries-and succeeding iterations as a possible new standard for the U.S.
Among the things WNUV and Sinclair saying they are looking for the testing to do are:
"Identify representative link budgets for a variety of use cases in different locations within the service area;
"Determine how a scalable Quality of Service offering combined with flexible transmission attributes might facilitate the simultaneous provision of television broadcast to multiple viewing devices;
"Provide data that may support the development of coverage and service contour matching techniques;
"Confirm the ability of OFDM to support Ultra High-Definition television within the existing 6 MHz channel assignments; and
"Explore technological capabilities that could lead to the ability to evolve a future broadcast standard."
Sinclair has been arguing that broadcasters should look at hanging on to their spectrum rather than put it up for auction, suggesting they will need it for advanced TV services and flexible delivery. It has also said broadcasters could work with wireless carriers to help offload traffic at peak periods.
At a Hudson Institute event Tuesday, former FCC chairman Dick Wiley, who helped develop the HDTV transmission standard, said he thought a new transmission standard accommodating ultra-HDTV and multiplatform delivery was in broadcasting's future, but says it might take up to a decade because it is not backward compatible-it will require new TV sets. Wiley opined that perhaps if the standard could have been changed sooner, there might not have been a need for the incentive auctions.
Just last month, the FCC took steps to make it easier to do spectrum R&D, driven, per usual, by its desire to promote wireless innovation.
"Streamlining our experimental licensing process will help stimulate R&D, which is essential to new innovation, and reduce the time it takes for an idea to get from the lab to the market, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said at the FCC's Jan. 31 open meeting, where it voted on a National Broadband Plan proposal to "establish more flexible experimental licensing rules for spectrum and to facilitate the use of spectrum by innovators."
Isn't DVB-T2 available via dongle, if so, why not use dongles until DVB-T2 sets are available here in USofA.
Christopher Blair - 2/21/2013 4:00:36 PM EST
I also suspect this will lead to manufacturers offering dual ATSC/DVB-T2 sets here in the US. I doubt we'll ever see the FCC mandate a switch to DVB-T2, replacing ATSC, but the dual system sets would be good for those retailers who sell TV's to tourists from those countries that use the DVB-T standards.
Jay Rudko - 2/20/2013 6:36:41 PM EST
The US choice of 8VSB transmission was as much political as technical. ATSC is, at best, equivalent to OFDM for stationary viewing. For mobile viewing it is inferior. OFDM offers a path for evolution of ultra-HD and future services that ATSC can never match.
Orin Laney, PE - 2/20/2013 3:23:08 PM EST
Dale Latimer - 2/20/2013 12:07:59 PM EST
This is not a new transmission standard. This is a European format that was rejected by American decision makers on the grounds that our ATSC format was better. I would appreciate that the article be factual and not misleading by saying it is a new format. Makes me wonder if the American decision makers got it wrong if they are now testing another standard that may actually be better than ATSC.
TV Watcher - 2/20/2013 11:19:21 AM EST
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