About 8-VSB: Sinclair Told You So

When Sinclair discovered that 8-VSB was not working for reception using simple antennas in 1998, we were vilified by the entire industry—including Andy Setos, Fox Group president of engineering, and Fox Broadcasting—for trying to delay the HDTV rollout. In fact, Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association as recently as last month continued to claim that there is not and never was any problem with 8-VSB and then went on to blame me and Sinclair for single-handedly delaying DTV.

Now I read that, four years after Sinclair's revelations, Setos and Fox publicly admit that there is a problem that is serious enough and that the problem needs to be addressed ("Fox Cooks Up Fix for DTV," B&C, Jan. 6, page 8). In fact, it was revealed that Fox was worried that its new "discovery" needed to be made available to all set manufacturers to avoid having sets in the market that would not work.

At this very late date, Fox is quoted as saying that now, finally, because of its work, 8-VSB is validated and there is no need to shift to another transmission standard. To paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare, "methinks he protests too much."

The Bard notwithstanding, I believe that it is premature to make such a sweeping statement. We have all heard it before. Nxtwave and Motorola made the same claims three years ago. (What ever did happen to the "miracle chip"?)

We at Sinclair learned very early that the field environment is much more complex than any lab simulation. The Fox and Philips efforts, while noteworthy and a welcome contribution to the database, are nothing more than a data-gathering activity and an algorithm-tweaking exercise to optimize a laboratory computer simulation of a receiver to make it work for known multipath distortions using a space diversity antenna system.

It is important to note that the actual article in the IEEE Transactions concludes that 8-VSB can generally be received indoors if a space diversity antenna is used. Without using such an antenna system, indoor reception of the 8-VSB signal remains problematic even with algorithm-tweaking.

The Fox "solution" is not a simple antenna reception solution. It requires multiple antennas and a receiver calculation capability equivalent to a small supercomputer of a few years ago. How will this become a ubiquitous solution in the marketplace? How will it be implemented for VHF even if it does prove itself in actual field tests? How much of the public will want to deal the much larger size of VHF antennas? Not easily answered questions.

Now that the NAB, ATSC, MSTV and Fox are finally focused on finding a solution for indoor reception using simple antennas—a Sinclair mantra for four years—is it not high time to recognize our continuing contribution and give a little credit to Sinclair for having the courage to illuminate this problem so long ago?