Broadcasters are boosting their DTV signals to full power. And that means big business for antenna suppliers. Their analog business has also improved.
Many stations opted for a "minimal system" when they launched DTV, says Jay Martin, vice president of marketing for Dielectric. But now, as they upgrade their DTV facilities, Dielectric is seeing secondary DTV sales.
In November 2001, the FCC allowed broadcasters to temporarily transmit DTV signals at less than full power.
"What the market is waiting for is when maximization is going to be required," says Martin. "We should know that before NAB. The number I've heard is July 1, 2005, for the top 400 stations, and everyone else will get a year reprieve."
Dielectric's major product introduction for NAB 2004 is a broadband UHF array for analog or digital applications, the TFU-WB. The low-windload, mid-bandwidth antenna can handle up to 30 UHF channels. It's available in high-power (80-kW) and low-power (20-kW) versions with 8 to 32 bays. The antenna is supplied with a full radome and can be used in top- or side-mounted configurations. "It can be used as a master antenna system or as an analog and digital," says Martin.
Another factor in a station's antenna purchase is whether it will move back to its original NTSC channel assignment when it stops analog and digital simulcasting. Bob Groome, domestic sales manager of Jampro Antennas, says that affects primarily broadcasters with a high-VHF-band NTSC allocation, such as Ch. 5-13. "We've had a lot of re-engineering requests to make sure the existing antenna is capable of doing digital from stations that are trying to get back on the VHF frequencies."
In most cases, the analog antennas can be reconfigured, he explains, noting that all Jampro antennas since 1993 "have been built with digital in mind."
Also benefiting from the DTV upgrade is Electronics Research Inc. (ERI), a broadcast-tower integrator and FM-antenna manufacturer. The company entered the TV-antenna market with its November 2003 acquisition of Andrew Corp.'s antenna division and expects strong sales this year.
Among new transmission products that ERI will be showing in Las Vegas are a 250-W UHF bandpass filter, the BPF250, and the SL (Stretch Line) low-cost VHF or UHF channel combiner that merges two frequencies located at least three channels apart.
"We're seeing a significant improvement in the digital side of the business. Broadcasters are replacing analog transmitters that have long been neglected," says Bill Harland, product line manager for ERI's antenna division. "There are 30- and 40-year-old antennas that are being replaced."
Replacing neglected analog antennas is one reason the market is expected to pick up. But it's the stations that are ready for the jump to full-power digital that hold the most promise.