Weighing in on DTV

FCC hears from backers of 8-VSB and COFDM

The temporary truce over digital TV modulation technology was terminated last week as opposing sides in the debate weighed in for the FCC's first biennial DTV review.

A war of words about the viability of the U.S. DTV standard, which rose to fever pitch last summer after Sinclair Broadcasting said that indoor antennas can't pick up digital signals, has been quiescent since the industry group that designed the technology agreed to reconsider it.

While the group, the Advanced Television Systems Committee, was contrite in its comments last week, other supporters of today's standard weren't ceding ground to Sinclair and its allies, which include NBC and station groups controlling roughly 300 outlets.

"It is crystal clear that the DTV standard should be reaffirmed," the Consumer Electronics Association told the FCC. "Consideration of any changes [making DTV receivers noncompatible] would create needless delay and marketplace confusion."

Zenith Electronics Corp., which holds key 8-VSB patents, played down the problem last week, saying that indoor 8-VSB reception was poor "in a relatively small number" of urban markets. Zenith predicted that receiver improvements would solve those difficulties soon.

Sinclair countered that 8-VSB supporters are ignoring the facts. "Miracle chips that were promised last summer have not yet materialized, and the chip vendors who made those promises are now admitting that acceptable improvements are years away," Sinclair said.

The NAB set its sights on the slow pace of the digital rollout, which it blamed on the dearth of cable-compatible DTV sets. The NAB implored the FCC to require that all new DTV sets be capable of receiving both analog and digital signals.

As for the FCC's field tests, measurements are in the very early stages. The agency plans to take as many as 200 measurements in the Baltimore-Washington area over the next three months with various generations of 8-VSB receivers, said Deputy Engineering Chief Bruce Franca.