Douglas Crockford

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NAB 2004

In April 17-22, nearly 100,000 people attended the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas. It is the world's largest electronic media show, covering all aspects of terrestrial radio and television, including DTV and HDTV.

The Players

The Television Industry in the US is made up of many interconnected groups. The complexity of digital television matches the complexity of the relationships within the industry itself. The Technological Convergence has been completed: all sectors now use the same technology. Broadcasters, for example, have traded vacuum tubes for silicon, just as everyone else has. The largest barriers to the adoption of HDTV are political, not technological.

In times of change, some will get stronger positions and some will get weaker; some new players will emerge and some old players will leave the game. Each of the players is struggling to change the least, while hoping to make the other players unstable. The consequences of this game infest all aspects of the new television systems, including the shape (and number) of remote control units.

This is my summary of the major players in the HDTV Game.

The Technology Keynote was delivered by Donald Norman (Professor of Computer Science, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Northwestern University, former VP Research at Apple Computer), who complained that HDTV systems are too complex for people to use. He said that he has one, and that his wife is unable to use it when he is not home.

Virtually all HDTV sets are being sold today for Home Theater applications, primarily the viewing of DVDs. Virtually no HDTV sets are being sold today primarily for receiving HDTV broadcasts. I heard no mention of this important fact at the NAB Conference.

Standards

Screen Size Equipment Requirement
36" and larger 50% by July, 2004
100% by July 2005
24" to 36" 50% by July 2005
100% by July 2006
All devices 100% by July 2007

Tuner Mandate of August 2002

Television sets must have ATSC digital tuners according to this schedule:

The FCC declined to dictate specific levels of performance. Such matters are left to industry to determine.

The ATSC standards are still evolving. There are new features, such as E-VSB (a robust transmission mode) which are not found in older digital tuners. Older tuners cannot see E-VSB transmissions, so there is already a digital tuner legacy problem.

Cable Plug and Play Order of October 2003

All cable systems are to comply with

Cable systems with activated 750 MHz capacity are to comply with

Set top boxes are to support

I spoke to representatives of Scientific/Atlanta and Motorola, two major digital cable equipment manufacturers. Neither was displaying Plug and Play set top boxes. I was told that the cable operators don't want the Open Cable standards and will be very slow to implement.

If a television set is labeled as "Digital Cable Ready" then it must have these features:

The first model must be tested at a qualified test facility to demonstrate compliance with Uni-Dir-PICS-IO1-030903

The proposed Broadcast Flag is a bit that causes certain outputs to be disabled. The intention is to prevent content from jumping to the Internet.

PSIP

NAB is strongly recommending use of PSIP for supporting program guide material in broadcast programming.

Conference Notes

Digital Television Transition Worldwide

DTV: New Rules of the Road

Cable Issues for Broadcasters

Law & Order: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC

RDS & Data Broadcasting

PVR = Personal Video Recorder

DTV Receiver Technology