The Digital TV and High Definition Update

I’ve so many faith-based broadcasters ask me about where we are in the digital transition, I wanted to update people on when, where, and how it’s happening. I went to my friend Stephen Rosen at TV Magic, to get the latest information:

As of today, Congress has mandated Feb 17, 2009 as the day that NTSC, analog, goes away and DTV begins. DTV IS NOT HD. There is no requirement that broadcasters put an HD signal on their DTV transmissions. That said, there is a very interested model being worked on by broadcasters to use their over the air bandwidth for multi-casting. Namely, putting multiple digital program signals on air within the allocated frequency and bandwidth. This may be a combination of 1 HD and several SD, or, just several SD. By the time we get to 2009, the compressions schemes could allow much more flexibility on the number of multi-cast channels possible.

Items of note:

SD can still be 16×9 as 16×9 is an aspect ratio and not a resolution, i.e. 480P, 720P, 1080i, etc…
FCC required all broadcasters to have their DTV transmissions up and running effective July 2006 – most have made it and are running BOTH analog (NTSC) and digital (DTV) programming as of today
There is some discussion now, with the democratic Congress, that they may change this 2009 date under the belief that there are funding and other issues associated with “old” televisions that won’t decode the CTV signal and the gov’ts feelings that they need to subsidize this group
There is no requirement for sat delivered, or cable delivered, or other than over the air broadcasters to make this transition
The transition is just NTSC goes bye bye, and digital (DTV) begins as the only over the air format – broadcasters will be required to “turn off” their analog transmitters
At CES, there are new requirements that all NEW televisions, (for 42” and bigger this has already been in effect) have the ability to decode a digital signal without the use of an external box – of course this will remain a problem for older TV’s that are analog only and therefore, the subsidy issue in number 3 above
IMPORTANT – as of today – there is NO requirement for cable co’s to must carry anything but the primary channel from the local broadcasters. This means, secondary multi-cast channels are not guaranteed cable shelf space

My guess, my crystal ball, most over the air broadcasters will have an HD channel as their primary over the air channel which will be rebroadcast on cable effective Feb 17, 2009. That said, I don’t see the REQUIREMENT to produce in HD, only the advantages of producing in HD versus SD. Also, by 2009, I’m guessing here based on pricing trends I see in the market, but, I figure it will cost less or the same to build an HD infrastructure versus an SD making the decision a bit easier – HD.

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  1. It is unfortunate that many DTV stations will just convert their SD/4:3 image to 420i/4:3 until their analog (or SD digital) equipment is cost prohibitive to fix – before making the leap to HD.  I give it 5-10 years (after the analog cutoff) before this begins to happen.  From the broadcaster’s point of view (in italics below) part of the problem is the schizoid choices:

  2. 4:3 or 16:9 – 4:3 was good enough for me.  Plus all our archive shows are in 4:3 – how can we afford to reformat everything?
  3. 18 DTV Resolutions – From 420 to 1080 (9) – interlaced or progressive (x2) – Say we produce all our programs in 1080i but other programs we air are produced in 420i, 480p, 720p!
  4. No Video Playback Standard – Over 50 years we went from 2” to BetaSP that everyone used with no problem.  Soon it will be DVD, DVCAM, DVCPro (do I have to list all the flavors), Digital Betacam, HD Betacam, XDCAM, Blu-ray, HD-DVD!  No matter what format we choose it will be the wrong one.  Then don’t get me started on the various ways to encode/decode audio from 2.0 to 5.1!

      Does this help you to understand their frustration and hesitancy to act?  The complexity makes it all the more difficult but eventually the dust will settle and even the smallest of stations will change.  "It's a brave new world."

  • I’m hoping it all heads towards being 100% progressive, I eagerly look forward to the day I no longer have to think about fields and the problems they can cause!

    No doubt we’ll still end up with different standards between countries… Although wouldn’t it make life easy if globally everything was 50p or 60p!

  • I’m probably dreaming, but I’d really like to see the Christian community take the lead on the HD transition. It’s no doubt difficult from a financial point of view, but if done carefully, Stephen Rosen is right – it can be done without breaking the bank. Right now, networks of all kinds are looking for HD material. When I directed the comedy show “Thou Shalt Laugh” for Warner Brothers, they asked us to shoot in HD because so many more networks would want it. That should be a wake up call that as believers, we have a real open door for HD programming…

  • I dream a lot too – that the Christian community – especially urban ministries – just get with the times. Because a lot of pastors do not have a high value on marketing and technology, their churches suffer and they are not relating to new audiences in an effective way. They are losing the HIP HOP generation.  But, when a ministry does embrace technology – they become a mega-ministry. The harvest is ripe – we need more laborers in the field show them how it is done.  Pam Perry, Ministry Marketing Solutions.com

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