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Line Out

FIRST OF ALL, DTV DOES NOT EQUAL HDTV. IT'S MAINLY non-technical journalists who make and promote the confusion between digital television, DTV, and high-definition

Line Out

Feb 1, 2002 12:00 PM,
By David E. Mentley

FIRST OF ALL, DTV DOES NOT EQUAL HDTV. IT’S MAINLY non-technical journalists who make and promote the confusion between digital television, DTV, and high-definition television, HDTV. Many assume that the new digital TV system is HDTV and only HDTV. This is not so. DTV is a distribution or delivery system, and HDTV is one option available within the DTV delivery system.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee, a group of industry representatives and academic researchers, developed a set of standards for advanced television broadcast. The four basic ATSC formats include two standard-definition and two high-definition pixel formats. So, DTV includes two non-HDTV formats: 640×480 pixels and 704×480 pixels. These formats may be broadcast in a compressed, digital signal over the airwaves.

This confusion is pretty easy to clarify, especially for readers of S&VC, so let’s turn to some other myths that are frequently cited as fact, but are simply not true.

Myth 1: All Existing Televisions Will Be Obsolete by 2006. After many years of missed starts and moving in the wrong direction, the Federal Communications Commission finally mustered enough power to push through the new broadcasting system. Without a forceful champion behind it, the new system would have been just an academic exercise of no significance. In order to make the point very clear to all parties, a deadline was added for terminating the existing over-the-air broadcast system. This was a wise move from the implementation point of view; however, it was a poor move from a public relations perspective.

Some public resentment has risen against the unilateral imposition of a new and expensive TV system. This is due in part to news stories that point out the astronomical prices of HDTV receivers — and remember that many consumers still believe that DTV equals HDTV. Most people know they cannot afford to pay $2000 to $4000 for their next television, and when they hear that they will have to buy a digital television to receive a signal after 2006, they can become frustrated and angry. Much of the anger is directed at agencies of the U.S. government, but again, it’s all based on the wrong belief that DTV is the same as HDTV. This myth and the anger that comes from it are merely the unintended result of trying to force the market to respond to a fuzzy set of expectations.

Myth 2: Digital TV Broadcasting Is Just Beginning. Digital broadcasting began with direct satellite broadcasting in the early 1990s and has attained 11% penetration among U.S. households. The satellite broadcasts in Europe and in the United States make good use of digital broadcasting. While the high quality of the digital signal is clearly an attractive feature of satellite service, it is not really the most important aspect. Instead, the fact that the signals can be compressed by four to 10 times is an important feature. Delivering 150 to 200 channels with many options for pay-per-view and special interest channels provides the revenue base that makes the satellite system viable. The picture quality is noticeably better than a typical analog cable picture, and yet this has not been a huge selling point for satellite systems.

Myth 3: Flat-Panel Displays Are High-Definition Displays. One of the most pervasive myths is the notion that only flat-panel displays can deliver HDTV quality. This might stem from the observation that desktop LCD monitors now look so good. But these new flat-panel monitors are best-suited for use with a computer; they are not good television displays because they cannot be economically made in screen sizes larger than 30 inches diagonal. Plasma displays are available now in the 32 — 64-inch range, but production models are only at the maximum NTSC standard for screen resolution, although steady improvements are being made.

Where does this myth come from? In the late 1980s, a plan was orchestrated mainly by the American Electronics Association to push HDTV into the political arena as a method for boosting the status of consumer electronics in the U.S. Flat-panel displays were cited as the best way to view HDTV. No real factual or technological basis existed for this, but it fit into the political agenda. The AEA suggested that Congress allocate about $1 billion to develop HDTV and the flat-panel displays to enable the system. The program was a huge failure, but the sales pitch to market flat-panel displays for HDTV has apparently succeeded.

David E. Mentley is senior vice president at iSuppli/Stanford Resources, a corporation offering market intelligence services to help buyers and sellers of electronic components make strategic procurement decisions. Visit or for more information.

Line Out is a monthly forum for audio and video contracting professionals to share their viewpoints on industry topics. We welcome your contributions to this space. Submit manuscripts of 750 words to: Line Out, S&VC, 6400 Hollis Street, Suite 12, Emeryville, CA 94608. Include a daytime phone. We’ll contact you if we choose to run your submission.

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