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DTV Summit Panelists: ‘We Support 8-VSB’

CEMA president Gary Shapiro issued his support for the ATSC standard vestigial sideband (8-VSB) modulation over-air TV broadcasting scheme over the COFDM format being championed by Sinclair Broadcasting by letting members of the broadcasting and content industries speak for him at the recent DTV Summit in Los Angeles.

At press time, Sinclair Broadcasting had announced its intention to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to reopen the DTV standard to adopt the COFDM modulation scheme. CEMA responded with a reaffirmation statement for 8-VSB and an assertion that the Advanced Television Standard Commission’s DTV spec should remain intact.

At the summit a week earlier, Shapiro seized the dais to ask the panelists for their thoughts on the possibility that Sinclair might soon challenge the FCC to reconsider its adoption of the 8-VSB specification.

The panelists included Capitol Broadcasting senior VP John Greene, CBS engineering & technology VP Robert Seidel, HBO VP Bob Zitter, and Robert Hopkins, Sony Pictures senior VP and a contributor to the ATSC standard-setting process. All offered their support for 8-VSB, except Zitter, who abstained.

Not surprisingly, an earlier panel of consumer electronics manufacturers also issued unanimous support for 8-VSB.

Citing the expressions of VSB support, Shapiro declared to the audience: “For a long period of time, CEMA did not address the issue because we thought it would go away. Now we are addressing it” through the consensus of the panels.

CBS’s Seidel said his network “supports the 8-VSB position as a technology that is working, that can work and that needs time to develop further.” He explained that while some of the first-generation digital receivers had signal-decoding problems, the difficulty was with the individual sets, not with the 8-VSB system, and that improvements are being made on the equipment and semiconductor fronts.

He said it seems Sinclair’s objections stem from “testing individual box performance, rather than testing the quality of the system.”

He said tests showed the 8-VSB system performed well out to the fringes, so signals could be received with an outdoor antenna both close to the transmitter and in more remote locations. He added that he thought Sinclair’s tests had generated signal ghosts “that were outside of the established criteria” for selection.

Sony’s Hopkins added that changing the modulation type now could introduce problems with other components in the standard.

During the event, Shapiro announced that cumulative DTV sales to dealers passed the 50,000-unit mark at the end of August. The figures don’t distinguish between DTV-ready and fully-integrated sets. During a retail panel discussion, Tom Campbell, a director for the Ken Cranes A/V retail chain, said Cranes has sold over 1,000 DTV sets to date.

Todd Thibodeaux, CEMA senior economist, offered new research showing 51% of consumers surveyed believe their next TV will be digital, although that purchase may not be made for eight years. Only 17% said they would not consider buying a DTV set, while 21% said they would not purchase an analog big-screen set. Also, 57% said they would not buy a DVD player.

Thibodeaux said that more than 16 million families have visited a retail store to see a DTV demonstration and 52% of those indicated they would be back in three months for a second look and that 80% of them expect their next set to be digital.

Meanwhile, pricing continued to be the biggest concern, with 40% of consumers surveyed listing it as an inhibiting factor.

Among those who have purchased DTV sets, 95% said picture resolution was important in their buying decision, while 69% cited improved sound quality. Interactivity influenced 32% to buy, and the need to be the first on the block with a DTV swayed 26%.

All said they were satisfied with their picture quality, and 74% approved of the audio. Though only 28% were satisfied with the HDTV programming available in their area, 63% indicated 18 months is a reasonable period for broadcasters and cable operators to begin offering HDTV.