LAS VEGAS — In an attempt to set aside their differences and cooperatively promote digital television, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) unveiled plans at the latter's recent convention, here, to kick off a major digital TV promotional campaign this fall.
The deal between the two industry groups represents a work in progress, with tentative plans for a promotional effort in a few markets this fall followed by an expansion of the campaign in 2002. Neither group is indicating how much will be spent to raise public awareness of DTV beyond saying NAB's financial commitment is "significant."
The TV and print campaign will plug both the availability of digital TV sets and local stations' high-definition broadcasts that can be seen on them.
Details remain to be hammered out, starting with CEA's CEO Summit in Lake Tahoe, Calif., on June 20 that will include some of the major players among the 625 companies CEA represents, along with representatives of NAB. "I think this is a process. There's not one defining moment," said Gary Shapiro, CEA president.
The CEA faced a choice, according to Shapiro, of seeking cooperation with broadcasters or continuing to "finger-point" about the slow development of DTV programming and technology among broadcasters and cable operators.
The notable moment of CEA-NAB collaboration to promote DTV arrived after months of conversations between the two organizations, according to Shapiro, who exudes confidence in the ultimate impact of the imminent campaign. "We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it would have an impact. There's an opportunity here for broadcasters and manufacturers to work together to promote a new product."
Sony spokesman Rick Clancy said his company is encouraged by the new accommodation between CEA and NAB: "Everything's incremental and this is certainly an incremental development that should have positive impact. Last year, there were still questions about the modulation transmission standard," he added.
At NAB, Zenith Electronics demonstrated a prototype of a new modulation scheme dubbed E-VSB that is compatible with the prevailing standard 8-VSB and can deliver both signals simultaneously. Zenith claims it offers improved robustness in delivering DTV signals and the promise of enabling eventual datacasting applications. "It will significantly improve indoor reception and reception for portable set," said Zenith spokesman John Taylor.
Zenith plans to field test a second generation of its variable modulation DTV hardware in September, according to Taylor.
Results of the most recent VSB-COFDM modulation tests conducted at TV stations in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Cleveland gave high marks to the 8-VSB scheme, according to Robert Seidel, CBS engineering and advanced technology VP. During his presentation of the report at NAB, Seidel said the results indicated COFDM would reduce potential DTV viewing by 5.9 percent, effectively cutting 14 percent of U.S. TV households out of the picture because they wouldn't receive sufficient signal. Reception via 8-VSB was much better for 30-foot outdoor antennas, although the difference for indoor receivers was negligible.
On the datacasting front, Thomcast revealed plans to expand its current test bed for datacasting beyond KGBY-TV in Springfield, Mass., to include other public television stations this year and possibly a few commercial stations as well, according to Ted Karam, development engineer for Thomcast. The datacasting product will be rolled out commercially by year's end.
NAB booths offered a conspicuous absence of new DTV receivers. A DTV Store exhibit at the show included a 53-inch Hitachi progressive scan monitor ($3,500), a 50-inch plasma monitor from Pioneer ($17,000) and a 50-inch Samsung Tantus rear-projection TV monitor ($7,000).
But the DTV sets on display that seemed to draw the most favorable notices from DTV Store visitors were flat screen direct view monitors from Philips, which displayed a 34-inch model ($4,000) and Sony, which displayed its latest 34-inch Wega direct view DTV screen ($4,000) for the first time at a major public venue.
"It takes full advantage of the Trinitron technology. Clearly, the flat screen enhances the picture," said Sony's Clancy.
Beyond the technology itself, the crucial enhancement consumers are awaiting is the advent of more HDTV programming. And while ABC and NBC are still approaching HD production very tentatively, CBS continues to move on an aggressive track to add more HDTV broadcasts and improve its approach to production.
The network's productions of the NCAA Final Four competition and the Masters Golf Tournament shared some cameras, according to Ken Aagaard, senior vice president of CBS Sports. CBS produced a fully integrated production of the Sony Open in January and plans to do more with college football this fall, along with other individual productions. "The whole idea is to get it more economical so we need only one crew."
Achieving that kind of economy seems certain to spark an increase in HD production on the sports side, where conventional wisdom says avid HD viewing will take place for the foreseeable future.
Richard Tedesco is Web Editor with TWICE's sister publication Broadcasting & Cable.