Slower but wiser
By Brad Dick, Editorial Director
The differences between the United States and some European countries are no more evident than with the implementation of digital television. It might be compared to the legendary child's story about the fast hare racing the much slower turtle. As the race starts, the much faster hare quickly outpaces the slower turtle. He is literally left in the dust as the hare speeds off towards the finish line — in this case, the digital TV finish line.
Well, we all know what happened. The rabbit's attitude that he was better and that he could take a nap cost him the race. Without wanting to demean either digital TV market, there seems to be a parallel with how both the United States and Europe approached the digital television marketplace. For the United States, being first was paramount. For Europe, a slower but wiser race was in order.
The results of the United States being first are being echoed in many ways, not the least of which is the continuing bickering and blame as to why DTV is failing in the country. Some of this magazines' U.S. readers are adamant that digital television in the United States is not just a bad idea, but may bankrupt hundreds of television stations.
Just as bad for U.S. viewers is that Congress seems poised to suck up to the Hollywood titans and impose severe restrictions on the broadcast and recording of digital signals. The proposed technology would actually obsolete more than 3 million DTVs, literally overnight! So much for my new HDTV receiver! Unfortunately, for those of us who have championed HDTV and digital TV, our investments are now destined for the junkyard.
The problem for the United States has always been that there was never a carefully thought out plan to implement a digital television “system.” There were plenty of public battles over transmission technology, but the other half of the system, the receive side — including TV sets, digital recorders, and cable and satellite set-top boxes — was completely ignored.
On the other hand, Europe seemed more sanguine about digital TV. As a whole, many countries collectively embraced digital television. That's not to say that the debates between COFDM and ATSC weren't interesting and even hotly debated. Remember the Montreux shoot-out?
But, in the end, the delay in selecting a technology may have allowed a certain maturity and commitment to digital television to enter the world marketplace that's not present in the United States.
I suggest that being first carries a price. The first technology isn't necessarily the best technology. And, a complete solution is needed from day one for digital television to become successful. The United States doesn't yet have these elements in place. From where I stand, it looks like the slower, and maybe wiser, pace is the one that will stand the best chance of success.