The Best Technology At NAB Wasn’t At NAB

When trade magazine people say “NAB,” a few of us are referring to the entire Las Vegas convention experience. That includes the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), the Broadcast Education Association (BEA), the PBS Technology Conference, and the conferences of a number of other organizations that hold meetings concurrent with NAB (and let’s not forget the technology suites). Sometimes what happens in those meetings is more important than what happens on the show floor. That was the case this year.
At this year’s PBS Technology Conference, held at the MGM Convention Center, Zenith held a little demo of enhanced VSB (E-VSB). As part of that demonstration, Zenith showed its fifth-generation regular VSB DTV receiver chipset...a chipset that allows reception in previously impossible indoor locations.
You remember indoor reception (or the lack thereof). While broadcasters are spending millions to produce and transmit H/DTV, indoor reception is considered the number-one problem with DTV reception since second-generation chipsets were under evaluation. Now it looks like the DTV naysayers will have to find a new number-one problem with DTV (tuner performance with adjacent channel interference is a viable candidate).
At the demo, Zenith showed reception comparisons with its second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation VSB chipsets. The new fifth-generation chipset will be integrated within a new set-top box before the end of the year and within DTV sets in 2005.
While Zenith’s new chipset is similar to those under development by two other companies, Zenith claims that it will cut reception difficulties by a factor of two from current fourth-generation chipsets, and a factor of four to five from second-generation chipsets.
How is this possible? For the technically savvy out there, the new fifth-generation chipset has an equalizer range of -50 to +50 and can handle a maximum ghost of 0dB or 100%. This means that receivers based on this chipset can distinguish between a ghost that is just as powerful as the main signal, making DTV reception possible in areas where no analog NTSC reception is possible.
That was part of the demo too—an analog signal with a ghost just as strong produced snow. While a DTV signal with a ghost just as strong produced the pictures we’ve all come to love.
While the fifth-generation chipset did have some minor macroblocking problems when a moving ghost signal (rotating phase) entered the primary signal’s pilot, it was clear from test results using MegaWave and dual Silver Sensor antennas that indoor reception was possible where it had not been before. FYI—Zenith is already at work on sixth-generation VSB chipsets as well as E-VSB (generation “E”) chipsets (STBs with E-VSB chipsets will be available in 2005).
What does this mean to you? That pesky indoor reception issue is now a non-issue. What does this mean to your viewers? All those folks in apartments, townhouses, duplexes, and homes that can’t or don’t want to put up an outdoor antenna might not have to.
What else does this mean? That your station’s web person is going to have to make some changes to your station’s digital television webpage so that folks know what’s coming.
Now all we need is a way to measure DTV audience ratings...but that’s an issue for another time.