As 2004 ended, there was optimism about Nextel's plan to convert broadcast auxiliary stations on 2 GHz from analog to digital. Although the Sprint-Nextel merger in 2005 ("Sprixtel"?) raised some concerns, the transition appears to be going on as it was before the merger. While some stations were reportedly not happy with the level of equipment or capability that Sprint-Nextel agreed to supply ( mainly when split-channel operation was involved), the transition seems to be proceeding smoothly in most markets.
The real test will come as stations make the move from analog to digital with their new equipment. The transition is multi-step process, first requiring modification of existing FCC licenses, then operation using narrow band modulation on the old channel plan and finally a switch to narrow band operation on the new 12 MHz wide channel plan. This transition won't be easy in large and spread out markets such as Los Angeles, where stations need multiple receive sites for proper coverage. Many will be watching to see how the first market transition goes.
Once ENG is converted to digital, the next question is how do you transmit HDTV back to the studio? To maintain HDTV quality, this will likely involve video bit-rate reduction using advanced codecs such as MPEG-4 H264, Windows Media, or by using higher order modulation on the microwave links and accepting a reduction in the robustness that broadcasters enjoy today with COFDM and standard definition bit-rates.
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