Broadcasters must have equipment in place by next month
Television stations across the country are facing a Feb. 1 deadline to upgrade their DTV transmissions to include correct channel and programming information as part of their Program and System Information Protocol (PSIP) data.
With many different vendors providing various parts of the system, there is some last-minute head scratching about how to get the data collected and fed to the proper equipment. Some stations have already been on the air with DTV signals that meet the FCC mandate, while others are still scrambling to get the technology in place and debugged. It's going to be close.
One station that has been up and running for several months with the required PSIP data is WRGB in Schenectady, N.Y. The station's PSIP data includes an electronic programming guide that's updated every three hours as well as major/minor channel information for its CBS and UPN broadcasts.
"We've been running dynamic PSIP using our VCI traffic system and Triveni PSIP generator," said Fred Lass, director of engineering for WRGB.
The station then feeds this to its Tandberg Television encoder for its digital broadcast. The data includes updated programming information for both its CBS and UPN offerings, which the station passes through in HD for CBS while maintaining an SD feed for UPN.
WRGB was able to jump ahead of the game with effective use of in-house talent, according to Lass.
"I have a software guy who likes challenges," he said, singling out Peter Hutchins as the enterprising engineer who tackled the project.
Although WRGB meets the FCC's mandated PSIP information requirement, the station's early-adopter status caused another concern.
"We're looking to change our system to meet the new ATSC standard for PSIP metadata," Lass said.
In addition to requiring electronic program guide (EPG) information, the FCC mandate also calls for the implementation of the transmission signal identification, or TSID. The TSID is a 16-bit number that associates a station's analog transmission with its digital transmission, and is key to maintaining "channel branding" of DTV broadcasters.
Each broadcaster will receive two TSIDs--one each for its analog and digital transmissions--and will include the TSID on line 21 of the analog broadcast and in the PSIP data for its digital broadcast.
Although integration into a broadcast plant is not the same for every station, solutions exist to meet the PSIP requirement.
"The gear is out there," said Earl Arbuckle, vice president of engineering for the Fox Television Group.
The Pearl PSIP generator/injector from Thales Broadcast and Multimedia is the company's PSIP generator, editor and injector. A Pearl system receives schedule information from multiple sources and generates PSIP tables; using its ASI output, Pearl injects the data into Thales' or other company's multiplexer for DTV transmission.
The solution from Harris Broadcast is its PSIPplus, which compiles EPG and channel information and supplies it to the company's FlexiCoder and UniCoder DTV encoders. PSIPplus supports automatic data importation from traffic and automation systems, as well as data from program listing services including Tribune Media Services.
Relative newcomer Lynx Pro Products recently announced its TVLynx PSIP generator, which has interfaces for TMS and Crispin automation systems and provides the data on either an ASI or Ethernet port.
MAKING PSIP EASIER
Although stations are responsible for their PSIP data, many broadcast programming from networks and the networks are angling to do what they can to make the PSIP requirements as simple as possible to their affiliates. Fox plans to use the Terayon BP5100 to "splice" between network and local-affiliate DTV broadcasts, eliminating the need to decode and re-encode the signal. The result will be glitch-free programming and PSIP data.
"We wanted to avoid the second compression cycle," said Jim DeFillipis, senior VP of TV engineering for Fox Television. "We use the best available compression at the net work level to keep the quality as high as possible for the viewer."
With FCC mandated dynamic PSIP with TSID, the need follows to monitor the MPEG signal to ensure the data is correct. One company to address this monitoring issue is Pixelmetrix, whose DVStation can monitor nearly any parameter associated with DTV signals.
Although TV stations are rushing to implement dynamic PSIP and TSID, not all broadcast circumstances will be immediately handled by the first generation of PSIP products. Two engineers interviewed for this article said that the current systems would not automatically accommodate a program "run-over" event, such as a football game in overtime or a breaking news story.
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Bob Kovacs is the former Technology Editor for TV Tech and editor of Government Video. He is a long-time video engineer and writer, who now works as a video producer for a government agency. In 2020, Kovacs won several awards as the editor and co-producer of the short film "Rendezvous."