New 8-VSB decoder, ATSC tuner technology could change distribution equation

USDTV’s recent announcement that it plans to offer set-top boxes from retail giant Wal-Mart to receive its wireless cable service nationwide is the most recent and possibly the clearest sign that new life is about to be pumped into over-the-air television.

That’s not because USDTV’s business follows the traditional over-the-air broadcast business model of free programming. It doesn’t.

However, it illustrates in a tangible way that the technology is now in place to eliminate the multipath problems and the need for an outdoor antenna that have prevented the vast majority of U.S. television viewers from being able to receive DTV over the air.

At the heart of the new set-top boxes will be a fifth-generation 8-VSB decoder and ATSC tuner from LG Electronics, LG Innotek and subsidiary Zenith, which underwent successful field testing in Baltimore several months ago and most recently performed well amid Manhattan's skyscrapers.

The significance of USDTV’s use of the chip is greater than making the company’s business plan technologically viable. Ultimately, it means that broadcasters have a level playing field on which to attempt to win back viewers from cable and satellite television providers.

Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president of new technology Nat Ostroff said that making it easier to receive the signal widens the potential audience from just the few enthusiasts willing to put up an outdoor antenna. He added that the Zenith (LG) technology will enable broadcasters to reach a mass audience.

Sinclair, which owns or programs 62 television stations across the country, is a USDTV partner in Las Vegas.

Currently, Sinclair is in the process of upgrading its facilities to transmit DTV at full power and is completing HD pass-through work for its FOX and WB network affiliates. Those steps, coupled with a concerted effort to inform viewers that HD programming is available for free, will complement the impending availability of DTV receivers with fifth-generation 8-VSB decoder chips.

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