Sizing Up the Transition

Iowa DTV Symposium looks to the positive

Welcome to the last Digital Journal of 2002. I generally like to take a look back at some of the topics that I covered in the previous year and update on progress and changes since the articles were published. I'll also spend a little time talking about the Eighth Annual Iowa DTV Symposium that is hosted by Iowa Public TV.

This year's symposium was our most successful yet, with over 400 people from 22 states. On the first half-day we had panels that examined the state of the DTV rollout to the consumers. Everyone involved in the conversion recognizes that consumer acceptance is the most crucial element. Without the audience, the quality and expanded service capabilities offered by DTV technology are meaningless.

The general view from the panel was one of guarded optimism. This year's keynote speaker, Ralph Justus of the CEA, presented some encouraging figures and projections for overall DTV consumer product sales. I heard a few remarks that the consumer figures are actually the number of sets purchased by vendors and not the numbers in homes; however, I don't think the vendors are buying DTV sets to hold on to them. It appears to me they are trying to find ways to sell the product to the consumer.


One idea I have championed within our organization is to look for cooperative promotional opportunities with consumer electronics dealers to promote DTV to consumers. We have met with limited success with this idea. The smaller dealers that cater to the high-end purchaser have been very open and I have done presentations at a number of their facilities throughout the state. Donn Kelley, consumer marketing director for Best Buy, suggested this course of action during the panel discussion, but our experience has been that the larger retailers and chain stores are the least responsive to this idea. In many ways they almost appear to be working against it.

A few months ago, we were set up at a local mall for a weekend and I happened to be out shopping at an Ultimate Electronics store. Whenever I am in these places I like to go over to the TV display and play consumer. I was amazed to find a salesman at this store that told me that there were no DTV stations on the air. When I introduced myself and informed him that there were no less than four DTV stations operational at that very moment he then complained that they would have to put up an antenna. I pointed out that they had an antenna up for the satellite services they sell; he just walked away.

Why do I point this out? Ultimate Electronics, Best Buy and the other chain stores are where most of consumers go for information about this technology. If we leave the rollout of DTV consumer products to these people, I'm afraid we may never see the fulfillment of the promise that is digital television. If you happen to be thinking that this isn't your job, shame on you. Communicating to everyone the value and capabilities of DTV is the only thing that will keep our industry alive and vibrant, so it is not only your job but also your future.


In August, I wrote an article on cabling for a DTV facility and I encouraged engineers to rethink how they viewed wiring in a studio in light of the bandwidths required for the high data rates associated with HD content. At the symposium, Steve Lampen of Belden presented a detailed overview of the topic and provided some practical suggestions on the do's and don'ts of studio wiring.

It was interesting to me that this year I found the most compelling presentation to be on material that over the last 15 or 20 years has been virtually an afterthought. However, as more and more DTV facilities are constructed, it is often the very basic and unglamorous cables and sync signals that corrupt our DTV signals.

Possibly the oddest event that we had at the symposium was the "DTV Smack Down." The Symposium has two separate tracks: one for technical types and one for content creators. As we push forward with DTV and economies and working models change, the line that delineates between technical and creative blurs to the point of invisibility. Yet, in operations through out the U.S. and the world there continues to be this troubled relationship between these two groups, who absolutely must work together to make the conversion a success.

After two-and-a-half days of seminars and panel discussions, many of which overloaded the synapses of the attendees, we put them all together in a room and asked some simple questions like, "How come you engineers never can give me what I want?" or, "Why can't you creative types ever plan ahead?" Much merriment ensued and there were some good exchanges that will be valuable as we try to create the content that is compelling to the viewer receiving the digital signal on the widescreen TV in the house that Jack built.

The presentations from the DTV Symposium are available at the IPTV Web site at Have a great new year and I'll see you in 2003.

Bill Hayes, director of engineering and technology for Iowa PBS, has been at the forefront of broadcast TV technology for 40 years, 23 of them at Iowa PBS. He’s served as president of IEEE’s Broadcast Technology Society, is a Partnership Board Member of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) and has contributed extensively to SMPTE and ATSC.  He is a recipient of Future's 2021 Tech Leadership Award.