Stuffing DTV into A 5-Pound Bag

You might not have noticed, but we've have been hearing a lot about 3DTV lately, and it doesn't seem to be a joke. We have also read that 3D movies are waning in popularity, but this has not deterred TV set manufacturers from flogging 3D sets.

Some cable networks are offering 3D to their viewers. One of these is ESPN 3D, the enjoyment of which requires a 3D set, a pair of 3D glasses and a special set-top box. In September, CBS, Panasonic, and the USTA offered some US Open Tennis matches in 3D, carried on DirecTV and Comcast.

Now, the ATSC has launched work on a 3DTV broadcast standard. I am not making this up.


In Broadcasting & Cable, we read that, "…the standard will be backwardly compatible to work with existing receivers and will allow 3D content to be delivered over one ATSC terrestrial channel to fixed and mobile receivers, with delivery of both views (left- and right-eye) in real time."

Great Caesar's ghost, Brutus! Simultaneous delivery of HDTV, Mobile DTV, and 3D programs within the same channel!

Mario can recommend an exercise for the fabricators and promoters of this standard. Take a look at your TV set some evening! As fer as Nellie the Neuron can figure, the 19.39 Mbps ATSC transport stream ain't gonna be expanded, and lots of the channels out there today can't deal with the signals they already carry.

Take a peek at all the tiling and other video artifacts and a listen to the audio dropouts that happen on the channels already packed solid with an HD program or two and several full-motion SD subchannels!

Adding Mobile DTV, let alone 3D, is like trying to pack 15 pounds of stuff into a five-pound bag!

It was indisputably true for some time that broadcast television had far better HDTV quality than cable or satellite, because cable and satellite have always bit-starved HD signals so's more signals can be packed into the available spectrum.

Lately, broadcast stations have gotten into the multichannel biz in such a big way that it frequently degrades the primary HD signal. Particularly in the smaller markets—two, count 'em, two!—networks are sometimes carried on the same broadcast channel.


When a lot of fast movement on multiple signals gets going, it can be a visual mess. This is particularly the case when the main channel HD signal is 1080i. A television channel has a hard enough time successfully delivering a single 1080i signal consistently and nothin' else.

Add a few more signals, and a pig's breakfast can ensue. Add a Mobile DTV signal and what do you have? Lord knows. Add a 3D signal, "both views," to that, and the whole durn deal is gonna screech to a blinding halt! Spare me!

And I don't wanna hear about MPEG-4. Nobody in their right mind is gonna propose obsoleting every DTV set that's out there.

And did Mario mention that, to quote a recent article in the New York Post, "The next big thing in TV—3D—is proving such a bomb with consumers, the first victim may be ESPN's sports-in-3D channel?"

We discover that most of the advertisers on said channel are 3DTV set manufacturers.

In the same article Mark Cuban, owner of HDNet and the Dallas Mavericks, says, "3D on TV is a bust." Don't always agree with Mark Cuban, but think he got it right this time.

Large chain stores are suffering in the profits from anemic TV set sales, and 3D ain't helping. Consumers are tee-veed out, folks, but we are broadcasters, so sellin' TV sets ain't our problem is it?

O' course, the ATSC has to be all things to all people in order to justify their continuing existence. (Have y'all noticed that the first and second NTSCs lasted several months each; the BTSC lasted a couple years; but the ATSC is seeking life eternal?)

Mario thinks broadcast television is well worth preserving, but 3D broadcast ain't gonna do it. His advice to television broadcasters is to use the bits to optimize their HD and SD pictures, and not to lie on gimmicks.

Mario Orazio is the pseudonym of a well-known television engineer who wishes to remain anonymous. E-mail him at