The Future of Television?

You might not have noticed that there's a word in every language for someone who makes predictions. That word is idiot.

Ergo, when my boss approached me about writing about TV technology 20 years in the future, it took me about the duration of an HDTV luma sample to consider the request. I mean -- heck -- just look at two of those words. Twenty years ago practically no one had ever even heard of HDTV, and, as for samples, every digital videotape format except for Ampex's Octoplex had yet to be invented.

"But, Mario, what's an Octoplex? And who's Ampex?"

You've illustrated my point exactly. So, when the boss suggested a peek one score hence, I replied, in my inimitable style, "Yeah, right." To my misfortune, that was interpreted as "Yes, of course," and I was given the assignment. I'd still have pulled out but for one thing. I like to eat.

So I gathered up crystal ball, tea leaves, tarot deck, and bones and was about to buy a ticket to Delphi when Nellie the Neuron bade me look at a hitherto unnoticed file on my steam-powered laptop, 2023TVTnews.doc. Well, what do you know? Through what Kurt Vonnegut called a chronosynclastic infundibulum and what we TV techies know as a timecode hiccup, an article from the future somehow landed on my hard drive, just when I needed it! Whew!

I ain't seen this stuff before, either, so I take no responsibility for what it says (but then when have I ever taken responsibility for anything?).

Pals, welcome to 2023.


The Federal Communications Commission announced today that it has granted the 43rd six-month extensions of time to construct digital television transmission facilities to 303 of the 304 stations that requested them. The 304th was chastised by e-mail using moderately strong, but neither obscene nor indecent, language.

The National Association of Broadcaster (NAB) immediately commended the move. "We are pleased that the government is cooperating in speeding the transition to digital broadcasting at a reasonable pace."

Sole NAB member (and 2,000-station owner) ACFN Warner joined in the praise, cautioning that it was premature to discuss a shutdown date for analog transmissions. The broadcaster pointed to the 212-member Jones family as a reason why analog TV was still necessary. "The Joneses have spread across the U.S.A., with one relative in each market. They don't own digital-TV receivers, and they all vote." Congress immediately passed a resolution asking the FCC to extend analog broadcasting as necessary to keep up with the Joneses.

• • •

Las Vegas

TiVo, the largest exhibitor at the NAB Show, announced a breakthrough in magnetic recording. The company calls it LDT (linear disk technology).

"If you think of the information on a disk as being recorded in a spiral," said a company press release, "then you can think of LDT as a sort of unwound disk. We've discovered that information may be recorded on a magnetically coated film or, as we like to call it, 'tape.' The tape doesn't offer the random access to programming that our customers have become accustomed to, but it does allow programming to be exchanged between machines in a convenient physical package."

TiVo developed a portable Containment and Spooling System (CASS) for the tape. The original was the size of a small suitcase, which was acceptable but inconvenient. After determining that the tape did not have to be as wide as the diameter of a typical disk, however, TiVo engineers managed to reduce the size of the container to about that of a palmtop computer. The smaller system is dubbed a "CASS-ette."

• • •


NHK, the Japan Broadband Corporation, has called upon western governments to create new alphabetic characters. After the company developed HDTV, it moved on to ultra-HDTV, with twice the resolution of HDTV in each direction. Then came very-HDTV, with twice the UHDTV resolution. Whoppingly-HDTV came next, followed by eXtremely-HDTV a few years ago, with 32k x 16k resolution.

"Viewers of XHDTV are very pleased with the pictures; they offer a sense of reality that cannot be achieved with mere WHDTV," said NHK's Director of Ongoing Resolution Increases. "But, someday, as human beings improve, there will, of course, be a need for finer detail. Unfortunately, we will soon run out of letters in Romaji [the Japanese term for the Roman alphabet]."

NHK believes its labs can increase image resolution indefinitely, but, of course, there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet. "If something is not done, television might never achieve the goal of a trillion pixels per frame."

• • •


Next year, on the 60th anniversary of British television's move from 405-line to 625-line analog TV, the UK government will begin to phase in digital HDTV broadcasts. A new channel, BBC-26, will initially carry only one hour of the HDTV broadcasts per week, but it is expected that the other 25 BBC channels will soon add the higher-resolution signals, followed by commercial broadcasters.

"The Americans have been saying that we missed the HDTV boat when we adopted standard-definition digital television in 1998, but now the joke's on them," said the government's Minister of Transatlantic Gloating. "As we did when we leapfrogged their 525-line system in 1964, we will now have more detailed pictures than any U.S. channel's."

The transition is expected to be completed rapidly. Current plans are to shut down SDTV broadcasts no later than 2050.

• • •

Mumbai, India

On a visit to Bollywood, Motion Picture Association president Jack Valenti, looking remarkably good after his recent age-reversal treatments, decried "wishy-washy" anti-piracy efforts. "Those who would destroy the livelihoods of movie moguls must be stopped," he said.

"Internet content-protection and digital-watermarking schemes have provided only halfway measures. No matter what the electronics industries have come up with, viewers are still able to tell others what they saw and heard."

Valenti compared the problem to the "living books" at the end of the movie Fahrenheit 451, people who could recite the complete content of books that might be burned, "depriving publishers of any revenues that might be forthcoming at the end of the book-burning era." A proposed solution involves advances in inductive neurology.

Through appropriate stimulation of the sensory cortices of the brain, viewers will get perfect pictures and sounds -- better than XHDTV -- as well as smells, tastes, and feel. When viewers unplug themselves, a quick data burst will eliminate all memory of the experience. "Not only will there be no more oral piracy, but audiences will be willing to see the same movie over and over again."

Asked whether the proposed anti-piracy direct-stimulation and memory-destruction system was based on some science-fiction movie, Valenti replied, "None that I can recall."

• • •

San Francisco

Scientists at Dolby Laboratories say they have determined that a sensation of "true" Surround Sound requires 60 separate loudspeakers, arranged in an egg-like shape around the listener. Fifty-nine of the speakers need full fidelity, but the 60th requires only 99 percent of the bandwidth used by the other channels. The system is, therefore, called 59.99.

"We are pleased that we can finally put an end to the need to keep increasing numbers of Surround Sound channels," said the manager of the "ultimate surround" project. DTS applauded the move but indicated its research showed 69.99 was better than 59.99.

• • •

Somewhere Out There

Fragmented information suggests that the central master control room for all of the world's television and digital-cinema content is to be located on the planet Mars. Reasons for the remote location include freedom from terrorists and union organizers and low-humidity and -temperature conditions for media storage.

Preliminary plans reportedly called for just a single master-control operator. Although ACFN Warner International Centralcast was said to be unconcerned about sleep, meals, and bathroom breaks, age-reversal treatments were considered too expensive a mechanism to deal with senility and death.

A breeding pair of technically competent humans is, therefore, being sought. Benefits include all the programming you'd ever care to watch. To apply, just think of the job -- now.