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OK, suppose the national interest and economic forces dictate that must of the TV broadcast spectrum now devoted to over-the-air (OTA) TV be allocated to broadband services. With that premise being accepted, is there a way to preserve free TV, have mobile TV services and provide a quality experience for viewers? The answer is yes, there is! Several ideas proposed by various ATSC Mobile/Handheld (M/H) stakeholders could be combined into one comprehensive scheme that would deliver all three objectives.

The basis of this unified proposed plan is to use only one or two existing six MHz stations, transmitting ATSC M/H sub-channels, in each marketing area to provide all free OTA services in that area. One six MHz station could provide at least five M/H 240x425 pixel 30fps A/V sub-channels and one standard ATSC (MPEG 2) legacy sub-channel plus one or two M/H low rate data sub-channels. In addition, in the commercial “reverse direction,” the extra space freed-up by M/H could give major cable networks (such as CNN, FNS, Discovery, etc.) the opportunity to broadcast using M/H sub-channels as “premium” content. That would be a “win, win, win” for these cable networks, non-affiliated broadcasters and consumers.

Using the ATSC M/H standard for traditional network and local programming sources would not only expand the coverage of such programming to mobile applications but also would enhance the reception reliability of “fixed” receivers. In essence the aggregate programming penetration would increase. However, there are salient technical disadvantages to this scheme: incompatibility with legacy digital tuners and poor discernable picture resolution when viewed on any but very small (cell phone-sized) screens. Therefore, a development or two is needed.

One such needed development is a high quality, inexpensive video up-converter that can accurately real-time interpolate from 100K pixels/frame to at least 1M pixels/frame. That capability is now being approached as witnessed by the highly accurate interpolation algorithms now being used in high frame rate (120Hz, 240Hz, etc.) display systems to minimize motion artifacts.

To accommodate legacy TV sets, the other development needed is a similarly inexpensive RF converter system that tunes ATSC M/H, transcodes and outputs remodulated ATSC and NTSC (channels 3/4) and/or baseband A/V via HDMI. Again, both of these systems have been virtually developed but not optimized, cost reduced or physically refined for commercial packaging.

No doubt, very soon, M/H tuners will be incorporated in all new TV sets manufactured – that’s a “no-brainer.” But if the proposal as described is adopted, a combined tuner mandate would be required along with an ATSC MPEG 2 sunset date. Sun-setting MPEG 2 would free-up spectrum for even more M/H applications.

So, where does this scheme leave HDTV and “full resolution” 3D? The answer is where it is migrating to now - where the needed bandwidth exists: cable, satellite, IP broadband (i.e. internet/”cloud”) and personal fixed media such as disc and eventually, flash. This way HDTV can progress more easily to its next level of performance (SHTV) without the constraints of compatibility with a broadcast standard.

Technically, everything is in place or under development to accomplished a complete broadcast migration to this plan, however, regulatory and commercial tasks are daunting. But if such a proposal as described herein is embraced, we indeed will have it all three ways.


Posted by Ed Milbourn, February 22, 2011 7:56 AM

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About Ed Milbourn

After graduating from Purdue University with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Industrial Education in 1961 and 1963 respectively, Ed Milbourn joined the RCA Home Entertainment Division in 1963. During his thirty-eight year career with RCA (later GE and Thomson multimedia), Mr. Milbourn held the positions of Field Service Engineer, Manager of Technical Training and Manager of Sales Training. In 1987, he joined Thomson's Product Management group as Manager of Advanced Television Systems Planning, with responsibilities including Digital Television and High Definition Television Product Management. Mr. Milbourn retired from Thomson multimedia in December 2001, and is now a Consumer Electronics Industry consultant.