Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Planning to Survive the Transition

When the FCC started the transition to DTV they assigned analog full-power stations a companion DTV channel. WWNY channel 7's DTV assignment was UHF channel 35. We were assigned the maximum power output of 1000Kw. The assignment was suppose to replicate what is known as the Grade-B service contour of the analog station, but the 1000Kw power cap actually prevented that from happening.

Because our channel 7 analog antenna is situated on the top of our tower (and we were required to operate both analog & DTV transmitters for the transition) we had to mount the channel 35 antenna on the side of the tower. That placement created a null in our coverage, so a directional antenna was utilized to help make-up for the null. The end result is that operating on UHF channel 35, with a side mount, the power cap, and a directional antenna only allows us to serve 80% of what had been channel 7's analog Grade-B service area. UHF frequencies also require high power consumption to replicate the same territory as a VHF frequency and are more affected by the terrain and weather conditions.

It had always been part of the FCC plans in the transition to allow stations to return one of the frequencies assigned to the station for use during the transition. Even though United Communication Corporation invested over a million dollars in channel 35 transmission equipment, we always had planned to revert back to channel 7 for final DTV operations. We could re-use the top-mounted omni-directional antenna and could operate with a less energy consuming transmitter. We also could gain back some of the service area lost from that UHF assignment.

Unfortunately as it now stands that is not the case. The final channel assignment table does allow WWNY to revert back to channel 7, but with the technical parameters assigned to channel 35. Friday was an important day in the life of WWNY-DT and the public we serve. On Friday we submitted an application to amend our assignment, to better replicate the analog Grade-B contour. Since it is a goal of the FCC for stations to continue to serve the public they always have, and since this amendment will not adversely affect anyone we are confident we will receive it. It is just another challenge we faced in the transition to 100% digital operations.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Watertown Broadcasters Embrace DTV

Many folks, including myself, think free over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting may experience a renaissance. After all, our world is all about being digital and wireless. Being digital brings better pictures, sound and multicast channels...and all these free services are available without your TV set being tied to a wire (cable, satellite or phone/telco service) which you pay for. Some television purists also content that OTA HDTV broadcasts provide a better picture than HDTV broadcasts on cable or satellite.

In 1954 when WWNY-TV started broadcasting it was the only OTA broadcast program service available in the "Watertown DMA". (DMA is a Nielsen ratings term for the North Country television market, which encompasses Jefferson, Lewis & St Lawrence Counties.) In the 70's Public TV began broadcasting...in the 80's WWTI, an ABC affiliate was added...in 2001 WWNY added FOX to the market on WNYF FOX-28.

Today the Watertown DMA is served by these three groups ... all offering one program service in HDTV and additional standard definition (SD) multicast channels...a total of 7 free OTA DTV broadcast channels.

WWNY-DT offers CBS in HDTV and the programming of FOX in SD, we've been offering this digital service since 2002. WWTI offers ABC programming in HDTV and SD programming of the CW. WPBS offers two SD channels and one HDTV channel.

Seven free channels of ghost & static-free programming...the Watertown broadcasters have truly embraced DTV...isn't it time you do too?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The NAB Message

As previously noted this Station, the Broadcast Industry, Consumer Electronics Industry, the FCC, and Congressional leaders...all want you to understand the changes that will occur in 2009 as the TV industry moves from analog broadcasts to digital broadcasts. This is esspcially important if you are an over-the-air viewer.

The National Association of Broadcasters plans to provide speakers to community groups to explain the transition. Its anticipated that over 8000 speeches reaching 1 Million persons will occur between now and February 17, 2009.

The NAB has produced a great video, which you might see if you attend one of these meetings. WWNY/WNYF is providing this on-line copy to you here...


video

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NEW INFO, Cable and the Transition

Yesterday the FCC passed rulings on how cable television must handle the transition to digital television, especially after 2/17/2009.

As noted in previous posts, cable subscribers with analog televisions could continue to get the programming of their local stations from cable providers. The real question was how. Early information suggested that cable companies could downconvert DTV signals to an analog format only at the subscribers television set. That also suggested that cable subscribers who currently do not have cable boxes would have to upgrade.

The ruling yesterday allows cable companies to downconvert DTV signals at the cable headend (for 3 years)...thus allowing them to continue to provide box-free service to analog subscribers. This is a plus for cable companies who were concerned that they would not have enough boxes to go around and is good for subscribers who did not want to upgrade to cable services requiring a box. For broadcasters the concern about cable companies only providing analog signals (downconverting the DTV signal and not providing the DTV signal) has been addressed. Cable companies must provide both analog & digital signals to customers. So those of you who have purchased HDTV sets can be assured you will get an HDTV picture from cable.

For more info:
FCC


Monday, June 11, 2007

Questions Please

One object of this blog was to answer questions about the DTV transition and its impact on the WWNY/WNYF audience. Thus far, few questions have been forwarded...so I thought I'd solicit some.

You can comment/question on-line to this blog under "post a comment" or direct an e-mail to wwny@wwnytv.net. Any question regarding the DTV transition, DTV, HDTV or WWNY/WNYF is fair game.

More links on DTV:

Bridging_the_Digital_TV_Gap
Transition Update
FCC Gets Tough on TV Set Labeling
Converters Signal New Era for TVs
Will Your TV Suddenly Go Black

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

HDTV, Mulitcasting & More

The best feature of DTV is the signal. A digital signal is not affected by noise or ghosting....you either get it perfect or not at all. Even a digital signal from a cable box or satellite receiver has a better quality look than an analog signal. But DTV offers more...higher quality video, more choices and interactivity.


HDTV-
HDTV gets all the buzz and is often mistaken as being the only benefit of DTV. That said, it is the most dramatic change to television.

An HDTV signal is the highest quality DTV signal possible, available in 2 formats 1080i or 720p. Both fill a 16:9 widescreen. The numbers represent the lines of resolution and the "i" stands for interlaced scanning and the "p" stands for progressive scanning. Interlace is a traditional television format and in HDTV some folks content it, with the higher resolution, gives the picture an almost 3-dimensional look. Progressive scanning has traditionally been a format used in computers and is supposedly better at handling fast motion and graphics. Either format stands apart from the normal 480i lines of resolution in a 4:3 screen. When mated with 5.1 Dolby surround sound there is a theater-like experience.

Multicasting-
Another feature of DTV is a station's ability to broadcast multiple program feeds on one channel of television. Generally speaking a 6Mhz channel of television could have up to 6 programs feeds. Stations that offer one feed in HDTV really do not have much bandwidth for more than one additional channel. A lot depends on the content...fast motion video requires more bandwidth than static or slow moving video. There are expensive systems that manage bandwidth allowing stations to squeeze as much from their 6Mhz assignment...WWNY-DT does not have one of those systems at the present time.

WWNY-DT does multicast. On channel 7.1 we offer WWNY's CBS programming in 1080i HDTV. Not all programs are originated in HDTV...so we "upconvert" standard video to that format. One tell-tale sign of an upconverted program is that it is not as crisp looking and is not in the 16:9 screen format.

On channel 7.2 WWNY-DT offers a standard definition (480i/4:3) digital feed of the programming of WNYF FOX-28. We think this service is of value for a couple of reasons. WNYF analog is a low-power station with a limited service area. As a multicast channel on WWNY's digital signal, our service area is extended. The other reason is WNYF, as a low-power station, does not currently have a digital frequency and is not mandated to broadcast digitally. Multicasting on WWNY's signal provides viewers who invested in a digital television an additional digital channel to view.

Post 2/17/2009 WNYF does plan to broadcast digitally, even in HDTV*. We have applied for a license that will increase our service area over the current analog service area, but as a licensed low-power station it still will not have the range of WWNY-DT a full-powered station.

More-
Another feature of DTV is that station's broadcast an Electronic Program Guide (EPG). You may be familiar with an EPG from cable or a satellite service. You can "interact" with the guide to see what's on, what's coming up, get a storyline description, determine the content rating, etc.

Other services are being explored by stations. You might be able to use a multicast channel to download the local newspaper, download music files for your I-Pod...perhaps even use your remote for polling, contests, and on-line purchases. As broadcasters stuggle to survive in this multichannel, DVR, I-Pod world...you are bound to see new features and business models.

More info on HDTV, Multicasting and the transition from analog broadcasts to digital:
FCC Consumer Facts


* Of note: WNYF does not currently broadcast over-the-air digitally in HDTV. As noted above the feed is available digitally as a multicast channel of WWNY-DT in standard definition. WNYF does, however, feed Time Warner subscribers an HDTV feed. It is available on TW channel 878.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Do We Really Need DTV?

I am often asked that question. It usually follows statements and questions like, I like TV the way it is...I don't have any interest in buying a new set...What's wrong with the way things were? The answer to the question is complex and differs depending who you talk to.

Federal Law mandates the transition from analog to digital television. That train has left the station and it will occur on 2/17/2009. On the National Telecommunications And Information Administration (NTIA) website it states the most often quoted response:

"Digital television (DTV) is revolutionizing the television marketplace, offering improved service quality, greater service innovation, and new capabilities not currently available from the analog broadcast television service. DTV will allow broadcasters to offer viewers better image and sound quality and also more programming choices.

There are other benefits to the nation as well. The DTV service is designed to use radio spectrum more efficiently than the current analog service. Therefore, upon completion of the DTV transition, the Federal Government will reclaim and reassign analog broadcast television spectrum to other important uses, including public safety and advanced wireless services."

Now it is true DTV offers snow and ghost free reception and additional services like multicasting, interactivity and HDTV from the same 6Mhz channel as analog TV. With analog TV you get one channel of television, no additional services. In most markets analog stations are spaced out so that there is no co-channel or adjacent channel interference. This is less of a problem with DTV, so the government is reducing the television allocation from channels 2-69 to 2-51. Channels 52-69 will be made available for public safety and advanced wireless services.

Since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina the public safety aspect has gained traction. We all have heard of the difficulties emergency services had communicating during these disasters. So spectrum being made available to public safety is a good thing.

But let's face it the "advance wireless services" is all about money. The government plans to auction off an estimated $10 billion worth of spectrum previously used for analog television broadcast signals for commercial and other new radio services.

Now I contend there’s more to the story… In the mid 80’s wireless companies were indeed seeking spectrum held by broadcasters. Broadcasters (as an industry) trying maintain spectrum said they needed the extra-unused channels for advanced services like the Japanese developed analog HDTV. That bothered government officials and members of Congress. Were we going to cede another market to the Japan?

So a competition was launched, whoever created the most innovative and technologically advance television system would win the marketing rights in the U.S. and probably much of the world. It was about nationalism and jobs…politics and money. The end result of the competition was the development of a digital transmission standard, that still allows the government to recoup un-used spectrum and make it available to public safety and other wireless services. It also provided additional services to television like multicasting, interactivity and digital HDTV.

The story of innovation and politics is brilliantly told by the Pulitzer Prize author Joel Brinkley in his book Defining Vision: the Battle for the Future of Television.

One thing the public needs to keep in mind. Just as it is an expense to you all to invest in a new television or settop box…this government mandate has cost broadcasters millions of dollars in investments in new equipment. While DTV offers the potential for new services, few broadcasters have developed one that can recoup the investment in equipment. For the “transition” we are also operating 2 transmitters (analog & digital), so our energy costs are very high. For a small market broadcaster like WWNY…the DTV equipment costs the same as large market broadcasters, but they of course have greater revenue potential.

So often times we in the industry (especially small market stations) also say… do we really need DTV?


Another Good Article on DTV :
Perspective: U.S. is ready to move to digital TV

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't Get Left Behind

I've seen estimates that nearly 70 million television sets in somewhere between 20-22 million households will be affected by the analog cutoff in 2009. That figure represents around 20% of the total households using TV's...the rest are hooked to satellite or cable. Within that 70 million set figure there are, no doubt, households that have a combination of television sets that are connected to cable or satellite, and others within the same household that are not. Those kitchen or bedroom sets are relying on off-air reception. It has been estimated that more than half of the 20% that rely on off-air reception are unaware or have limited knowledge that the analog broadcasts will end in 2009.

No viewer should be left behind. That is in part why we have devoted space on our website to educate the viewer. I suspect you will also see an industry wide public service campaign in the upcoming weeks and months ahead and the Federal government has committed 5 million dollars to publicize the change... Of note, the government has been criticized in many circles for not committing enough money to publicity. Five million dollars, for example, is just a fraction of the amount the UK, a much smaller country, is spending promoting their transition to digital. Knowledge is key.

There has been lots of conjecture that many of that 20% are low-income, elderly, or minority households. A recent survey by the Association of Public Television Stations reported those viewers have only slightly lower incomes and are slightly less educated... generally, they are similar to cable & satellite viewers. No matter your income, education, or age...no one should lose service of their television and the service local television provides in the form of news, information, emergency broadcasts and entertainment because of a lack of knowledge. Spread the word... TV IS CHANGING, DON'T GET LEFT BEHIND. It will require some changes by the consumer...either in the form of a new television set purchase, a settop box purchase, or connection to cable or satellite.

The same law that mandates the analog cutoff also provides funding for $40 coupons that can be used towards the purchase of a digital settop box that can receive off-air digital signals and downconvert them for use on an analog TV. Boxes will likely cost a bit more than $40 (estimates recently have them at approximately $60), so the coupons will assist but not fully subsidize the transition for low-income households.

After New Years 2008, all households can request up to two $40 coupons. After the first $990 million in coupons are distributed another $510 million will be distributed to households that rely solely on off-air reception. Those dollar figures account for only 34 million sets of the 70 million affected by the analog cutoff. I suspect the hope is, that of the remaining 36 million sets some will be replaced as part of a normal replacement cycle or will be connected to cable or satellite.

For more information on the Settop Box Program:
DTV Answers Website
NTIA DTV Coupon Program
NTIA Website

More info about the transition:
USA Today: FCC's Copps worried about digital TV transition

FCC Seeks Comment to Ensure All Cable Customers Receive Programming After the Digital Television Transition

More interesting info:
'Rabbit Ears' Find New Life in HDTV Age
TV Antennas Are Back; 5 Tips For Buying One

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

2/17/2009, Why Is This Date Important To You...The Viewer?

2/17/2009 is the government mandated date television broadcasters stop sending an analog signal. They will continue to provide over-the-air broadcasts (and signals to cable & satellite), just in a digital format. Fact is, most broadcasters (including WWNY since 2002) have been broadcasting digitally along with their traditional analog signal.

After 2/17/09 in order to continue to receive programming you must have invested in a digital television set with a built-in "integrated" digital tuner, a digital settop box that receives the digital signal and downconverts it to an analog format for displayed on your standard (analog) TV, or subscribe to a cable or satellite service* whose box will downconvert the digital signal for a standard TV. A Digital TV could be a set capable of displaying high-definition pictures (HDTV) or a lower cost SDTV (standard-definition television set), but to receive the signal it will need an integrated digital tuner or be connected to a settop box described above. All television sets manufactured since March of this year are required to have an integrated digital tuner. Some DTV sets sold prior to that date do not, and require a settop box.

If you are an off-air viewer, a rooftop antenna is still your best bet for reception, but a set of rabbit-ears may work. One of the best features of DTV is that the signal you receive will be noise and ghost free...DVD quality pictures and sound.

Digital broadcasting offers other features, like multicasting (multiple program feeds on a single channel), a digital program guide, and some programs in HDTV. We will explore those features in another post.

*Currently none of the satellite providers in our area offer local stations on their system. We are hoping this changes by 2009.