Broadcasters, TV makers battle computer firms over future of HDTV

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 25 Oct 1996 15:30:54 -0400

1) I believe the point is you *can't* count the number of betamaxes

2) the core of the debate is that having 18 formats, interlaced and
progressive requires very expensive receivers. PC monitors will only
support a subset. Grand Alliance says you have to do them all to be called
HDTV. PC manufacturers won't like that.

3) of course, the 18 formats are limited and include crappy
backwards-compatiblity modes

4) and what should really be there is a single multimegabit multiplexable
data tone -- TV is the last thing I would waste that bandwidth on...


Broadcasters, TV makers battle computer firms over future of HDTV

By Elinor Mills
InfoWorld Electric

Posted at 11:29 AM PT, Oct 25, 1996
Broadcasters and television manufacturers will publicly urge the U.S.
Federal Communications Commission on Monday to adopt a proposal for a
digital TV standard that is opposed by a group of computer companies led by
Microsoft Corp.

At stake is the tremendous market for the next generation of
high-definition TVs (HDTVs). The United States and other countries are
racing to claim the HDTV market by adopting standards and developing
products, Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National
Association of Broadcasters (NAB), said this week.

"If we are to be the technology leaders of the world, the government has to
adopt this standard in order to set the pace," Wharton said.

He noted that the Japanese snagged the lion's share of the VCR market in
the 1980s by pushing products ahead of the United States, even though the
technology was developed in the United States.

"So, the FCC told private industry to see if we can be leaders in [selling]
high-definition TV to consumers worldwide."

But representatives from Microsoft and Compaq Computer Corp. say the
technology underlying the NAB-backed proposal is archaic, incompatible with
computer technology, and inflexible in meeting the needs of the emerging
market for hybrid products. Also, the market should set the standard, as it
does in the computer industry, not the government, they argue.

"We have acknowledged that broadcasters have a need for some legal
standard," Jeff Campbell, government affairs manager for Compaq, said
today. "If there's going to be a government-mandated standard, it had
better be friendly to computers, as well as television sets."

The broadcast industry has been negotiating for eight years on a new
standard that will enable digital transmission of video and audio over TV
sets. A proposal from the Advanced Television Systems Committee, dubbed the
Grand Alliance proposal, was approved by an FCC advisory panel in November
1995 and was expected to be approved as the standard by the FCC.

Then the Computer Industry Coalition on Advanced Television Standards
(CICATS), which includes Microsoft, Compaq, Apple Computer Inc., and Intel
Corp., offered a counter proposal in July. The coalition argued that the
Grand Alliance proposal would lead to higher prices for computers that
receive digital TV signals.

Since then, CICATS has been joined by entertainment groups such as Steven
Spielberg's DreamWorks and the Directors Guild of America. "The
inflexibility on the size and shape of the image and the audio capabilities
would lock in technology that is already obsolete," said Microsoft
spokesman Mark Murray.

In deference to those concerns, the Clinton administration and FCC Chairman
Reed Hundt are apparently leaning in favor of a computer industry proposal
and have urged both the broadcasters and computer companies to come up with
a solution that will accommodate both industries.

A standard is needed to make sure initial digital TVs don't become obsolete
and to propel the market by guaranteeing compatible technology for
broadcasters and TV set manufacturers to build to, NAB's Wharton said.

"You can count the number of betamaxes sitting in garages across America
unused because there was no standard on beta recorders," he said.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray countered that the Grand Alliance proposal
would hinder the market for converged products because it would require
computers and TVs to be able to decode all 18 different formats that
comprise the Grand Alliance proposed standard.

"It's really not that far off that people would be able to view broadcast
programming or movies from their personal computer or access the Internet
from their TV set, but the standards being proposed would really drive a
wedge in the convergence between personal computing and the television,"
Murray said.

The Grand Alliance proposal is based on traditional TV interlace technology
in which every other horizontal line of information on the screen is
displayed and refreshed sequentially. Computers use a progressive scan,
which does not skip lines as the screen refreshes, and which is easier on
the eyes and better for handling higher bandwidth data, according to

The computer industry wants a faster refresh rate than the proposed speed,
he said. In addition, computers use square pixel spacing, which is
different from the pixel technology in the Grand Alliance proposal, he

The Advanced Television Systems Committee, which pushed the Grand Alliance
proposal, calls those arguments unsound and claims their proposed standard
is more interoperable with computers than the competing European Digital
Video Broadcast standard.

"The inclusion of interlaced formats does not make PC-based applications
impossible, nor does it impose substantial cost or performance penalties,"
committee Chairman Robert Graves said in a keynote address Oct. 4, at the
8th annual Digital Audio and Video Workshop in Philadelphia. In addition,
progressive scanning will be used for much of the material broadcast, he