For those of you lucky enough to watch the recent SuperBowl XXXIV on a High Definition TV widescreen home monitor, you know what a pleasure it was to see this live broadcast event. These kinds of programs, with such a wide audience, is why HDTV is growing in popularity.
In this and follow-on reports, I will attempt to introduce TFWM readers to the exciting new world of HDTV. I hope to report on what changes we can expect to see in equipment, output quality, production techniques and what these changes might mean to the TV broadcast and video post production industry.
Before we get started, some basic terms might need to be reviewed. DTV: PRIVATE DTV stands for Digital Television. This is a catch-all phrase referring to the new Digital Television System used in North America and elsewhere. The DTV system allows stations to broadcast programs and data with higher resolution and sharper images than is possible using standard analog television.
Levels of DTV:
HDTV (High Definition Television) is the highest resolution DTV, with resolutions of 720p to 1080i or higher and is produced in a 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio and Dolby Digital audio.
SDTV (Standard Definition Television) provides a display resolution lower than HDTV but higher than the analog. The resolution quality of SDTV is comparable to today’s digital satellite and DVD (Digital Video Disc) picture quality.
The National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) broadcast system, which is being used today in North America (and elsewhere), has been existence for over 50 years. Although this analog standard has improved over the years, it falls short of today’s demand for large screens, much better picture quality and sound.
As we all know very well from our Personal Computers and CD players, the digital electronics age is affecting many office productivity tools and appliances. The digital revolution is also affecting TV transmission capabilities, allowing us to upgrade the antiquated television systems around the world.
In December 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a new U.S. standard called the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). The NTSC standard we use today determines picture quality possible with analog signals. The ATSC standard defines the FCC approved guidelines for digital television broadcasting.
Over the next 6-8 years a transition from analog to digital television will happen. DTV will bring to our homes a terrific picture, digital surround sound and several exciting new features. Above is the FCC Time table for the United States.
Other shortcomings of analog signals: Using analog signals, bandwidth is an problem. Bandwidth can be described as the range within a band of wavelengths over which a signal has to travel.
Today, broadcasters can show one program per channel using analog (NTSC) signals. This is an inefficient use of channel bandwidth and power. With digital (ATSC) broadcasters are able to transmit up to 4 programs at once (depending on material and format), a much better use of bandwidth and power.
The digital signal uses about 10% of the power needed to broadcast an analog signal over the same distance. By comparison, DTV is a big energy saver. Any bandwidth freed up by DTV will be returned to the FCC. The FCC has indicated it will dedicate new channels and space for wideband data transmissions, emergency broadcasts, military use, government broadcasting, etc. The FCC may also sell it to companies for commercial use.
Today, TV broadcasters and production studios require more functionality and flexibility from their equipment- especially in light of the changing new resolution standards such as HDTV.
Our company is excited about the new changes and we are building next generation CG equipment suitable for the transition from analog, to digital, and later to HDTV (widescreen) as budgets and markets dictate.