New Technologies In Television Essay, Research Paper
The future of home television is at a crossroads with new technologies available in every direction. Will recordable DVD replace the home VCR? Will HDTV succeed with consumers? What is affecting the mass rollout of these new technologies? The DVD story is a classic computer technology tale. All the key elements are there: vaporware, standards wars, compatibility problems, extremely high initial prices, and confusion at every turn. Even the technology’s name stirs minor debate. Some claim it stands for Digital Versatile Disc, others say it means Digital Video Disc, and still others claim it’s not an acronym at all. In essence, DVD is simply the next evolutionary step from CD-ROM. DVD-ROMs look like CDs, but they hold far more information, anywhere from 4.7GB to 17GB, compared with a CD’s 650MB. But DVD is more than just higher capacity, which is partly why things get so complicated. DVD is a critical element of PC/TV convergence, since it’s a way to distribute movies with extended features such as user-selectable camera angles and multiple language support. Also, like CD’s, there are writeable and rewriteable variations coming. DVD is just starting to make a significant impact on the market. Estimates vary from about 600,000 to 1,000,000 console players (”living room” boxes used strictly to play movies) sold in the United States through the end of 1998. So far, the number of DVD drives in PCs is far smaller. DVD technology can handle one or two layers of data per disc side. That makes for four sub varieties of DVD-ROM, the read-only version of this technology: DVD5 (single side, single layer) with a 4.7GB capacity; DVD9 (single side, dual layer), 8.5GB; DVD10 (dual side, single layer), 9.4GB; and DVD18 (dual side, dual layer), 17GB. With all these competing standards, a group has been formed to come to an agreement on the final standard. That is, a common standard that will ultimately be presented to consumers. This group calls itself the DVD Forum. The DVD Forum is a group of powerful electronics companies and content owners who have agreed to work together to define specifications for DVD (without governmental intervention). Unfortunately each company has vested interests in DVD advancing and developing along lines that serve their interests best, and all want to dictate the standards for the next generation of compact disc. The technical specifications of the format are primarily chosen based upon what patents are owned by whom, not on technical superiority, and the decisions made by the DVD Forum are as rife with mutual back-scratching and calling in of favors as those of a Senate subcommittee. As a result, the technical specifications for DVD formats are not arrived at by an objective evaluation of what will work best, what will sell, what will provide a smooth migration path, or even what the DVD Technical Working Groups recommend. They are decided on self-interest, which means financial gain for one party and resulting financial loss for another. Factions within the Forum are determined to promote the interests of one member over another, or a group of members over another group of members. So far, the majority of the Forum members have been motivated by a single purpose in this regard, to avoid paying for patents owned by Philips and Sony, who have profited immensely from existing compact disc technology. Not coincidentally, many of those patents are also the ones that could enable compatibility with existing technology. Sony and Philips, as licensers of patents used in DVD technology, need close ties with the Forum. But if Sony and Philips wish to exploit their patents by developing an alternative format voted down by the other eight Forum companies, they are branded as pariahs. The most prominent names in the CD-Recordable and CD-Rewritable hardware market are Sony, Yamaha, Philips, Ricoh, and Hewlett-Packard. Other DVD Forum members are minor CD-R/RW players, if players at all. Given this knowledge, it’s not surprising that Philips, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Ricoh, and Yamaha, along with media manufacturer Mitsubishi, would prefer a rewritable DVD format that builds on existing technology and smoothes the transition to a new one. It is also no mystery that the architects of the DVD Forum’s DVD-RAM format find this threatening. They are not contenders in the CD-R and CD-RW arena, so there is no reward for them in promoting compatibility with existing popular formats, but enormous incentive to abandon them in favor of their own technology patents. The contention over whose patents to use is one of the many things delaying delivery of DVD; and with every delay in DVD, the period in which existing technologies can thrive is extended as the installed base increases, making compatibility more important, and opening the window of opportunity for new formats not subject to DVD Forum approval to reach the market. Still, DVD video will blow away standard VHS-quality playback. Unlike VHS tapes, DVD discs don’t degrade over time, so the 100th viewing looks as good as the first. Furthermore, unlike VHS tapes, DVD discs provide the nonlinear, near-instant viewing and previewing access that people enjoy with laser discs and compact discs. For strictly computer-based video playback, such as business presentations and games, DVD’s MPEG-2 video is a dramatic improvement. If the video solution for DVD doesn’t deliver a knockout punch to existing consumer video technologies, its audio accompaniment will. Included with the MPEG-2 video stream is a Dolby AC-3 audio stream, a supercharged digital version of Dolby Surround Sound. The regular Dolby Surround Sound standard delivers four analog channels plus a subwoofer signal. Each channel represents one audio speaker. Dolby AC-3, on the other hand, delivers 5.1 positional channels plus a subwoofer. The digital encoding delivers better fidelity and complete channel separation, and the extra subwoofer channel lets special audio effects envelop you all the more convincingly in home-theater applications.
Additionally, the extra capacity of DVD means multiple-language tracks will be a standard feature of movie discs. At the touch of a button you can switch from the English version to a dubbed version in German or Italian, for example. Foreign-language instructional discs will take advantage of this feature as well. Accompanying the rollout of DVD is digital television (DTV). Not only are pre-recorded and recordable media receiving a boost in quality, but also are the television sets that they are displayed on. In early 1998 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a long-awaited decision on future possibilities for television. This future is digital television, and within the digital future more than 30 possible standards exist. Some of these are referred to as HDTV (High Definition Television). Digital Television is scheduled to replace all existing terrestrial analog NTSC television transmissions in the U.S. by the year 2006. This doesn’t necessarily affect home video formats, direct satellite transmission, or cable television, but the range of services and potential improvement in image quality will probably drive those industries as well. Several simultaneous Standard Definition Television (SDTV) image streams or a single High Definition Television (HDTV) image will make up the television programming broadcasts. SDTV is considered roughly the same quality level as today’s television broadcasts and HDTV relates to a number of higher definition video standards. In any case, a television image in SDTV or HDTV will be transmitted in 16:9 aspect ratio. Before long, standard converter boxes will be available to translate any of the standards being broadcast into the one most acceptable for your TV set. If, for example, you tune into a station broadcasting an HDTV signal and your TV set is still a 525-line analog set, the converter box will change the HDTV signal into one that can be used by your TV set. Although you will lose the full quality of the HDTV signal, the converted signal should still be better than today’s standard NTSC signal. The first all-digital station, KITV in Hawaii, went on the air in January 1998. It broadcast digital programming along with its standard Channel 4 analog signal. Even though there were virtually no digital TV sets to receive the signal, the public relations value in being first put KITV “on the map” (including receiving a “broadcaster of the year” award) and it has put pressure on competitors in the market to also move to digital. By the latter part of 1998, a number of US TV stations were broadcasting digital signals, including HDTV. Even so, the number of digital receivers today is still limited.Most of the impetus for going digital will come from the networks. Once the networks start high-definition digital programming, the signals from the local stations (affiliates) will look inferior in comparison. Advertisers (who ultimately drive the system) will quickly notice that their locally produced commercials look inferior to the network programming, and will push the stations to upgrade. All 1,600+ TV stations in the United States have been assigned new digital frequencies by the FCC. For example, Channel 2 in Los Angeles has been assigned channel 60, which means it will jump from one of the lowest frequencies to one of the highest. Although the digital signal will experience less interference than the channel 2 analog signal, because of the much higher frequency it will take nearly one million watts of power to reach roughly the same coverage area. Electric bills for this level of power can run to $30,000 a month. Even with this huge increase in power and a transmitting antenna height of more than 1,000 meters there is some question whether they will be able to reach the same area as their existing channel 2 signal. This concern is also shared by some of the other stations that have recently been given DTV channel assignments by the FCC. Once the analog-to-digital transition period is over (which will take at least ten years), the analog transmitters will be shut down and those frequencies will be released for use by other applications, some of which we haven’t even dreamed of yet. With the final cost of making the move to DTV in the United States running into the billions of dollars, the question arises, how will some of this money be recouped?The new digital schemes allow for a variety of additional services to be broadcast along with the new digital signal. Options include pay-per-view movies, high-speed Internet services and additional TV channels, all within the same digital broadcast channel. Compared to standard NTSC television, HDTV is able to reproduce six times the detail and ten times the color information. Overall it appears that even though digital television faces many of the same problems in rollout as DVD, digital television is likely to become an accepted standard more quickly. The forces driving these technologies are affected by different circumstances and incentives. Whatever happens, we are undoubtedly on the verge of dramatic improvements in home entertainment.