The Battle for DTV Standards Heats Up in Washington, DC

Last week, before its appeal had been denied by the FCC (see related story), the Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it had demonstrated live, over-the-air digital television (DTV) reception last week in Washington, DC, "in response to numerous Congressional inquiries." These demonstrations were "intended to demonstrate to members of Congress the flaw in the DTV standard."

Sinclair's Mark Hyman states that "we are taking a 'seeing is believing' approach. Members of Congress have made it clear they expect over-the-air digital television to be received without reliance on cable, satellite, or expensive outdoor directional antennas." Sinclair currently owns or programs 58 television stations in 38 markets and six radio stations in one market, and, according to the company, reaches approximately 24.4% of all US television households.

Hyman reports that the presentations include side-by-side, over-the-air reception demonstrations comparing a variety of analog TV sets with a DTV receiver. Hyman says, "We know from similar tests conducted at prominent sites throughout Washington, DC in December 1999 that inexpensive, portable analog TV sets outperform very expensive DTV receivers time and time again. It is doubtful that American consumers will purchase an expensive system that performs worse than the device it is intended to replace. The solution is for the FCC to permit broadcasters the free-market option of using the widely adopted COFDM modulation system, as requested in our Petition for Expedited Rulemaking, filed months ago."

In response, the Consumer Electronics Association's Gary Shapiro was quick to defend 8VSB by reciting examples of continued support from broadcasters. "We are pleased that MSTV—representing major US broadcasters—has restated and reaffirmed its strong support for 8VSB. MSTV's test results can now be added to the reams of evidence demonstrating that 8-VSB is the best modulation standard for the United States. We again urge the FCC to accept our petition and MSTV's recommendation to dismiss Sinclair Broadcasting's request to add COFDM as a DTV modulation option."

Sinclair has been actively trying to demonstrate what they feel is the superiority of the COFDM DTV modulation system, which has been adopted overseas in some markets. (See previous story.) The company claims that the current US system, 8VSB, is impacted by multipath or reflected signals, which "preclude DTV sets from displaying a picture." Sinclair's Nat Ostroff states that "those who have attempted to impede our efforts have responded by conducting simulated and laboratory demonstrations in tightly controlled environments that have not been open to public scrutiny and peer review and do not represent real-world, real-life conditions of over-the-air reception. Public scrutiny is the theme of the demos we will conduct on Capitol Hill. Several hundred members of Congress and staff can make up their own minds."

Shapiro counters that "Real-world experience underscores the success of 8-VSB. Retailers across the country report that consumers who have purchased DTV products and are receiving over-the-air programming are exceedingly pleased with the technology. Just this week, CEA co-hosted an event held in Baltimore, Maryland, showcasing a live, over-the-air, high-definition television (HDTV) broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIV.

"Receiver manufacturers remain committed to ensuring that all consumers have access to over-the-air DTV. As with any new technology, receiver performance will only improve in future generations of product. We look forward to working with all interested parties to bring the promise of digital television to all consumers."