HDTV, Digital TV loom large at CES in '98

Pre-show publicity for the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show indicates that most major manufacturers will be making a big push with High-Definition Television. If all goes according to the FCC's plan, by this time next year most large urban areas will have at least one digital transmitter in operation. By the turn of the century, most broadcasters will be equipped to send digital signals alongside their analog counterparts. Signal sources---terrestrial broadcasting, satellite transmission, cable feeds---will proliferate.

In addition, there will be a confusing array of video formats. Little noted in the hype about HDTV---16:9 aspect ratio, 1080-line interlaced picture, CD-quality sound---is the fact that most broadcasting will be in a less-than-high-definition mode called Standard Definition TV. SDTV video---480 lines progressively scanned or interlaced---will be the most common. An intermediate-definition format at 720 lines will be used for some features, and the full 1080 will be used for big sports events and blockbuster movies.

As if that weren't confusing enough, there are two major aspect ratios (4:3, as in normal television, and 16:9, as in feature films) and at least three frame rates: 24 frames per second (film rate), 30 fps, and 60 fps. Combine all these variables and you have up to 18 varieties of video transmission. How will non-state-of-the-art-equipped consumers be able to view them all?

Enter the good ol' converter box: the all-purpose bridge to the 21st century. For the next few years, most consumers equipped with analog NTSC televisions will be able to enjoy the new programming on their old receivers by installing a low-cost box that will accept signals in any combination of formats, from any source, and put out a standard analog NTSC signal (625 lines/30 fps). The life span of a typical television set is at least 10 years, and many millions of them will continue to be used for years into the future.

Such is the hope of Oren Semiconductor, Ltd., an Israeli developer of digital video-processing chips. Oren is selling their technology to manufacturers worldwide in anticipation of the great transition ahead. Craig Wiley, Oren's Silicon Valley-based Director of Marketing, says his company's products provide demodulation and conversion for all possible permutations of digital video, as well as doing an excellent job of ghost cancellation.