Electronic Design

Digital TV: Issues And Impacts

Several key issues will determine when digital TV (DTV) will reach ubiquity and succeed in the marketplace. Once in place, it will have some major implications on business and personal life:

Multiple standards will exist:
We already have multiple standards, and that will continue. Over-the-air TV will use the ATSC standard in the U.S. We’ll continue to have satellite DTV. Cable companies will still have their own brand of DTV. DVB-T and ISDB-T won’t be a factor here, but we will see both DVB-H and MediaFLO for cell-phone and other mobile TV.

Quality to be determined:
Will DTV deliver adequate quality? ATSC DTV will produce picture quality superior to analog TV once the new HDTV sets get into place. The new big screens will make it better than ever. But there’s some skepticism about IPTV. Will the broadband connection be fast enough? The Internet is a "best effort" packet service with no guarantees. Data gets through reliably since lost packets get re-sent. But packet loss, latency and other delays, (out-of-order packets, jitter, and other IP delivery problems) will make IPTV less reliable and subject to picture and operational glitches. With viewers expecting high definition and high quality, will they get it? It remains to be seen.

Who will deliver the DTV?:
Less than 10% of all consumers are expected to get their DTV over the air. Cable will still dominate for the time being, and satellite will maintain a share. The IPTV providers probably will steal customers from cable and satellite. Major telco carriers AT&T and Verizon already have systems in place. AT&T just began rolling out its U-verse system, and Verizon is expanding its FiOS passive-optical-network (PON) system in some areas. In other places, hybrid fiber to the curb with DSL to the home are expected to emerge. Standard ADSL, as it now exists, still doesn’t offer the bandwidth needed for DTV as well as VoIP and Internet access. With upgrades to ADSL2/2+ and VDSL, these systems will be more capable of delivering DTV, including HDTV.

Latency:
You usually don’t think of the term latency when contemplating TV. But with IPTV, it can be a problem. One of the key issues is how fast you can change channels with an IPTV set-top box (STB). When you click the channel button on the IR remote, you set off an Internet access that must be received, recognized, and responded to with a return signal that will change the channel. STB makers and companies planning to deliver IPTV have experienced delays of many seconds or more. This is unacceptable to consumers who are used to surfing at the rate of two or three channels per second.

Security:
The primary focus of DTV, especially IPTV, is video on demand (VOD). Here, subscribers can stream a movie to the HDTV set whenever they want. Movie and music companies are fearful of losing control of their intellectual property, so they’re implementing strict controls. To lessen the fear among suppliers, the Digital Rights Management (DRM) system was conceived. This controversial security and encryption system lies at the heart of digital video to protect the owners of movies and other valuable content.

Content:
Will movies be justification enough for new IPTV and other DTV services? Are there enough movies to go around? Will the availability of a delivery system spur increased movie production? The available content will make DTV successful, regardless of the delivery technology. Maybe standard TV shows available on demand will be popular. The question on the minds of some is if the programmed separate channel concept still will be viable with IPTV. VitalStream, a company that helps content providers get their material into service, offers MediaConsole. This suite of software, which helps ensure reliable delivery with quality of service, includes DRM.

The availability of DTV will impact business and our own lives on several fronts:
Greater Internet bandwidth needed:

As more homes adopt IPTV, the demand for greater bandwidth and capacity in the Internet will increase. This will push fiber, routers, and other equipment to 10 Gbits/s and beyond to 40 Gbits/s or more. All systems—core, metro and local-area network—will eventually need speed upgrades.

More spectrum will be freed up:
As analog TV disappears and broadcasters shift to the lower TV channels, the FCC is expected to release that UHF TV spectrum from 698 to 806 MHz (108 MHz!) to other services. The FCC will auction it off to cell-phone carriers, wireless broadband (e.g., WiMAX), and public-service wireless needs. Big bucks will flow into the Treasury thanks to the auctions. The process has already begun, with lots of attention focusing on the 700-MHz bands to be auctioned off next year.

Gradual shift in how movies are distributed:
Today, we still go to movie theaters to see the latest releases. And we still go to the video store for a movie when we want one. Mail-order services like Netflix and Blockbuster are also very popular. With VOD everywhere, video stores may eventually fade away. It could even put movie theaters out of business if first-run movies are available on release for VOD. This won't happen overnight, but with VOD becoming the way of life, it will erode those other businesses significantly.

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