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Mary Robinson is all about real-world information on the switch to digital television signals. The success of the DTV switch will depend on regular folks understanding new technology and getting it running in their homes. Ms. Robinson is weighing in on those nitty-gritty details, sharing her enthusiasm for TV-signal technology with those who are less technically inclined. She’s developed an expertise through years of hands-on experimentation, pulling in signals from the rooftop of her Texas home. Now she’s a resource for consumers struggling with the digital switch. We discovered Mary right here on TVWeek.com, where she reliably dispensed information in the comments section of this story, First Digital TV Converter Box Wins Government Approval about the digital switch. Let’s keep the conversation rolling!

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Digital Transition Answers



The Towns DTV Will Leave Behind

August 12, 2008 10:35 AM

I went on vacation with a my best friend in late March and early April last year and we wandered aimlessly around Colorado for a little over two weeks. Being that we are both flatlanders and inexperienced with snow, it was a real treat to be able to experience true winter weather.

We went snowmobiling, which was a blast. And we took ski lessons, which looking back on it, was a lot of fun, but truthfully not very pretty. My friend spent most of the day trying to unlearn water skiing techniques. I will say that we both made it down the bunny hill successfully, but that was about it.

We stayed two nights in Gunnison, Colorado in a little mom and pop motel in town. It was a really nice little place, clean and comfortable. However, in the room was something that I had not seen in a motel or hotel in probably at least 35 years ... The room had a television set that was hooked up to rabbit ears! No cable. No satellite. Just the built in rabbit ears that came with the TV.

We were able to receive seven different television stations that night, and reception was, I thought at the time, surprisingly good. We are both “24” fans (Jack saves the day and America again!) and we were able to keep up with the storyline.

When I got home, I researched the stations in Gunnison, and found out that the seven stations are all low power analog translator stations. The transmitters are located about 950 feet higher than the town using the natural terrain to obtain the height necessary to cover the community. They ranged in power from 4 watts ERP (Effective Radiated Power) for station K02LY to 24 watts ERP for station K11AT.

Watching TV in a motel by way of rabbit ears was a little like stepping back in time, and I found it quite comforting, actually.

In doing some research this evening, I found that there are no applications pending for Gunnison, Colorado to convert any of the transmitters to digital. For the time being, they will all stay analog, and I see no reason for them to convert at this time anyway.

Gunnison, it seems, is to be the little town (and there may be more) that the DTV transition forgot...

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Comments (15)

Leigh McDowell:

I totally agree with you. I think that more of this will happen than people higher up are expecting. Small or out of the way stations will not be able to afford the transition. It is going to push people who want to watch to cable or satellite if available. Maybe to nothing!

Julie Smith:

My Brother lives in a town in Colorado so small the the cable company went out of business. Satellite would be too expensive for him, so I guess he will loose the one and a half stations he gets!

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Leigh and Julie,
Julie, your brother is safe for the foreseeable future, but at some point, the low powers, class A low powers and translators will be mandated by congress to convert to digital. Leigh, I too, believe that not all low powers will survive. Some will fail, but as we speak, some are failing anyway. In the larger cities, the deck is stacked too high against them. If they cannot get picked up in the cable line-up, it is almost a death sentence.
I know that there is supposed to be some money available from the auctioning off of the deleted TV spectrum that can be used for low power stations that will have difficulty in obtaining the financing for the conversion to digital, but to what extent remains to be seen.
I found it extremely interesting that all seven of the low powers in Gunnison, Colorado are owned by the Gunnison County Municipal Entertainment District. I believe that if not for the county, Gunnison would not have any television stations. I would wager to guess that there are other entities in Colorado and elsewhere that have done the same thing. So Julie, it may well be that your brother will be OK if indeed he lives where one of these disricts operates.
And Leigh, you may be right, some may not fare as well as those in Gunnison...

hdtvpete:

For now, Class A stations, low power stations, and translators have no obligation to go digital, but there's evidence in several markets that they have. KESQ in Palm Springs, CA carries DTV stations in its mux - 42-1 is KESQ (ABC) 720p HD, then 33-2 is KDFX (Fox) SD (owned by a different company), followed by 2-3 WCWQ (CW low power station, also owned by KESQ) and KESQ AccuWeather on 42.2. Aside from that being an incredibly silly VCT numbering paradigm, the concept of bit-rate leasing seems to work here and has gotten at least oner LP station to go digital.

In Watertown, NY, WWNY-DT operates 7-1 (CBS)and WNYF on 7-2 (Fox). WNYF is a low power analog UHF station and has been carried as the second minor channel for several years. Plans are to convert it to its own DT channel (probably UHF 28, where the analog is now) so Fox HD programs can be carried.
In this case, both stations are owned by the same group.

WWTI, the ABC affiliate on UHF 50, just added a CW network service on 50-2. This is the only place it can be received OTA, there is no low power CW station in town. No word on whether this second program will get more bits to broadcast CW HD programming.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi hdtvpete,
Here localy, our Fox affiliate (KUIL-LP) channel 64, not even a class A station, has a digital companion channel on channel 36 (K36ID) upon which they carry 720 HD on virtual 64-1 and SD Fox programming on virtual 64-2.
Our local CBS affiliate carries the CBS prgramming in 1080 on virtual 6-1 (actually channel 21-1) and the CW, which is not carried locally OTA either on virtual 6-2.
We also have a MyTV network LP station on channel 22 (KUMY-LP). They have a granted minor modification application to move the transmitter to a tower that is more centrally located to the 3 major cities in our area. I have talked to the station manager (owner?) who stated to me that when the move is made, they will go digital. The application expires on May 3, '09, so time will tell.
They desperately need to move the transmitter because most of the time, they are overrun by a ful power station on channel 22 in Houston, and since they are not a class A station, they have to accept any interference that comes their way. I am anxious for them to make the move.

hdtvpete:

The cost of going digital can easily be solved with bit rate leasing from other station's encoders. The problem arises when a given network offers HD programming, and the bit rate available is insufficient for 720p or 1080i because of leasing.

If the translator or LP station is owned by another station with deeper pockets, then they can consider a switch to a separate ATSC LP translator, as WWNY-DT is doing in Watertown with WNYF, post-2/17/09.

But it remains to be seen if KESQ (digital 42) in Palm Springs will eventually give KCWQ (also digital 42) enough bits to carry CW Network programming in 1080i, instead of 480i. Or, if KDFX ownership decides to bite the bullet and spring for a digital transmitter to carry Fox 720p HD programming at a more reasonable bit rate of 14 Mb/s or higher.

It's all about cost. But for some networks, SDTV service is sufficient. I see religious broadcasters making more use of leased bits in the future as a cost-saving measure. (None of them have announced plans to broadcast in HD yet.)

mary... the cat lady:

Hey hdtvpete,
One of the most interesting set-ups I have seen in a while is the NBC affiliate in Alexandria, Louisiana. KALB-TV is the longtime NBC station in Alexandria. Alexandria has long had a NBC and an ABC station, and even has Fox affiliate by way of KNTZ out of Natchez, Mississippi, but no CBS.
KALB-DT carries the NBC on virtual 5-1 in 720, and now carries CBS programming on 5-2 also in 720 HD. That is one of the most prime examples of the advantages of digital broadcasting that I have found so far.
Correct me if I am wrong on this, but it is my understanding that a DTV station can carry one 1080 channel and one 480, or two 720 channels, or one 720 channel and two 480 channels or five (and I have heard six) 480 channels. Am I right?

mary... the cat lady:

Hey hdtvpete,
I am sorry... I got the call sign for the station in Natchez, Mississippi wrong... It is WNTZ channel 48, not KNTZ as I wrote above. Oops.

Bill:

hdtvpete said:

It's all about cost. But for some networks, SDTV service is sufficient. I see religious broadcasters making more use of leased bits in the future as a cost-saving measure. (None of them have announced plans to broadcast in HD yet.)

Trinity Broadcasting Network, one of the biggest religious broadcasters and arguably owner of more LPTV stations than any other religious broadcaster, will be launching TBN HD this fall (it's been in "test" mode for over six months now.)

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Bill,
I just got through sending an e-mail to our local full power TBN affiliate KITU TV/DT asking them about the implementation of HD programming on local channel KITU-DT channel 33 (virtual channel 34).
The engineer and station manager there are pretty good about answering my queries to them, so as soon as I get an answer, I will forward it to the forum.
However,as I stated to hdtvpete above, I think that the simulcasting of 5 different channels of programming would preclude doing so without eliminating or combining some of the other channels programs.
As I stated, I will forward the results of my inquiry as soon as I get a response.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Bill,
I talked to the general manager of KITU this aftgernoon when I got off work, and he stated to me that some time in the future, after the transition to digital is complete, possibly a year after, they will start carrying the TBN HD in 1080 probably in the evenings.
He also stated to me that as he understood it, that the government was going to start requiring stations to broadcast a HD signal for at least a certain number of hours a day once the conversion was complete.
This, I had not heard. I have seen no reference to mandated HD broadcast in anything I have seen or read to date. Has anyone else seen a reference to this? He also stated to me that as far as he knew, a station could carry up to 9 standard definition channels. That is more than I was aware of.
I would like to see input from anyone who has information on these subjects.

hdtvpete:

There has not been and never will be any mandate to broadcast anything in HD. The FCC's requirements for digital TV state that at least one digital broadcast must replace the existing analog broadcast. So, a station can send out one SD channel (480i) and be in full compliance with the DTV transition.

HDTV is not a mandate, but many members of Congress don't seem to understand this. (They should try reading the actual legislation they wrote.)

As for multiplexing, it's generally conceded that one 1080i signal and one 480i in a 19.39 Mb/s ATSC stream is plenty - adding more 480i channels robs the 1080i signal of bits and sacrifices HD image quality.

Ditto 720p. One 720p and one 480i is enough, unless the 480i channel is low bit rate material like Doppler radar (that only needs about 1.8 - 2 Mb/s) or weather barker channels like NBC's Weather Plus. Two 720ps and one 480i will never look good on a big screen. 720p needs about 14 MB/s at the minimum, 15 Mb/s is much better.

Thanks for the update on Trinity. Now Telemundo and Univision need to get with the HD program.

Nine SD channels in one ATSC stream would be a disaster. You need at least 3.5 Mb/s to 4 Mb/s to show MPEG2 SD video cleanly. WFME in West Orange, NJ carries one SD channel and 10 channels of FM radio stations in their mux, but that bit rate is much lower and easier to pull off.

Cable companies mux 10 - 12 channels of SD using 256QAM, each program gets about 2 Mb/s and the total channel bit rate is 38.8 Mb/s. So they can even toss in an HD channel on top of it, and do.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi hdtvpete,
Thank you so much for the clarification. When the GM at KITU told me that they would be mandated to broadcast in HD, I raised an eyebrow, for I had never run across anything that even alluded to that.
But I do think, that in the future, there will be some HD on TBN. And, I too, think that Telemundo and Univision should get on board also.
I am hoping that when our low power MY TV network afilliate goes digital (which I have been told will happen next year) they will be in HD.
I will say that KALB-DT in Alexandria, La. pulls off the two channels of 720 very well. I was impressed with their picture quality. I don't get them often, but when I do, it is a pretty amazing picture.

Anonymous:

"It's all about cost. But for some networks, SDTV service is sufficient. I see religious broadcasters making more use of leased bits in the future as a cost-saving measure. (None of them have announced plans to broadcast in HD yet.)"

Someone is not taking into effect of religious owned network stations. Yes, some are low powered, but seems to have possibilty in the future, none-the-less. Cornerston Churche's WMNT-48 Toledo, Ohio... is a prime example. A very powerful economic blockbuster bought up 3 radio stations (WYSZ, , expanded them to 5 (all of the "Yes FM's"), and successfully runs 1 commercial network TV station.

With this being said, I'm sure they will use bits. This station is a little kid that wants so desperately to be a big kid... and might just try, if the FCC allows "CA" and "LP" stations to go full power.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi anonymous,
The idea of letting LP and LP-CA stations move up into "must carry" status seems to be a dead issue at this time. The FCC only had a couple of commision members who were willing to vote for it, and the issues was dropped for anytime in the near future. Of course, with the upcomming elections, no matter who is elected, we will probably see new faces on the FCC.

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