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Why MSTV is supporting 8VSB standard

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The boards of the National Association of Broadcasters and Association for Maximum Service Television voted grudgingly last month to pull the plug on a proposal to add a new transmission alternative-DVB-T/COFDM-to the United States’ existing ATSC/8VSB standard after industry field tests showed that COFDM wasn’t any better than 8VSB.
The tests also showed that neither system was even close to measuring up to reasonable expectations for an over-the-air broadcast system. But the MSTV and NAB opted to focus on fixing 8VSB instead of considering alternatives. The industry stuck to its guns, even though Sinclair Broadcast Group alleged that the tests stacked the deck in favor of ATSC/8VSB by using a COFDM receiver that hadn’t been properly configured for over-the-air broadcasting in the United States.
In the following edited interview, Greg Schmidt, MSTV interim co-president, explains why the boards acted as they did.
EM: Were the tests stacked in favor of ATSC/8VSB?
Mr. Schmidt: No. There is an issue as to whether COFDM receivers, because they’re being largely developed in Europe, where the RF [radio frequency] environment is different than it is in the U.S., might have been designed in a way that made this test process not as useful as if should have been. But any implication that there was any kind of lack of honesty, any sort of political shenanigans here is just not right, and it’s really unfortunate that the debate is being characterized in that way.
EM: Were the NAB and MSTV boards aware there was this problem when they voted to pull the plug on COFDM?
Mr. Schmidt: Yes. They were aware there was an allegation that there was a problem.
EM: So why not check it out and continue testing?
Mr. Schmidt: COFDM, even if you take into account the problem Sinclair believes was in that receiver, didn’t make the grade. Even if you adjust for that, it didn’t make the case that we should disrupt the whole process at this point to adjust the standard.
The political and economic realities are forbidding. Basically, to supplement the standard, we were informed that it could be four to 10 years of a setback. It would have taken a very compelling showing by COFDM that it was obviously vastly superior to VSB in order to have that happen. We think that regardless of whether this defect was there or not, COFDM didn’t make that showing.
EM: If the standard doesn’t work, wouldn’t it be better to take a break in the DTV rollout now and fix it before consumers and the industry invest more?
Mr. Schmidt: I think you’re going to see a renewed emphasis on education, a major effort to make sure the Congress and the FCC understand just how much danger there is in this transition from the consumer side.
EM: The MSTV and NAB executive committees are slated to meet in Washington on this issue March 13. What’s on the agenda?
Mr. Schmidt: To have some sort of organized investment effort to make sure that 8VSB is improved-and improved quickly.
EM: What happens if three years from now the industry decides that 8VSB can’t be fixed?
Mr. Schmidt: It could happen, but we can’t let it happen.