Sinclair adds military might to standard

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Sinclair Broadcast Group last week said it had helped develop and test a new digital TV data system the government could use during national emergencies.
But there’s a catch: To ensure that it works, Sinclair representatives recommended that the government authorize a new digital TV standard in the United States-DVB-T/COFDM.
“It won’t work with [ATSC] 8VSB,” Mark Aitken, Sinclair director of advanced technology, said of the nation’s existing DTV standard.
According to Sinclair, the COFDM demonstration project was conducted last month over PBS affiliate WNYE-TV’s DTV frequencies in New York. Mr. Aitken said the test, which included streaming video and Internet content, showed that a COFDM DTV signal can be used to transmit broadband data to mobile units using simple antennas-transmitting such signals, critics say, is an 8VSB weak spot.
At least according to Mr. Aitken, in the wake of the communications breakdown in New York caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many broadcasters would sign off on a requirement that they provide government access to a slice of their DTV frequencies.
“If broadcasters were allowed to use COFDM … in the event of a major tragedy such as New York, broadcasters would be able to provide their normal content simultaneously with a robust channel that could be used by the government,” Mr. Aitken said.
But ATSC/8VSB proponents were quick to challenge Mr. Aitken’s assertions.
“It wasn’t a competitive test of technologies, so there is not data to support those claims,” said Mark Richer, executive director of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, the group that recommended the ATSC DTV standard in the first place.
Sinclair representatives have long claimed that COFDM is better than 8VSB for getting DTV signals to indoor antennas.
But industry tests last year showed that 8VSB was slightly better than COFDM, even though neither technology was able to get signals to indoor antennas much more than 30 percent of the time.
Nonetheless, the Federal Communications Commission, with the backing of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association of Maximum Service Television, axed a proposal to add DVB-T/COFDM as a transmission option in the United States.
“In this country, it’s VSB,” said the ATSC’s Mr. Richer. “It’s not going to change.”
Still, Mr. Aitken said Sinclair plans to demonstrate the data-transmission capabilities of COFDM to defense-related agencies. “The Army, in particular, is extremely interested in this,” Mr. Aitken said.