| Main |

Sinclair's Revenge

Samsung_q1 Sinclair Broadcasting lost the battle over mobile TV in 2000 when the Federal Communications Commission rejected its petition to let broadcasters transmit digital TV signals in a format better suited to moving receivers. But it may yet win the war. At this week's Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung demonstrated a new transmission format, dubbed A-VSB (the current standard is called 8-VSB), that is designed to help local TV stations reach portable sets (or tuner-equipped laptops and other devices) in cars, trains and other moving vehicles. The format inserts extra bits of information in the signal to help receivers lock on to the picture, and lets stations dedicate a portion of their channel to a "turbo-coded" transmission optimized for moving sets.

Just judging by the demo -- done through Sinclair's station in Las Vegas -- the format does a remarkable job rejecting stray bits and filtering out digital noise, improving digital TV reception for stationary as well as mobile sets. What makes the approach most compelling, though, is that it's backward compatible. New sets are needed to lock onto the tracking bits or tune in "turbo-coded" broadcasts, but existing sets can ignore the tracking bits and tune in the main signal without interference. The main compromise is that broadcasters who want to deliver a high-quality "turbo-coded" signal to mobile TVs may not have enough bandwidth left to transmit their main signal in high-definition.

The demonstration appeared to win over FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who gave it the thumbs up at a session Wednesday with Consumer Electronics Assn. President Gary Shapiro. Samsung lobbyist John Godfrey said the standard-setting committee for digital TV may approve A-VSB this summer. At that point, the fate of the technology will be in the hands of broadcasters, who need new encoding equipment to transmit in A-VSB. Still, the broadcasters could make the switch without requiring new frequencies, towers or transmitters, so the cost is relatively small (in the tens of thousands of dollars, Godfrey said, citing comments from Sinclair). If enough stations embrace the new format, Samsung and its competitors would surely follow with a new generation of portable TVs, automobile screens, USB-based tuners and large-screen sets equipped to take advantage of A-VSB. The investment seems a small price for broadcasters to pay for the chance to disintermediate mobile-phone companies and other middlemen who are just starting to build businesses around mobile TV service. Count on Sinclair to be first in line to make the leap.

Pictured is a Samsung Q1 ultra-mobile PC. It's not a portable TV, at least not yet.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Sinclair's Revenge:


The comments to this entry are closed.

Our Blogger
Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

Search this blog

Subscribe to this Blog - What is RSS?

Now Playing

Where I've Been Lately