The Future of Broadcast Television Initiative gathered representatives at the NAB Show this week to begin its formidable quest to develop a worldwide broadcast TV standard. “The challenges of a global specification may seem daunting, but the benefits of achieving such a goal are enormous,” said Switzerland’s Phil Laven. The new standard would replace a variety of incompatible digital standards now in use. The hope is the new specifications will let TV stations broadcast future services like ultra high-definition television and 3D as well as improve mobile recepton and integrate broadcasting fully with the Internet.
Thirteen broadcast engineering and standards bodies from around the world signed on to the Future of Broadcast Television Initiative at the NAB Show on Tuesday with plans to elect the first officers for the organization there today.
All understand the magnitude of what they have set out to do — establish a world digital terrestrial TV broadcasting standard — and have no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve.
“The challenges of a global specification may seem daunting, but the benefits of achieving such a goal are enormous,” said Phil Laven, chairman of the Digital Video Broadcasting Project in Switzerland. He and other FoBTV proponents appeared on a panel Tuesday at NAB.
The world standard would replace to variety of incompatible digital standards now in use — the ATSC in North America, DVB-T and DVB-T2 in Europe and others elsewhere.
“Over the years multiple standards around the world have cost the industry and consumer billions in any currency,” said Lavin. “Consumers now expect that their portable devices will be able to receive TV signals anywhere in the world. Thus, a single global standard is becoming essential.”
Such reasoning led the founding organizations of the FoBTV to come together in Shanghai last November and jointly declare that they would work toward a global standard or as close to one as they could get.
FoBTV will not attempt to write the standard itself. Rather, it hopes to guide the work of major standards-setting organizations around the world so that their next-generation digital broadcast standards converge. In the U.S., that next-gen work is being conducted by standards group the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC).
In their next-gen work, standards-setting bodies are looking for better compression and more spectrum efficiency so that TV stations can keep pace by broadcasting future services like ultra high-definition television and 3D. They are hoping to improve mobile recepton and integrate broadcasting fully with the Internet.
“Broadcasting has to go from linear to nonlinear solutions for tomorrow,” said Lieven Vermaele, director of European Broadcasting Union’s Technology and Development Department, at the panel session.
Mark Richer, the president of ATSC, said the biggest technical challenge in achieving the next-gen work standard will likely be designing the physical layer.
And he said the big job is sorting through all the options.
“In standardization activities, usually the tough part is when people propose great technology and most of them will be great,” he said. “You have to decide which one you want to go with, based upon the goals you’re trying to reach and the trade-offs you’re trying to make and the timetable that you’re trying to meet.”
Another hurdle is the ” ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome, in which standards proponents aggressively push their own technology,” Laven said.
“The best defense … is to insist on detailed technical justification showing why System A is better than System B,” he said. “Such claims may need to be verified by simulations and/or practical tests.”
Laven pointed out that a world standard means a lot of participants, and the more participants the more complicated discussions become and the more elusive consensus becomes.
Many participants also breeds what Laven calls “IPR stuffing,” in which proponents suggest that a particular technology be included in a standard simply because they have a patent on the technology.
Politics will also be more intense, Richer said. FoBTV will need to make a strong business argument, not just an engineering argument, to rally as much support behind the standard as possible.
“All of the FoBTV family members agree that we have to have all interested parties and stakeholders involved in the work,” Richer said.
“The first step is for broadcasters to make sure we all believe in the same goal and have the same shared vision moving forward. If we do not have that, we can’t expect other industries to make that happen. … If you want everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet, you have to write the notes first and the lyrics.”
With that in mind, FoBTV will put together a set of technical goals and technical issues that warrant further exploration, and establish timetables, Richer said.
It will test different user-scenarios to make sure proposed technologies can address different user requirements and implementation scenarios, he said. Then, there’ll be discussions around the technologies that are available and other technologies on the horizon that may be used in the standard.
If all goes well, a global net-gen standard or multiple next-gen standards with high degree of commonality could emerge in two years or so.
Even if FoBTV realizes its goal, the work won’t stop, said Richer. Given the pace of technology, no standard lasts 50 years anymore.
“Broadcasting has to continue to evolve,” he said. “It will be a continual process.”