With the help of Sinclair, it demonstrates its A-VSB transmission scheme that may allow TV stations to broadcast programming directly to laptops, cell phones and other portable and mobile receivers.
“We’re going to liberate the couch potato,” declared Samsung’s John Godfrey.
Speaking at an SRO press conference at CES 2007 yesterday, the VP of government and public affairs was praising and promoting A-VSB—Advanced Vestigial Side Band—the DTV transmission technology Samsung developed in partnership with Rohde & Schwarz.
Samsung believes A-VSB will help usher in a new era of broadcasting when consumers will be able to watch TV stations’ digital programming on the go—on laptops, cell phones and other hand-held devices—as they walk down the street or speed down the highway.
“DTV Everywhere,” Samsung’s slogan boasts.
After the press conference, Samsung demonstrated the technology on a press bus as it rolled through Las Vegas, using a signal from Sinclair Broadcast Group’s KVMY.
A champion of the broadcast mobility, Sinclair has been helping to develop and test the technology at its stations in Buffalo, N.Y., and Baltimore.
All tests have been supervised by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, with the goal of completing A-VSB as an approved open standard by the middle of this year.
A-VSB is the only mobile TV system that allows broadcasters to transmit programming directly to viewers.
Samsung is keeping the barrier to entry low. According to Godfrey, the cost of adapting a digital transmitter is “in the tens of thousands of dollars—or even less if transmitter makers incorporate a software solution.”
Samsung is also working to make A-VSB a ubiquitous feature in all video-capable portable and mobile devices. Says Godfrey, “If we do charge anyone for using A-VSB, and we may not, we’re bound by the ATSC’s requirement that all license fees be ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“reasonable and non-discriminatory.’ “
In any event, Samsung believes it can cash in from the sale of its own devices. “Tens of thousands of dollars from a few hundred TV stations is not a huge market when you compare it to the hundreds of millions of A-VSB digital devices we can sell to consumers,” Godfrey says.
So how does A-VSB look in actual use? Samsung demonstrated the service by equipping a small bus with two 15-inch monitors and several handheld TVs. The screens displayed both KVMY’s regular live signal plus sports footage.
The video froze repeatedly during the first half of the bus ride. But, after much fiddling by technicians, the picture was restored and ran flawlessly for the rest of the demo. The compressed second program stream might be described as VHS quality, watchable, but not especially sharp. Godfrey said he believes the next round of ATSC testing will yield a crystal clear picture.
Samsung pointed out that A-VSB is a broadcast-specific technology and offers no benefit to signals transmitted by satellite, cable or broadband. As a backward compatible enhancement to the 8-VSB DTV standard, it is usable only in countries that have adopted the 8-VSB standard, notably the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
What’s more, admits David Steel, Samsung’s VP of digital media business, “It’s too soon to know which technology will ultimately take the lead in delivering mobile video.”
Clearly there’s no shortage of competition. Other announcements this weekend at CES 2007 included Verizon’s V-Cast Mobile TV—eight cellular channels programmed by CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, MSNBC, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon.
(As if to underscore Hollywood’s heightened appreciation of new digital audiences, Monday’s CES keynote speakers include first-time appearances by CBS President Les Moonves and Disney Chairman Robert Iger. Making his 11th keynote appearance at CES, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who touted a variety of digital and mobile video initiatives, including content partnerships with Showtime, Nickelodeon, Starz, Lionsgate and Fox Sports.
During the live demo, some reporters expressed skepticism that the public would embrace yet another mobile standard which requires the purchase of a new receiver.
But Godfrey replied that the vast majority of receiver purchases are yet to come. He conceded, however, that consumers may be growing weary of the proliferation of gadgets required to view different program formats. Godfrey believes this concern is partly addressed by Samsung’s just-announced “AnyNet” system for sharing video content wirelessly throughout the home.
A-VSB works by borrowing a portion (1-3 megabits per second) of the 19.4 mbps DTV data stream to generate a tracking signal (a.k.a., the Supplementary Reference Sequence or SRS). It gives A-VSB-equipped receivers a digital description of what the video should look like.
The receiver circuitry compares this road map to the actual signal, allowing it to display only the intended picture. On stationary devices (a living room plasma screen or a portable TV at rest), this filters out static, ghosting and other interference caused by geography, weather or humans-in-motion, usually well enough to make a simple indoor antenna more than sufficient to supply a perfect HDTV signal.
Mobile devices (laptop PCs, cell phones, handheld TVs) equipped with A-VSB can use the SRS tracking signal to “lock on” to the correct video by constantly comparing and correcting the broadcast signal, even when the receiver is traveling at high rates of speed (highway driving.)
The system also includes a “turbo-coding” compression scheme for creating multiple standard-definition programming streams to complement the main, typically, HD stream. The SRS tracking signal is layered on top of the turbo-coded streams to improve their robustness.