Broadcasters are keenly interested in understanding their transmitter options to satisfy the requirements of the TV spectrum repack and positioning themselves for an easy transition to ATSC 3.0 if and when that becomes a reality. Dick Fiore, CEO of Hitachi-Comark, discusses both as well as total cost of ownership, SFNs in a 3.0 world and the importance of broadcasters supporting 3.0 as the FCC considers authorization.
Hitachi-Comark’s Fiore Talks Repack, 3.0
With the FCC’s incentive auction beginning to hit its stride and the TV spectrum repack fast approaching, broadcasters arguably are confronted with a couple of the most transformative events in the history of U.S. TV broadcasting.
Although the exact shape of what’s left of television broadcasting following the loss of the 600 MHz band, channel sharing and new channel assignments for hundreds of stations is unknowable at this point, it’s safe to say the TV industry will be dramatically different than today.
Ironically, while the TV broadcasters that remain on-air post-auction will operate in a much smaller band, the business opportunities available to them may never be greater thanks to the dawn of the next-gen ATSC 3.0 TV standard.
But before they can exploit any new business models, many must first focus on their RF infrastructures, including retuning or replacing their transmitters.
With the 2016 NAB Show barely in the rearview mirror, it seemed like a good time to talk with a top executive from one of the three major transmitter vendors that will help broadcasters make a successful channel change and play a significant role in helping them exploit the new opportunities right around the corner if the next-gen TV standard wins FCC authorization.
In this interview with Dick Fiore, the president-CEO of transmitter vendor Hitachi Kokusai Electric Comark discusses the interest level of broadcasters in updating the RF infrastructures, where their heads are when it comes to 3.0, what they are thinking about single frequency networks in a next-gen transmission deployment, total cost of ownership and the importance of getting involved now in the FCC’s 3.0 docket.
An edited transcript:
With the spectrum auction beginning to hit its stride and new channel assignments just around the corner, how would you characterize the interest of broadcasters in new transmitters?
Interest in new transmitters has been extremely high. We made the debut of our Parallax UHF high-efficiency solid state transmitter at the 2016 NAB Show and had a tremendous number of customers pass through the booth just to see the fully completed transmitter cabinet.
All of the reviews were both positive and complimentary on the overall design of the product.
We have been gearing up our supply chain to meet the anticipated demands of the market. There is also a fair amount of interest in both lower-power standby transmitters as well as questions from our customers on re-channelizing existing DTV transmitters.
At the same time, the first quarter of next year — the target completion for ATSC 3.0 — is approaching. How do you assess where the broadcasters you are dealing with are when it comes to the new standard? Are they asking about the upgrade path to the new standard with the transmitters they will need for the repack?
ATSC 3.0 represents a very unique opportunity for broadcasters in the United States and abroad. There has been so much interest in the topic we decide to dedicate a special section on our company website (http://www.comarktv.com/products/atsc-3-0-3/) to provide the broadcast industry with easy-to-understand and relevant information.
From a transmitter perspective, upgrading to ATSC 3.0 is fairly straightforward. The Exact-ATSC is our latest DTV exciter that debuted at NAB 2015. It has received favorable market acceptance and we have installed quite a few in the field in the last year.
The Exact can be upgraded easily to support ATSC 3.0 with new software/firmware. Older-generation exciters will need to be replaced.
Then there is the issue of transmitter output power before an upgrade to ATSC 3.0 vs. after the upgrade. The Parallax, with its broadband Doherty power amplifiers can provide equivalent average output power even though ATSC 3.0 has a higher peak-to-average ratio as compared to ATSC 1.0. Older transmitters will need to be de-rated; all of the information is available on our new web page.
What about SFNs? Are they on the minds of broadcasters for an ATSC 3.0 future? Are they beginning to budget for them?
Single frequency networks are one of those tools in the ATSC 3.0 toolkit that can really revolutionize the industry. Some — but not all — broadcasters are really taking SFN architectures very seriously. Our product line includes both low- and medium-power air-cooled Doherty transmitters as well as the new Parallax high-power liquid-cooled Doherty transmitters that complement each other in an SFN solution.
Transmitter efficiency and total cost of ownership have been two of the most important considerations surrounding TV transmitters for several years. Can you speak to how Hitachi-Comark’s Parallax transmitters — IOT and solid state — are stacking up in these areas?
We have been paying close attention to this topic for several years. We were the first manufacturer to take the leap from traditional IOT transmitters into MSDC-IOT transmitters back in 2002 with the introduction of the DCX Paragon. Efficiency for our high-power MSDC-IOT transmitter approaches 60%, and we have been focused on total cost of ownership for many years.
The DCX Paragon leads the market, no other manufacturer has anywhere near the number of HPAs in the field. We have taken this same approach of energy efficiency with both our Parallax and E-Compact solid state transmitters where we are achieving up to 42% efficiency.
How are efficiency and total cost of ownership factoring into the thinking of broadcasters when it comes to SFNs? Is it possible that dollars spent on the care and feeding of a first-generation DTV transmitter will fall in line with the same care and feeding of a next-gen digital transmitter for the big stick and low-power units needed for an SFN?
Hitachi-Comark delivered a lot of high-power IOT-based DTV transmitters during the transition from analog to DTV. Back then, most broadcasters that required anything higher than 10-15 kW TPO [total power output] opted for the IOT rigs for a variety of reasons.
And while tube transmitters will still be the mainstay for the highest ERP requirements, all new DTV transmitters (solid state and tube-based) are far more efficient than first-generation DTV transmitters, as well as more budget friendly.
Therefore, both the capital expense (capex) and operating expense (opex) on the latest generation of DTV transmitters provides broadcasters with a lower overall total cost of ownership [TCO] moving forward.
Keep in mind that SFN will add a layer of complexity as compared to the traditional high-power/high-tower distribution models that currently exist. This is due to additional site acquisition costs, added capex for the additional SFN transmitters, and the necessary contribution network costs to interconnect the SFN sites to the central studio or network operations center. Therefore it’s difficult to directly compare current TCO models with an SFN TCO.
The last time we spoke, you were confident that Hitachi-Comark could meet the flood of demand resulting from the repack. Are you still certain?
Yes, very much so. We have been following the FCC spectrum auction and subsequent repack very closely over the last several years. The entire process has allowed us to carefully manage operational expenses as well as put our capital into product development and production preparedness. We are confident that Hitachi-Comark will be prepared to deliver not only the products with the feature sets that customers need, but at a price that will be on budget.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, I would like to take a moment to mention that the FCC has a docket open now for response regarding ATSC 3.0. It should be important that we support NAB, Pearl, etc. and support ATSC 3.0. It has been 20 years since we have had a chance to address DTV with a new standard, and it’s time to move into it.