Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Does HDTV Have A Chance?

So, analog broadcasting is set to cease on 19FEB08. That should be something to see! It's been talked about for 20 years. At first, we were told we had to have HDTV because Japan had it. Later, though, we learned the gov wanted to sell off the bandwidth.

I have always understood that the airwaves "belong to the people." So were they stolen? I didn't give them away. And do I understand correctly that it was the FCC, all by its lonesome, who made this decision on our behalf?

This is probably not the best time to ask consumers to invest in new equipment. But -- wail till they find out about HDCP!

If you were sentient in the late 80s, you may recall the Digital Audio Tape player. This much-ballyhooed successor to the analog cassette tape never got off the ground, thanks to hardware copy 'protection.' Hardware manufacturers went to bed with camels, and got up with fleas.

HDCP is poised to do the same thing to the HDTV format. Except this time, we won't have prior technology to fall back on. This ought to be very interesting.

All airwaves in the U.S. are regulated by the FCC. This is nothing new. In the early days of CB Radio, the FCC required everyone who purchased a CB to fill out a form to acquire a license for use, much like Ham Radio operators. However, they did away with license requirement when the FCC administrators couldn't keep up with demand. For other reasons, CB's died later on (i.e. cell phones). However, no one should delude themselves into believing that the "airwaves belong to the people". The "people" never had this right. In order to keep from overlapping and conflicting broadcast signals, the FCC must regulate the airwaves in an orderly process.

As for HDCP, this is present on HDMI connections to HDTV sets only for premium content (e.g. HBO, Adult Channels, 1st run Sporting Events, PPV). It is not (well, should not be) present on ordinary broadcast channels, and certainly not on local broadcast affiliate tiers.

As for the need for people to go out and purchase devices upon the analog-shutoff date, the FCC has contemplated this as well (far in advance of the economy crashing). They offer a $40 coupon for redemption of a free-to-air digital converter STB which you can buy at CPE retail outlets, or can get through your cable company. Therefore, in theory anyway, if you're simply looking to continue with "rabbit-ear like service", you can continue to do so with the coupon-funded converter and without HDMI/HDCP requirements if you're simply hooking up your converter to an analog TV set. Should you decide to purchase an HDTV set, then you should expect that premium channels will be HDCP-protected, and the only way around that is to sign up with your local cable provider, DBS provider (DIRECTV or DISH), or your telco provider who has TV (e.g. AT&T U-Verse or Verizon FiOS).

This was one of the proposed changes brought forth by the 9/11 Commission Report. The bandwidth will be used to connect first reaponders nationally, which s absolutely necessary and entirely far past due. It was supposed to be done right after the report came out, but the TV owners balked, because of the high consumer analog use, and for control/political reasons. And you can expect radio bandwidth to be next.

It's been interesting to see how they've marketed this, and how they've NOT advertised. Unless one has actually read the Commission Report they'd have no clue what's really up.

So yes, it will succeed. There is no other option. The bandwidth is needed elsewhere. But I doubt we'll have it down as well as other countries who have had it for years at first. So, patience is important, especially given the real reason why it is being done.

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