MPEG-2 Still Kicking Ready For Last Big Push

osu1991

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http://www.tvnewscheck.com/article/96549/mpeg2-still-kicking-ready-for-last-big-push

MPEG-2 compression has proven itself to be a workhorse for the television industry, enabling DTV multicasting channel count to grow with successive generations of encoders. In its closing act, the compression technique has enough performance left to help make the spectrum repack a success and position the industry for a successful transition to a next-generation TV standard.

“I would say we are getting near the apex of gains we can get out of MPEG-2, although there are still some tricks [to boost efficiency a little more],” says Tom Lattie, VP of market development and product strategy at Harmonic. Abdullah Merei, product manager for compression at Evert. “Moving forward, I would expect another 10% reduction [in bit use], so they can add another subchannel [using the company’s 3480TXE encoder MPEG-2 encoder]. A lot is riding on achieving maximum compression efficiency for broadcasters these days.





Not only does greater compression efficiency mean more channels on-air to take advantage of more multicasting opportunities, but it also means TV stations might be more inclined to agree to channel sharing as part of the FCC’s incentive auction and spectrum repack strategy. tests conducted one year ago at PBS Member Station Joint Master Control in Syracuse, N.Y., demonstrated that the Evertz MPEG-2 encoder can put two 1080i HD and four 480p SD channels in the 19.39 Mbps available in a single 6 MHz TV channel with ATSC 1.


That type of efficiency will be important in an FCC channel-sharing repack scenario if two broadcasters entering into such an arrangement each want to deliver an HD main channel and a couple of digital subchannels.
 

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demonstrated that the Evertz MPEG-2 encoder can put two 1080i HD and four 480p SD channels in the 19.39 Mbps available in a single 6 MHz TV channel with ATSC 1.
I wonder what picture quality is like under this arrangement.
 

harshness

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I wonder what picture quality is like under this arrangement.
I'm leaning towards unacceptable until I see some hard evidence. Two 720p channels shows noticeable damage in my limited experience and they're talking at least double that. Then again, I don't know what encoders were in play but I can't see stations investing big money in MPEG2 encoder upgrades (in addition to concurrent acquisitions of new ATSC 3.0 hardware) with a relatively short life expectancy. It seems like it may leave the station that continues DTV broadcasts holding the bag while the partner station will be good to go into the future of ATSC 3.0.

This certainly suggests a few years of marginal quality during the simulcast; the further into the repack they go, the worse it will be.
 

NashGuy

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If this final generation of MPEG2 encoders can put two 1080i PLUS four 480p channels on the same station, I'd think it could instead just as well do three 720p channels (with no additional SD channels). Once the transition to ATSC 3.0 begins, I could imagine local broadcasters in a given market cooperating to have two major ATSC 1.0 "lighthouse" towers, between them broadcasting HD (720p) feeds of all six major broadcast nets: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS and The CW. Of course, NBC, CBS and PBS currently use 1080i but perhaps those networks would begin offering their affiliates an alternate 720p encode of network programming (optimized for such a scenario at about 6.25 Mpbs). Virtually all network shows get immediately encoded in 720p (as well as 1080p) anyhow for deployment to various streaming platforms (e.g. Hulu runs everything at 720p, iTunes TV show purchases are available at both 720p and 1080p, etc.). I would imagine that most markets would have at least one additional small broadcaster continuing to run an ATSC 1.0 tower that would feature various SD (and possibly HD) channels: Christian, Spanish language, shopping, diginets like Me-TV, This TV, etc. I suspect My Network TV will finally die during the transition to ATSC 3.0.
 
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NashGuy

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I don't see them spending money and upgrading encoders just to run a lighthouse signal in ATSC 1.
Maybe, maybe not. It could depend on whether they wish to continue broadcasting in HD on ATSC 1.0 via the lighthouse signal. If so, the added expense of upgrading their MPEG2 encoders could be offset by the need for fewer lighthouse towers in a given market. But maybe broadcasters won't mind angering ATSC 1.0 viewers by downgrading them to SD, figuring that it will motivate the ones who care about picture quality to go out and buy an ATSC 3.0 tuner...
 
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harshness

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Maybe, maybe not. It could depend on whether they wish to continue broadcasting in HD on ATSC 1.0 via the lighthouse signal.
I can't imagine that the existing DTV standard is in any way optional until the ATSC 3.0 adoption threshold is met.

Remember that there are no big wins for the average consumer in the foreseeable future with the ATSC 3.0 transition as compared to the DTV conversion where we won HD and Dolby Digital audio pretty much across the board. UHD, should the broadcasters eventually go there, is a long, long way off and the benefits not entirely clear.
 
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NashGuy

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I can't imagine that the existing DTV standard is in any way optional until the ATSC 3.0 adoption threshold is met.

Remember that there are no big wins for the average consumer in the foreseeable future with the ATSC 3.0 transition as compared to the DTV conversion where we won HD and Dolby Digital audio pretty much across the board. UHD, should the broadcasters eventually go there, is a long, long way off and the benefits not entirely clear.
Not sure what you mean by the existing DTV standard being optional. Are you saying that the current standard requires that broadcasters transmit in HD and that they would be violating that standard to broadcast in SD from a lighthouse transmitter?

As for the benefits of UHD, it's clear to me: sharper images thanks to four times the resolution, plus better contrast and color thanks to HDR. Granted, not everyone will appreciate the difference. I know people who are happy as clams watching SD channels when they could turn over to the HD version on the same cable box...
 
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harshness

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Not sure what you mean by the existing DTV standard being optional. Are you saying that the current standard requires that broadcasters transmit in HD and that they would be violating that standard to broadcast in SD from a lighthouse transmitter?
I'm saying that the consumers will not stand for the broadcasters pulling HD out from under them; especially if the alternative is just the same old HD but with the requirement for additional investment to replace their OTA TVs and OTA DVRs.
As for the benefits of UHD, it's clear to me: sharper images thanks to four times the resolution, plus better contrast and color thanks to HDR.
I believe it is a grossly flawed assumption that ATSC 3.0 will logically and immediately lead to HDR and WCG enhanced UHD. I firmly believe that we won't see any regular UHD (much less HDR and WCG) until the DTV bandwidth has been surrendered.

Consider how long ESPN (and possibly other content sources) has been sitting on UHD.

And yes, there's surely a large portion of the population who simply won't be able to appreciate the difference due to non-flawless eyesight and/or less than ideal viewing conditions.
 

NashGuy

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I'm saying that the consumers will not stand for the broadcasters pulling HD out from under them; especially if the alternative is just the same old HD but with the requirement for additional investment to replace their OTA TVs and OTA DVRs.I believe it is a grossly flawed assumption that ATSC 3.0 will logically and immediately lead to HDR and WCG enhanced UHD. I firmly believe that we won't see any regular UHD (much less HDR and WCG) until the DTV bandwidth has been surrendered.

Consider how long ESPN (and possibly other content sources) has been sitting on UHD.

And yes, there's surely a large portion of the population who simply won't be able to appreciate the difference due to non-flawless eyesight and/or less than ideal viewing conditions.
As for consumers "not standing for" HD being taken away from ATSC 1.0, what are they going to do if that happens (assuming the FCC allows it)? It's not like they pay anything to receive OTA TV, so there's not much they can do beyond refusing to watch or deciding to pay money to get that content in HD via cable, satellite or streaming. And keep in mind that OTA antenna users are a minority of the viewing audience (and probably not an especially target demographic for lots of advertisers).

I agree though that it will take awhile before we see UHD HDR content being broadcast. I doubt the major networks are offering their content to affiliates in that format before 2020, maybe later. Otherwise, it will be 1080p (possibly with HDR).
 

harshness

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As for consumers "not standing for" HD being taken away from ATSC 1.0, what are they going to do if that happens (assuming the FCC allows it)?
They'll cut out the middle man (the local station) and stream the video. This would put a stake in the heart of localism (a long-standing mandate).

There will have to be a lot of finagling to get a new standard before anything changes and that doesn't seem to be progressing all that rapidly. Remember that the ATSC 3.0 activity is mostly from the industry as faint proof of concept and hasn't been annointed by the regulators. Your 2020 speculation is probably many years too soon.
 

Radioguy41

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Corporations don't own TV stations on a whim or as a hobby, they're there to make money. That means advertisers and advertisers need viewers. Nobody in their right mind is going to downgrade to SD and expect to maintain their business model. That would be suicide.
And keep in mind that OTA antenna users are a minority of the viewing audience (and probably not an especially target demographic for lots of advertisers).
Don't underestimate OTA. 2015 figures showed 12.3 million homes (plus more than 1 viewer per home) receive their TV via an antenna. If you conservatively estimate just 2 viewers per home that's 25 million viewers, not a small number. In addition the FCC estimates approx 2 million per year are cord-cutting and installing antennas. The number is growing, not shrinking, so to ignore those viewers would not be prudent.
 
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Trip

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Corporations don't own TV stations on a whim or as a hobby, they're there to make money. That means advertisers and advertisers need viewers. Nobody in their right mind is going to downgrade to SD and expect to maintain their business model. That would be suicide.

Don't underestimate OTA. 2015 figures showed 12.3 million homes (plus more than 1 viewer per home) receive their TV via an antenna. If you conservatively estimate just 2 viewers per home that's 25 million viewers, not a small number. In addition the FCC estimates approx 2 million per year are cord-cutting and installing antennas. The number is growing, not shrinking, so to ignore those viewers would not be prudent.
Two points here:

1) Downgrades from HD to SD would be for OTA viewers who did not upgrade to ATSC 3.0. Cable and satellite viewers, as well as those OTA viewers who get receivers for ATSC 3.0, would continue to have HD service. That means that for many stations, 80-90% of their viewership would be entirely isolated (cable/satellite) while the rest would have an avenue to continue getting HD service.

2) If you took the average person on OTA and downgraded their HD to widescreen SD without telling them, how many would notice? Of those, how many would care? I submit to you that many people can't tell or don't care as long as the picture fills the screen. (Why do you think so many people used to stretch SD pictures to fill their monitor rather than living with pillar bars?) I couldn't tell you how big a percentage we're talking, but I have to think the number is manageable, especially since those who do notice and would complain would be told to buy an ATSC 3.0 receiver and all would be well in their worlds.

- Trip
 

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Are you under the impression that they're going to OTA simulcast ATSC in SD and ATSC 3 in HD? Don't hold your breath. As to your point 2 above, you seriously underestimate OTA viewers. Why? Because they have an antenna therefore they are less sophisticated than cable/satellite viewers? Cable viewers are discriminating viewers but people with antennas are just yokels who can't tell the difference between SD and HD? Seriously? :rolleyes: I'm out of this discussion, it's entered into fantasy land.
 
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Trip

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Are you under the impression that they're going to OTA simulcast ATSC in SD and ATSC 3 in HD? Don't hold your breath. As to your point 2 above, you seriously underestimate OTA viewers. Why? Because they have an antenna therefore they are less sophisticated than cable/satellite viewers? Cable viewers are discriminating viewers but people with antennas are just yokels who can't tell the difference between SD and HD? Seriously? :rolleyes: I'm out of this discussion, it's entered into fantasy land.
To your first question, NAB is claiming both will be HD right now. I don't know whether or not I believe that, and I definitely know it wouldn't be permanent since there would be an eventual sunset of ATSC 1.0 (presumably). But yes, the plan NAB has pitched has been for a simulcast.

I only singled out OTA viewers because they'd be the only ones impacted. How many times have you gone to someone's home or even to businesses and seen HDTVs hooked up to obviously SD sources, often stretched? It happens all the time because people either can't tell or don't care. It's very common. I'm an OTA user myself and I care, but I also understand that I'm in the minority.

- Trip
 

harshness

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TThat means that for many stations, 80-90% of their viewership would be entirely isolated (cable/satellite) while the rest would have an avenue to continue getting HD service.
Of course this assumes that 100% of the cable providers can immediately adapt to ATSC 3.0 and/or HEVC sources.
If you took the average person on OTA and downgraded their HD to widescreen SD without telling them, how many would notice?
It is neither kind nor reasonable to assume that those who "depend" on OTA are necessarily blind, ignorant of the difference or don't care. Many use their TiVos, HTPCs or DTV converters to capture OTA (even if they already subscribe to pay TV) because that's the best way they can save the content long-term. Others simply can't believe that a cable or satellite feed could compare with an OTA feed (many in this group are probably deluded).

The upgrade business is also going to be different from the DTV conversion as I'm confident that the gubmint isn't going to be subsidizing converters again.

ATSC 3.0 needs to prove beneficial for more than just the broadcaster's bandwidth and the manufacturer's new unit sales to be successful.

The longer the repack takes, the better positioned the manufacturers and broadcasters should be to pull off a transition. At the same time, the longer it takes to do the auction mess, the less money there will be; especially if they have to pay the bill for multiple reverse + forward auction passes.
 
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NashGuy

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It is neither kind nor reasonable to assume that those who "depend" on OTA are necessarily blind, ignorant of the difference or don't care. Many use their TiVos, HTPCs or DTV converters to capture OTA (even if they already subscribe to pay TV) because that's the best way they can save the content long-term. Others simply can't believe that a cable or satellite feed could compare with an OTA feed (many in this group are probably deluded).
A common logical bias I see among internet commenters is thinking that people "like me" represent a bigger slice of the market/population than is actually true. Yes, there are people who use DVRs or PCs to capture and save OTA TV. Yes, there are people who appreciate better HD picture quality from OTA sources than from cable or satellite and, because of that, watch OTA instead of or in addition to pay sources. I fall into both categories. But I also believe that those people constitute a fairly negligible slice of the market. If at some point, broadcasters decide it makes financial sense to have only one lighthouse ATSC 1.0 tower in a market and that requires only broadcasting in widescreen SD on that tower, that's what will happen. Of the minority who watch OTA TV, some will have already upgraded to ATSC 3.0 by then. Of those who haven't, some won't even notice the switch from HD to widescreen SD while others will notice but won't care. Among the remaining small slice who notices and does care, they'll be told to buy an ATSC 3.0 tuner that they can add to their existing TV (or they can just switch to cable, satellite, or streaming to watch TV in HD and UHD). A few of them may write angry letters to local broadcasters and/or the FCC but they will be powerless to stop the change. IF ATSC 3.0 takes off (and it's not certain by any means that it will), ATSC 1.0 will eventually be deprecated and then die.
 
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harshness

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But I also believe that those people constitute a fairly negligible slice of the market.
Does that make it true or even likely?

In terms of DBS users, DIRECTV subscribers have been getting the shaft for a while now on OTA and you can read it in the forums. As wearisome as their solution is to acquire and install, there's still interest in getting subchannels and as a bad weather fallback. DISH users recently experienced an availability crush due to the now-settled tribune dispute and a stock outage and the cost of OTA tuners is ridiculously expensive (around 400% inflation) due to demand.

If you observe the traffic in the OTA areas, it hasn't gone away and talk of various TiVo and alternative solutions around OTA is still quite active.

I think you may be in bigger company that you think.

The broadcasters can't hold their product hostage from the OTA marketplace or there won't be any OTA marketplace and the FCC will be forced to step in and shore it up under the mandates of public safety and localism. Manufacturers haven't stopped selling HDTVs with DTV tuners yet and AFAIK, they haven't started offering ATSC 3.0 capable sets yet. Throw in that UHD programming is not even out of the gates yet in the pay industry so we don't see that carrot dangling. Who is driving this train?
 
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