says over-the-air digital TV is better than over-the-air analog TV, you
take it to the bank.
That’s not only because Parks
is an accomplished and respected TV engineer. It also is because no
been more critical and skeptical about the 8-VSB transmission scheme
underlies DTV than the TV broadcasting company for which Parks works,
As Parks relates here in an
interview with TVNEWSDAY Editor Harry A. Jessell, Sinclair was so down
eight years ago that it tried to kill it and replace it with another
transmission system. That effort
But Parks now says that steady
improvement in DTV receivers has brought DTV to the point where all you
is a set of rabbit ears—Sinclair’s goal all along. And Parks and his
at Sinclair have joined an industry effort to develop a compatible VSB
that will allow TV stations to broadcast to cars zipping down the
that with analog.
This is Part I of a two-part interview
with Parks that kicks off TVNEWSDAY’s new Tech One on One series. In
next Thursday, Parks talks about the gradual introduction of digital
into all the
An edited transcript follows.
As we speak, there are
just 839 days until you are forced to make
the permanent switch from analog to digital. Are you ready?
Yeah. Our strategy all along
has been to roll out full-power DTV stations in every market we’re in.
market are we low power. We’re maximized in every market and we have
all of our TV stations.
So that expense and that
work is all behind you now.
Except for one little market
and that’s Fort Walton Beach,
Florida, because the
FCC has a
freeze on. That’s neither here nor there.
So this 2009 deadline is
not a big deal for you.
it does mean a lot to
us in a couple of different ways. We started this planning back in the
early-to-mid '90s and started execution in ’96 and it’s taken us this
long just to build
out the infrastructure. That’s a huge job. I mean it’s towers, it’s
transmission lines, it’s antennas, it’s the big stuff. That just takes
phase of it is done.
In terms of our transition
plan from analog to digital, we’re operating both systems now in all of
markets. Any network HD that comes down we pass through and in a lot of
we are doing multicasting. In fact, I don’t know if you’ll remember
in 1998, Sinclair was the first station to actually demonstrate a
I remember. And you took a
lot of heat for it, too.
That was the wrong thing
to do at that time.
We actually put on the air
four digital channels in Baltimore
to prove that it could be done. That started the multicast paradigm
us in front of Senator McCain, which wound up being kind of a fart in a
It was a big deal then. It
didn’t jibe with what the
rest of the industry was telling Congress at the time—digital was for
Well, I don’t think they
understood the technology. I mean after all you had a bunch of lawyers
don’t think anybody really understood what the technology could do. For
or worse, [Sinclair CEO] David [Smith] does understand technology. So I
that’s where we ended up. We now have multiple channels on in several
Another place where
Sinclair ran counter to the rest
of the industry was in challenging the 8-VSB transmission scheme for
Six years ago to be exact.
But eventually you came
around and said the system was
What changed our minds back
then was the realization that it wasn’t about what we thought, it was
law and the law is 8-VSB. When there were only 15,000 sets out, we
change it to COFDM, which is a very robust signal that it also portable
mobile. We lost that fight and we recognize that we lost. We’re not
But you have changed your
mind on the technology, too,
Well, VSB is VSB. It is today
what it was six years ago. What has changed is the receivers and the
ability to pick a signal out of the multipath. If you remember, our
then was—and today still is—we want a system that can be received by
antennas on top of TV sets so we can maintain our over-the-air ability.
initial VSB receivers were not as good as they are today. Today,
good. The fifth-generation VSB receivers approach COFDM service in a
So if you’ve got a TV set on on
your front porch and you want to watch a baseball game and you have a
rabbit ears or a loop antenna and a later generation VSB receiver, you will pick up the signal pretty
that’s the good news, but the signal itself hasn’t changed, it’s still
Would you say that
reception of today’s VSB is as good
as your analog signal?
Oh, it’s better than the
So, I’m going be able to
get this signal everyplace I
get the analog.
Yes and places where you
can’t get analog. You’ve got to be careful here because people will say
analog is better behind this wall in my living room in that location.
in general, with the latest generation receiver, reception is as good
better then analog in a fixed-set environment.
What about mobile
reception. Can I receive a signal as
I walk down the sidewalk or in a football stadium?
There’s portability and
mobility. Portability is when you can pick up the set and walk out to
and watch there. That’s portability. Mobility is when you put it in a
and you start moving. I don’t believe that standard VSB is really
mobile reception. Maybe limited very small movement, but, in general
VSB is not
really as it stands today a mobile service. However, A-VSB or advanced
we’re working on shows promise.
If you were at an NAB, you may
have seen the Rohde & Schwarz and Samsung demonstration of A-VSB.
simulated reception using a receiver in moving car.
As I understand that
system, you’re trading bits for
the improved reception.
Is that a trade you're
willing to make? I guess it
depends on what kind of business you want to be in.
Well, that’s exactly right. How
valuable are the bits? I don’t think anybody really knows that answer
yet. There are
a couple components to A-VSB. One is a synchronizing signal that helps
to be received in a portable mode and it also enhances its ability to
in a single frequency network. In addition, there’s a mode called
it to say that A-VSB could provide the ability for true mobile
I don’t know if there’s a
business that could be built
around that, but it would at least give broadcasters another option,
That's very true and
that can enhance the value of the over-the-air signal is a good thing.
feature broadcasters should have in their tool box.