With pledges, PBS and CBS try to keep ATV test center open

Originally published in Current, Dec. 4, 1995

PBS and Westinghouse/CBS have pledged to help technical planning for the TV industry's transition to advanced TV (ATV) by continuing operation of the $5 million Advanced Television Test Center in Alexandria, Va., next door to PBS headquarters.

Westinghouse/CBS, where high-definition TV advocate Joseph Flaherty is a top technical executive, guaranteed to carry ATTC expenses through 1997, in hopes that other broadcasters and hardware manufacturers will step up to shoulder parts of the cost, and PBS pledged $250,000 of in-kind services, according to ATTC Executive Director Peter Fannon. PBS's exact role in the center is yet to be defined, says PBS Vice President Mark Richer.

The aim is to raise at least $1.75 million a year to permit further joint testing of digital technology to implement the standard -- testing new antenna and transmitter designs, among other things, according to Fannon.

The lab would also figure out how to use translators to extend coverage in ATV, for example, and look into interference problems with some TV sets, according to Richer. ''If the industry didn't do it as an industry, you'd have everyone doing it by themselves, which is kind of silly,'' he says.

ATTC, equipped at the cost of $5 million, has been the main center for lab testing competing HDTV standards since 1991, and has been operated with aid from both broadcasters and the seven technology companies in the Grand Alliance.

The cable TV industry maintains a much larger lab in Colorado for development of cable equipment standards.

PBS President Ervin Duggan announced the continuation plan Nov. 28 [1995] at a reception with public TV station managers and many of the major players in HDTV standards-setting.

Earlier in the day, the FCC's Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service delivered its final HDTV transmission standards to the commission. The reception honored committee Chairman Richard E. Wiley and celebrated the end of an eight-year process that yielded the Grand Alliance standard for digital HDTV.

PBS has been deeply involved in the standard-setting process through Richer and the network's retired top technologist Howard Miller. Richer chaired the FCC advisory committee's working group that oversaw standards testing at the ATTC. Duggan and other top TV industry execs were committee members. PBS managed two field tests of the Grand Alliance transmission system in Charlotte, N.C., during the summers of 1994 and 1995. Fannon, head of the test center, is the past president of America's Public Television Stations.

People attending the reception at the Sheraton Washington Hotel gaped at a theater-size wide-screen projection of an HDTV broadcast from a temporary antenna on the roof of PBS headquarters across the Potomac.

Though delayed for years as proponents switched from analog to digital technology, the standards-setting plan has been moving steadily toward a transition plan proposed by the FCC. But Senate communications subcommittee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) has thrown it into doubt by proposing that the commission reconsider whether it should give broadcasters temporary second channels for the transition to digital. And then this month FCC Chairman Reed Hundt questioned whether the government should impose the digital transition on consumers, who probably would have to buy new digital TV sets or set-top converters sometime in the next 15 years.



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