Iowa Public Television

Friday, November 30, 2007

Is This Trip Really Necessary?

Greeting all and welcome to the inaugral Iowa DTV Answers blog. I had originally considered writing an introduction of myself and my qualification and history for my first entry but I have decided against that in favor of the simple introduction. My name is Bill Hayes and I am the Director of Engineering and Technology for Iowa Public Television and I am charged with overseeing the conversion of IPTV's facilities for analog to digital. What this means is that I am taking a perfectly good analog operation that is still working very well and I am disrupting it with a lot of "new digital" technology that like all thing that combine the term "new" and "digital" still has some bugs in it. My staff and I are in a race to have all of our analog stuff removed from service and all of the digital stuff in service to meet the looming deadline of February 17, 2009. Not since the Y2K scare has there been more countdown clocks running that all remind us of this crucial date because on that day, we pull the plug on the analog television service that we know so well and we rely solely on the new digital television service that still has many known and unknown issues.

That day in February concerns you as well because until then, all of the hiccups and oddities that we have been dealing with at the station have had very little impact on what you as a television viewer see and hear while watching our station. There have been the occassional issues that may have momentarily interupted a program that you were watching but for the most part you have been shielded from the vast majority of issues that have come up and believe me there have been some huge ones. Problems so large and scary that lawyers have had to sort through the rubble and vendors have fallen on their swords. The road to digital television is strewn with wreckage and I'll bet every television engineer working through the transition can share with you scary stories about some incident they confronted that made them wonder if this stuff was ever going to work. And some, are still wondering....

Now on this well laid foundation comes your part in all of this. On February 18th, 2009 when you turn on your TV, will you see anything or will you feel like the late Heather O'Rourke from the movie Poltergeist, sitting in front of a television display noise saying "They're here!" Well, before you end up in flooded swimming pool surrounded by unearthed coffins trying to flee into the night, let me just say that the "They" in this case are myself and my staff at IPTV and we are indeed "here" but our mission is to take what we know about television and what we've learned about digital television and help insure that when television becomes exclusively digital on February 18, 2009, you are already there.

During my next few postings I will answer some of the basic questions like what happens to cable and satellite subscribers and how do I receive over the air? But the most important questions to answer aren't the ones that I think you have but the ones you ask. So please let me know if what is on your mind. Remember, there are 10 kinds of people in the world....those that understand digital and those that don't. If you got the joke you're well on your way if not, you'll need help.

15 comments:

Richard said...

As I understand it there are three aspects to this "trip." 1. A change from an analog signal to a digital signal. 2. A High Density (HD) signal that provides finer detail on the screen. 3. A change in the picture width to height (aspect) ratio from 4/3 to 16/9 leading to a widescreen picture. Here's my question: Does the current IPTV digital broadcast use all three of these features? If not will all three be used come February 17, 2009? If digital IPTV uses the widescreen feature does this mean that those of us who buy a converter (rather than new TV) will see a back band above and below the picture? Just like when we watch a DVD in widescreen format.

Bill Hayes said...

Hi Richard. In essence you have identified some of the major aspect of the digital conversion, although HD actually stands for High Definition not High Density.
The answer to your first question is that IPTV is already broadcasting in full HD. As a matter of fact, IPTV is the only local television station in all of Iowa that is producing local HD and in the near future we will complete the conversion of our studios to full HD production so shows like Iowa Press and Market to Market as well a live events such as Festival will be in HD.
I am less sure on the answer to your second question. I have not yet seen one of the converter boxes but I suspect that they will output a letterbox (black bars at across the top and bottom) image. I will check into this and follow up in a few days.

Anonymous said...

Why is "Market to Market" only available on the analog channel/signal?
When will it be available on one of the digital channels?

Jennifer Konfrst said...

As we finalize the conversion of our studio equipment and master control system to digital broadcasting, look for Market to Market to be available in hd in the next 2 months. (by March 2008.) Thanks!

petersjo said...

We get our service over the air (live 3 miles from West Branch tower), no cable or dish. If we buy a DTV, will it require an antenna at all? Do we hook it to what we have or is there a different kind of antenna required? I can't seem to find information appropriate for us "cave dwellers" who still use antennas.

Bill Hayes said...

Hi petersjo. DTV uses the same type of antennas as analog television does. There have been some improvements in antenna design but since the DTV service uses the same frequencies as analog, the antennas are not significantly different so you should be able to use your existing antenna.
Just to let you know that association rules and covenants that forbid the installation of conventional television antennas are not enforceable because the force people to pay for broadcast services that are available for free with an antenna. I am not suggesting that you start a war with your neighborhood association but if you want to receive over the air services, you cannot be denied by any local regulations.

Anonymous said...

We live four miles north of Iowa City in an area not served by Cable. We have a eight foot roof top tower with a 20 year old high quality antenna on top of it. With our new high quality Sony Bravia HDTV we went from four viewable channels to 18 crystal clear channels. Essentially, I compensated for the limitations of over the air signals with a high end HDTV.

Bill Hayes said...

Thanks for letting everyone know that switching to DTV doesn't necessarily mean that you need to buy a new antenna, a 20 year old antenna works just fine as long as it is in good repair. What you have also discovered is that in many cases the the DTV service from a station can be received even when the associated analog service is too noisy to watch.

petersjo said...

Thanks to both Bill and Anon for your responses. You've provided exactly the information we've been looking for! We'll invest in a new Sony Bravia and look forward to "crystal clear" service. We watch IPTV 75% of the time, and couldn't bear the thought of having to pay a monthly fee for channels we'd hardly watch. Thanks again, guys.

Anonymous said...

We purchased a 32" LCD TV and a set of HD rabbit ears. We are 7 miles north of Bondurant and not in a cable area. There are times when the signal fades causing bleeps. Sometimes the screen freezes completely not allowing us to change channels or even turn off the set. The only remedy is to unplug the set and plug it back in. This doesn't seem like it would be good for the set. Is this something we can remedy or do you think it's the set?
Thanks.
Mary

Jennifer Konfrst said...

Hi Mary. Bill Hayes, our Director of Engineering, had this to say in response to your question:

This is a difficult question to answer. Loss or disruption of the received signal should not cause a television set to lock-up. To me, that implies a poor receiver design within the television set. By unplugging and plugging the set, the computer that is controlling the set is forced to reboot and that clears the problem. I don’t know if unplugging the set and then plugging it back in will harm it or not but it certainly seems inconvenient. The signal fades you describe are probably the result of local conditions very close to the rabbit ears. People moving around in the room or swaying trees near the home can all disrupt the signal to some degree and rabbit ears are very sensitive to these disruptions from all directions. One solution is to prevent the loss of signal by installing a better antenna either on the roof or in the attic of the house. A home in Bondurant wouldn’t require a very large antenna to receive excellent service with enough fade margin so that the movement of trees in the wind wouldn’t be noticed by the receiver. I would still consider taking the set back (if it hasn’t been too long) and trying a different model.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of a good brand/model of TV that would be good for reception of over-the-air signals using an outdoor antenna.  We live from 55 to 75 miles from the stations.  Currently, with our converter box, reception isn't as good as the stations' analog signal.  Well, the stations we do get are fantastic with DTV, but we can't get them all. So Im looking for a TV with a good sensitive tuner.

Anonymous said...

gcerI can still receive IPT using the analog system on my analog TV. When I hook up my new digital converter I cannot get it. I live in Cedar Rapids. Any ideas instead of cable, satellite or new DTV? Mike

Anonymous said...

We live in rural Des Moines County, Iowa. My address is R.R., New London, Iowa. We do not have cable access here, only satellite which we do not own. I spent $80 on two conversion boxes (and that includes the coupon discounts) and do not receive any channels with the converter boxes. I get the message "no signal". So, it seems to me, us folks in the country have no choice but to subscribe now to satellite...which I have no interest in. I am quite happy with the seven channels I receive with my analog roof antennae, which come in very clearly. Now with the digital converter I receive no channels. The local ABC affiliate out of Moline will come in only once in a great while on the converter. I feel like I am being forced into buying a service that should be free. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Anon. petersjo02 here. We ran into the same problem. We've used an over-the-air antenna for 17 years and were looking forward to DTV and HDTV on our new Sony Bravia. While we got all IPTV channels just fine (3 miles from tower), we got no other channels at all with the converter box and the antenna (we're not far from
Cedar Rapids and QCA). After checking out the very expensive scable ervice from our local phone provider (we live in the country), we ended up installing Dish. Downside is that we seem to lose sat. signal whenever the weather is iffy, and we only get the original IPTV, same as current analog service. I sure wish that I could get all the IPTV channels on Dish.