DTV in Canada, Consumers taking charge!

A Quick Backgrounder:

Canada, like the US, is involved in the transition from Analogue Television to Digital Television. Television broadcasters face the reality that they will ultimately lose their analogue broadcast spectrum, and must convert their operations to new spectrum allocated for digital broadcasts.
The new spectrum designated allows for either one digital High Definition signal, or as many as five separate Standard Definition digital channels to be broadcast in the same amount of bandwidth required for a single channel in the analogue NTSC realm.
This transition is well underway in the US. Over 460 stations, including more than 50 in Canadian border markets, have implemented digital broadcasting. CBS and ABC now have all their prime time drama in HD this season, and all the US networks offer expanded HD programming in addition to their SD content.
Canadian satellite companies and most of the cable companies are now marketing special set top boxes, (STBs), that enable subscribers to receive High Definition programming. City-TV, (owned by CHUM) has already announced plans to broadcast in HD, subject to licence approval by the CRTC.
Canadian consumers have purchased well over 500,000 DTV compliant sets over the last 4 years, marketed by every major brand in Canada.
The Facts:
How will Consumers Receive DTV?
Over-the-Air DTV Broadcasts
Consumers will need to hook up an antenna to receive and display the signals on a Digital Television with a built-in digital tuner. In most areas, consumers will be able to receive their local station’s digital broadcasts, and, depending on their location, broadcasts from US border cities.
DTV by Cable or Satellite
 These service providers rent or sell special digital DTV capable STB’s to process the signal. When connected to a DTV compliant set, the signal is passed directly to the set for display. If connected to an analogue set, the box converts the digital signal to analogue for display.
Will consumers be able to receive both analogue and digital broadcasts?
As the transition to DTV broadcast develops, broadcasters will simulcast their programming on their old analogue channel and their new Digital channel. Consumers who have analogue sets with antennas will be able to watch TV on the existing analogue stations, and DTV set owners will be able to receive the new digital signals via antenna. When the analogue broadcasts cease, those consumers with an analogue TV will need to either subscribe to a delivery service that provides an STB to decode the signals for display on their set, purchase a Digital Signal Converter, or purchase a new DTV. Consumers will have ample notice before Canadian broadcasters decide to cease analogue broadcasting.
What kind of Digital Televisions are available now?
The ATSC standards for Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) relate to broadcast, not display. The set manufacturers recently adopted specific terminology, developed by the US based Consumer Electronics Association, to use in the marketing of their products. In essence, they have separated the capabilities into two categories: “Digital Television” sets with built-in ATSC tuners, and “DTV Ready” sets requiring external STB’s to display the signals. The definitions also cover the display and audio capabilities of the sets. SD and SD Ready is for basic DTV display, ED (enhanced definition) and ED Ready is for improved display and audio characteristics, while HD and HD Ready represent the highest quality resolution available, AC3 audio and Widescreen aspect ratio. All sets marketed are identified by these criteria.

At this time, most of the sets available are “DTV Ready”, and are typically larger screen size models, suitable for Home Theatre applications. Many companies are also offering Flat Panel models, based on LCD/TFT or Plasma technologies.
What is involved in Creating HDTV Programming?
The criteria for High Definition Television is that it must be digital content, transmitted in digital form, received and displayed on an HD capable set. Most 35mm films and high quality videotape productions can be digitized into a format that qualifies for HDTV. While many studios are digitizing their libraries for future programming uses, they are also starting to create programming in digital form, in both Canada and the USA.
When DTV broadcast starts in Canada, how will it work?
Broadcasters transmit their NTSC programming from their central station, with a network of repeater stations, and will do the same with DTV programming in a simulcast mode. The broadcaster’s “over-the-air” transmitters also feed their programming to the various cable and satellite service providers, who deliver the programming over their own networks to their customers. Specialty and Premium programming will also be fed directly to these service providers, who will make it available to those customers who have a digital STB and pay additional fees for those programs. A consumer wishing to receive free DTV programming from over-the-air broadcasts must have a DTV set with a built-in ATSC digital tuner.

What is involved for a Broadcaster to convert to Digital?
There are 18 different formats of DTV, including 6 High Definition (HDTV) formats. HDTV requires that the programming be digital, delivered to the DTV or set top box with very high resolution, (either 720 progressive scanning lines, or 1080 interlaced scanning lines in a wide screen (16x9) aspect ratio and with Dolby Digital (AC3) audio.

Each broadcast “channel” is 6 megaHertz, and 1 HDTV broadcast will consume most of that. However there are 12 SDTV or Standard Definition Television formats utilizing lower resolution than HDTV, either 16x9 or 4x3 aspect ratio, and lower audio quality. These broadcasts can be compressed so that a broadcaster could transmit at least 4 SD programs in the space of a single HD broadcast. Broadcasters must select which ATSC format they will use for programming. As all ATSC STB’s and tuners can decode all ATSC formats, it is up to the broadcaster to determine their preferred format for broadcast.
Are any Canadian Broadcasters Digital Yet?
Toronto-based City TV has already applied for an over-the-air DTV broadcast license, and other applications for major market stations are expected to follow. There are three test transmitters now operating in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. These transmitters are being fed a variety of DTV programming to test the efficiencies and capabilities of the various ATSC formats. Many Canadians are now able to receive to DTV transmissions from the increasing number US border city broadcasters. Canadian set manufacturers report that these markets exceed the national average in sales of HDTV sets with built in tuners. This is a clear indication that Canadian consumers are ready for HD.

Broadcasters throughout North America are faced with the elimination of their analogue-broadcasting spectrum, and must re-engineer their facilities to meet the ATSC broadcast standards. In most cases all the transmission, studio, camera equipment and repeater tower equipment must be replaced.. However, many stations upgrade their equipment on an ongoing basis, and have included the cost of converting to digital in their long-term business plans. Currently, approximately 20% of Canadians receive their primary television directly from “over the air” broadcasts.
What are the Cable Company Doing?
The cable industry currently services roughly 74% of Canadian TV households. The major cable companies have built out their networks to be able to provide digital services to most of their subscribers, and are aggressively promoting their digital STB’s. Approximately 800,000 of their customers currently have these STB’s. Digital cable subscriptions are forecasted to exceed 2,000,000 by 2005. Many cable companies are now distributing several channels of High Definition television programming, although viewers need to upgrade their SD digital STB’s to new HD compliant models to benefit. The major cable companies are actively sourcing new HD content to add to their services.
What is the Status of DTH Satellite in Canada?
The two authorized Canadian satellite companies have captured over 14% of the Canadian TV viewing households, and are growing. The satellite companies digitize the analogue programming they receive to SD, and deliver it to their customer’s STB in that form. The STB then either passes the signal directly to a DTV display, or converts it into a signal that can be seen on an analogue TV set. Both service providers are offering several channels of High Definition programming, and market HD STB’s to decode those signals.
What should Consumers Buy?
There are many different choices available, depending on the needs and wants of each individual. Most Canadian TV retailers are well versed in the specific features and capabilities of their products, and can give good advice. Certainly, an in-store demonstration of the picture quality available in DTV will assist in the decision making process. The availability of HD programming may vary from area to area, depending on service providers. More and more DTV content is being made available on an ongoing basis, through cable and satellite, and will be ultimately be joined by broadcast.
One thing is certain though… DTV is a reality, not a trend or a fad, and is here to stay.

DTV in Canada 2002, A Work in Progress

The idea of HDTV is being embraced by consumers in ever increasing numbers. Evidence of this is the sales ratio of HDTV capable products in Canadian border cities with access to US over-the-air HD broadcasts. Since introduction, Canadian consumers have purchased well over 500,000 DTV capable sets.
The set manufacturers have introduced a wide variety of increasingly affordable DTV compliant sets, including some based on exciting new technologies, such as LCD and Plasma. Many brands provide comprehensive technical information on their web sites.
The Canadian  “DTH” satellite companies have already demonstrated their readiness and capabilities in delivering DTV, although consumers will need to obtain an HD capable STB and subscribe to the HD programming.
The cable companies are continuing to build out their networks  to reach as many customers as they can. Subscribers with HD STB’s will be able to receive a number of HD channels.
There are 3 over-the-air test transmitters up and running, providing valuable information and experience to the broadcasting community, as they prepare their transition to free over-the-air digital broadcasts.