Here's the article by By Susan Port, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer - Sunday, June 9, 2002High-definition TV coming -- eventually
The public might be slow to accept it, but local television stations are nonetheless keeping pace with a technological revolution.
One by one, the stations are beginning to offer high-definition broadcasts through a digital signal, leaving behind the mainstay analog signal that has served TV stations since 1939.
WFLX-Channel 29, a Fox affiliate, and WPBF-Channel 25, an ABC affiliate, spent millions on new equipment to meet a May 1 digital-broadcast deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission. (Public broadcasting stations such as WXEL-Channel 42 in Boynton Beach were given an extra year.)
The deadline was missed by WPEC-Channel 12, a CBS affiliate; WPTV-Channel 5, an NBC affiliate; WTVX-Channel 33, a UPN affiliate; and WPXP-Channel 67, an affiliate of West Palm Beach-based Paxson Communications Corp.
All four said they plan to transmit digital signals and some high-definition programming by the end of the year.
But most people won't be able to tell.
Viewers only will be able to pick up high-definition programming with an outside antenna and an HDTV set with a tuner. Viewers could pick up the digital signal on their standard analog sets if they have a tuner, or a converter that sells for $400, but they won't get high-definition quality unless they have a wide-screen HDTV set.
Adelphia Communications Corp., the dominant cable TV company in the area, doesn't plan to pick up the digital signal until enough of their subscribers have an HDTV set. Meanwhile, local television stations say TV manufacturers should only make sets that can pick up a digital signal to speed up the transition.
Congress is trying to push the transition because TV broadcasters are taking up valuable spectrum space that they would like to use for third-generation, or 3-G, wireless communications or defense programs.
HDTV, where you can see in great clarity things such as an individual blade of grass or even scratches on a hockey puck, will be eventually coming to every TV viewer, though it might not happen soon.
"It took 24 years before half the sets in America were color," said Dennis Wharton, senior vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington. "It does take time for viewers to swap their television sets."HDTV still costly
In 1996, Congress ordered all of the nation's approximately 1,600 public and commercial TV stations to change their broadcast signals from analog to digital, wide-screen images by 2006, or until 85 percent of households had the ability to pick up a digital signal, said Margo Davenport, an FCC senior attorney.
So far, 429 stations nationally are transmitting a digital signal in tandem with analog and that number gets bigger every day, Wharton said.
"We are steadily seeing stations converting all over the country to digital," he said. "It's encouraging. The benefits are sound clarity and picture quality, which are quite dramatic over time."
But the barriers are substantial. Not only are cable providers such as Adelphia not required to carry the signal, but HDTV sets are quite costly, ranging from $1,200 to $8,000.
What's more, television broadcasters are still struggling with an industrywide advertising slump that has dramatically affected their revenues. National, as well as local station owners have already had to trim staffs and cut back on programming.
"The FCC is asking TV stations under financial pressure to go out and spend money on equipment to put out a digital signal that not a lot of people will be able to watch," said John Spinola, station manager at WFLX. "The more stations that can pass a digital signal, the quicker it will happen. It will just take time to build."Conversion isn't cheap
WFLX was the first station in West Palm Beach to transmit a digital signal, Spinola said, adding that it cost about $3 million to do it. He said the station had to pay for new equipment such as a transmitter, a converter and an antenna.
WPBF spent about $2 million to start transmitting in digital, said Cliff Thomas, the station's director of technical operations. He said high-definition transmits twice the amount of data as analog, which accounts for the extra detail that viewers can see.
"It will take a while to get this whole facility digital," he said.
WHDT-Channel 59 of Stuart, which is owned by Guenter Marksteiner and affiliated with the Berlin-based Deutsche Welle network, also is carrying a digital signal in Martin County.
To be sure, more consumers are buying -- as more retailers are pushing -- HDTV sets, especially as prices continue to come down.
Matt Gelling, a manager at the Circuit City store on Okeechobee Boulevard, said the West Palm Beach store is selling an increasing number of sets.
For competitive reasons, he declined to give specific numbers, but said, "It's becoming more and more popular. (Consumers) see the benefits of having an HDTV ready for the future."
But few observers believe that a switch to all-digital broadcasting will occur by the 2006 deadline. Nationwide, fewer than 2 million households in the United States have HDTV sets. And locally, only about 30 to 40 hours of high-definition television, taped by the networks, can be seen on HDTV sets.
"It will be a process, not an event," said Bill Peterson, station manager for WPTV. "The general awareness of the public is becoming much greater."
Peterson estimated the number of people in the market who own HDTV sets is in the low thousands, while there are 681,100 TV households in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. His station will spend close to $8 million to build a new tower, digital cameras and other equipment for the new signal.
"I think cable plays a big role in whether it's an easy transition," Peterson said.Cable resists switch
However, cable providers are limited, as well. For example, Adelphia, which serves 575,000 viewers locally, does not have the capacity to pick up two signals from stations, according to Adelphia government affairs coordinator Chuck Blaine.
He said the FCC gave broadcasters a choice: They could have their digital or analog signals transmitted under a "must-carry" rule, but not both.
"To make room for digital, we would have to knock out 50 other channels for each station to have two channels," he said. "It doesn't make sense in the customer's eyes until there are enough HDTV sets out there."
Marc Smith, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Cable Television Association, said cable providers have started carrying digital stations in selected markets, but "it depends on the market demand.
"It depends on if people are banging on the door saying 'I want high-definition,' " he added. "Are people screaming for it? Or are they asking for programming, and willing to compromise on the quality of the picture?"
Satellite dish users are able to receive broadcast digital signals with the use of a separate antenna, but they still need an HDTV set for high-definition viewing. Thomas of WBPF said he expects Adelphia to pick up the digital signal to remain competitive with the dish companies.Pax may add stations
Donn Colee, program director at WPEC, said the CBS affiliate had equipment problems that has delayed the launch of its digital signal until the end of the summer.
It makes sense for stations to start transmitting digital signals, he said, to spur consumers to buy HDTV sets.
"It's a force wave of the future," Colee said. "Everyone is required to invest in the equipment and technology. It's going to happen.
"It's just a question of when consumers will buy enough television sets to make it a viable business."
Seth Grossman, executive vice president and chief strategic officer at Paxson, said PAX TV plans to lease a tower that NBC, which owns 32 percent of Paxson, is building for Pax's 65 stations. He said most of the programming will be so-called standard digital, which offers an upgraded analog picture but not true high-definition. The tower will allow Paxson to add five more stations, Grossman said.
"As soon as the tower is up, we are in business," he said. WPTV's Peterson said he's a big fan of high-definition TV, and sees a return to the days when seeing what was on the tube was an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
"I think high-definition is going to make TV kind of special again," he said.http://www.gopbi.com/partners/pbpost...461b6008f.html