EchoStar's HDTV Complaints Fall Flat


To the Editor: Your story about the dilemma faced by direct-broadcast satellite providers to continue to provide local-into-local television service as broadcasters move forward into the digital transition ["Could HDTV Be Ergen's Achilles Heel?" Multichannel News, Nov. 25, 2002] was right on point.

As more broadcasters designate their digital-television facilities to deliver 'primary' video programming to their market, including high-definition network programming, vital issues of comparable carriage rules between cable and satellite providers emerge.

EchoStar Communication Co.'s demand that it be exempted from the cable carriage rules governing 'material degradation' of broadcaster's signals on grounds that it is excessively 'burdened' by a lack of available bandwidth for local broadcaster's HD programming while it continues to offer selected programming from others in HD, simply adds emphasis to the vital role government plays in insuring fair competition in this industry.

On the matter of my support of EchoStar's proposal to provide subscribers with local broadcaster's HD programming via antenna, or more specifically by merely making available to subscribers an optional satellite receiver with DTV-receive capability, you omitted the salient point that [EchoStar chairman and CEO Charlie] Ergen's 'solution' is only wonderful if EchoStar both provides and installs
the subscriber's HD antenna at its expense in order to be 'relieved' of HD must carry.

Otherwise, I cannot and do not
support his solution at all, since no customer is going to do this at his expense, as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that they haven't already. And most continue to prefer to purchase cable TV service to avoid the mechanical and financial burden of reinstalling antennas. Also, the so-called antenna must be one specifically designed to work with DTV signals — not some piece of antiquated junk left over from the 1950's.

After reading your story, readers are left with DBS 'propaganda' with regard to the additional spectrum needed for HDTV. The claim that each local DTV broadcaster would have to be given eight channels is pure nonsense!

An HDTV broadcaster delivers his service over-the-air using a single standard 6 megahertz channel, which is exactly the same 6 MHz bandwidth used for traditional analog broadcasting. No additional broadcast spectrum is needed for HDTV. The only difference for cable TV and DBS operators is that they can
compress a traditional analog TV signal about 400 percent using digital MPEG2 [Moving Picture Expert Group] compression technology and they cannot
compress an HDTV signal by any significant amount since an HD signal has already been compressed.

By arbitrarily using very high compression 'ratio' numbers (without regard to the inevitable picture degradation that occurs to these standard definition pictures after such compression) then the ratio of bandwidth needed for an HDTV signal relative to a SDTV signal can be made to appear arbitrarily high. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission sets limits on picture degradation by MSO's.

When these limits are adhered to, then the difference between HDTV and SDTV is approximately 4:1 and 5:1 depending on which HDTV format is being used for comparison (the 'progressive' HD formats tend to require a lower bit rate than the interface formats due only to increased compressor efficiency).

As you can see, engineering reality creates quite a different potential burden than carefully chosen propaganda, which MSO's hope will be picked up by media and oft repeated until it becomes the new reality.

Finally, with regard to upcoming compressing technology for DBS providers: keep in mind that broadcasters will also be using new advances in compression technology to offer an improved HDTV picture. Both satellite and terrestrial broadcast signals require a very similar signal-to-noise (s/n) ratio for their respective broadcast signals to decode properly in their respective environments. The available s/n overhead in a broadcast environment severely limits the ability by broadcasters (satellite broadcasters as well) to utilize more efficient 'higher order' modulation formats such as are available to cable operators to encode HDTV. Even cable operators cannot solely rely on this technology since cable losses quickly eat up s/n ratios.

Some big future improvement in the ability to 'squeeze down' HDTV signals without material degradation is nothing more than writer's fantasy and good salesmanship by the proponents. It only sounds good when you are up against it and don't know any better.

Dr. Guenter Marksteiner, Licensee, WHDT-DT Stuart, Fla.