New York -- Harris Corp. and Lucent Technologies Inc. last
week announced a strategic alliance to deliver digital-television-encoding equipment to
local broadcasters planning their transition to DTV and high-definition television.
Bruce M. Allan, vice president and general manager of
Harris' broadcast division, said it had become obvious that local broadcasters wanted
to control encoding locally so that they could add local commercials in a seamless manner.
The encoders were developed by Bell Laboratories,
Lucent's research arm, with input from Harris, which is closer to the needs of the
'We have the technology and the history of research to
do this,' said Andreas Papanicolaou, general manager of Lucent Digital Video,
'but no good channel to bring this to the broadcasters.'
In designing the encoding equipment, Lucent needed to be
flexible enough to accommodate whatever digital format a broadcaster chooses. Today,
there's no consensus among local broadcasters, or even networks, on whether to
transmit true HDTV, standard-definition digital (SDTV), or some combination of the two.
Lucent designed its encoders so that a local broadcaster could transition between
multichannel SDTV and single-channel HDTV transmissions from the same equipment.
To meet anticipated demand, Harris is starting an
aggressive internal training program next month to make sure that there are enough trained
DTV service technicians and engineers.
Last month, Harris surveyed 401 broadcast-television
executives about their DTV plans. When asked if their stations could afford the cost of
conversion to DTV, 66 percent said yes, compared with just 42 percent of executives who
responded to a similar survey in 1996. And 83 percent said they hope that the conversion
to DTV and HDTV broadcasting will become a reality, up from 72 percent in 1996.
When asked for one action that television-receiver
manufacturers could take to spur DTV-market development, the overwhelming answer was,
'keep digital-receiver prices low' (76 percent).
The survey results, released this month, didn't clear
up the question of HDTV versus multichannel SDTV formats, however. Only 23 percent said
they would transmit HDTV as their primary digital signal; 44 percent said they didn't
The role of cable operators in delivering digital broadcast
signals remains unclear. Plans for some digital cable boxes would not support a
full-fledged high-definition signal. And must-carry rules have yet to be determined for
broadcast signals in the digital domain.