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Discovery January/February 1999

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By Jack Hyyppa

Television is
about to Change

The picture that you receive on your television set is based on an analog transmission system that is 50 years old. Television is about to change from analog to digital broadcasting. We don't have a choice about converting to digital technology. It is a federal mandate, and digital TV (DTV) will be the new technological standard. The FCC is requiring that all noncommercial stations like KUSM-TV convert to digital programming by 2003. This technological revolution will dramatically improve the quality of our television service and make possible over-the-air delivery of several simultaneous services to our viewers.

In a digital system, images and sounds are captured and transmitted using the digital code found in computers as zeros and ones. Many services already are being transmitted digitally such as the Internet, audio CDs, movies, photographs, print and telephone.

The three keyfeatures of digital television are:

  • High definition television (HDTV)
  • Multicasting in standard definition television (SDTV)
  • Data transmission
The good news is digital technology will significantly enhance what we already do so much better than all other broadcast services. We will have the opportunity to deliver our signature prime-time PBS programming in crystal-clear, high-definition detail with CD quality "surround sound."

For the first time, we'll be able to offer more education services to more Montanans at the same time. We'll have the capacity to multicast simultaneous and distinct channels instead of having to choose one programming stream over another. Potential channels include children's programming, college credit, public affairs or workforce training. This new technology also will give us the capacity to digitally distribute course materials, software and other data.


Digital television also will allow us to broadcast programs in much higher resolution or clarity than today's television. This is called high-definition television, or HDTV. Viewers at home will therefore be able to receive high-quality, crystal clear pictures. These stunning pictures will be displayed in a wide-screen format (16 by 9 aspect ratio). And,because it is digital, audiences will have the benefit of CD-quality, "surround sound." In other words, you will be able to enjoy a true home theatre experience.

Multicasting in Standard Television (SDTV)

When programs are not being broadcast in high definition, digital television will alloweach station to transmit four or more programs simultaneously. Standard definition television (SDTV) "multicasting" is made possible by compression techniques not available with todays analog system. SDTV offers a higher quality picture than we have today, along with stereo sound.


Whether we are broadcasting in HDTV or multicasting SDTV programs, digital technology will give broadcasters the capacity to use leftover bandwidth to transmit over-the-air video, audio, text or data directly to computers, fax machines or the television set itself.

Public Television and Digital Television

HDTV is tailor-made for public television because it will significantly enhance the beauty and detail of PBS's signature programming genres, including performing arts, drama, history, science, nature, travel and explorations. At the same time, multiplexing will allow public television to deliver more services to diverse and under served audiences simultaneously. DTV will give pubic television the ability to transmit computer information and data over-the-air, which provides a powerful tool for stations to expand their educational missions. Stations will have the capacity to deliver course-related materials to teachers and students, program guide information, and selected portions of the World Wide Web over-the-air to homes and schools.

Jack Hyyppa is the manager of KUSM-TV.



© 2000 Montana State University-Bozeman

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