Harris Corp. and PBS to launch 40-city tour demonstrating digital TV

Originally published in Current, March 16, 1998

DTV Express truckOver the next 15 months, many Americans will get their first look at high-definition TV, and digital TV, in the DTV Express tractor trailer that the Harris Corp. and PBS will unveil Monday, March 23.

The next day, March 24, dozens of public TV managers, in town for APTS Capitol Hill Day, are planning to escort hometown legislators and congressional staffers through the 18-wheel, 66-foot truck, parked by the West Lawn of the Capitol.

A major purpose for public TV--at the foot of Congress, as well as at stops in 40 cities--will be to give public officials a concrete look at DTV and its service possibilities so they'll be receptive to pitches for subsidizing the conversion of public stations.

After the D.C. premiere, the truck will head to Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters, April 6-9, and then begin the tour that will run through June 1999. Starting on the west coast, the route generally will try to avoid snowdrifts--running through warmer states in cold months and cooler states in summer, says Jud French, corporate director for DTV at Harris, a major TV transmitter manufacturer that is subsidizing the tour.

[The sponsors announced the first 10 stops on the truck's 40-city tour, which begins after this week's National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas:

When it stops, the DTV Express will open its 53-foot, double-expanding trailer to its 16-foot width and, for about a week, handle tours arranged by local public TV stations for various groups of local people. There will be tours for local journalists and public officials, VIP receptions, and two days of DTV curriculum for engineers at local commercial and public stations, plus one day for general managers and news directors.

[Because a full presentation in the truck requires 40 minutes, and space inside is limited, planners don't expect to do demonstrations for much of the general public. "Our primary thrust is to reach the public through the local press," said French. Host stations will also invite local v.i.p.'s including educators, broadcast professionals, and members of zoning boards that may soon consider sites for new DTV towers, he added.]

One part of the trailer will demonstrate home theater (HDTV with five-channel surround sound) and classroom settings for DTV reception and the other part will be a miniature DTV station, with a complete chain of working equipment, from camera through antenna, says French.

To demonstrate DTV pictures as they will appear outside the studio, they will be received over the air, or taped off the air, having been encoded, transmitted, received and decoded, according to French.

A second vehicle will carry tour personnel and cargo.

While PBS is consorting with Harris on the road, it has also arranged collaborations with Thomcast's Comark Digital Services (CDS), Harris's major transmitter competitor. Comark and PBS announced in January that they will work together on DTV transition plans that are specially appropriate for public stations, says Mark Richer, the former PBS engineering chief who heads CDS. "There may be an ability for public television to take a step ahead of commercial broadcasters in moving more towards computer-based solutions for distribution and storage of programs," Richer speculates.

PBS wants to work with Comark as well "to ensure a natural migration path" to DTV for the many public stations that use Comark transmitters, according to Ed Caleca, senior v.p., station and strategic services. Comark made 60 to 70 percent of UHF transmitters at UHF stations, Caleca estimates, while Harris made most of the VHF transmitters.

Comark will offer detailed briefings and possibly videotaped curricula for station personnel as well as a special discount sales agreement.


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