The FM Stereo System That Lost

The FM Stereo System That Lost

Remember Betamax, HD DVD, Cinerama? How about the Crosby FM Stereo system?

murray_g_crosby150In the late 1950’s, former RCA engineer Murray G. Crosby invented a method of broadcasting FM stereo that worked (and sounded) better in fringe areas than the Zenith/GE system under consideration at the time. Only one problem though – it was not compatible with the subsidiary communications authorization (SCA) services (think Muzak) that some FM stations were experimenting with to bolster their bottom lines. (Remember that this was before the FCC Report and Order requiring licensees to broadcast separate programming on their AM and FM outlets.)

Finally on April 19, 1961, after lobbying by the background music industry and the FM stations who held special experimental authorizations for SCA services, the FCC selected the Zenith/GE system as the FM stereo standard. Which is why to this day your car radio reception degrades to AM-type static as a station goes out of range.

(For details, see Broadcasting Magazine, 10/06/1958, page 64.)

Cronkite Replaced by Zuckerberg ?

Cronkite Replaced by Zuckerberg ?

Walter CronkiteJust a mere 10 years ago Yahoo was the number one source of news on the net. (Even though at the time it gathered no news of its own.) Today (as you probably are aware) Facebook is the nets’ undisputed leader.

Just two generations ago CBS News Anchor and Managing Editor Walter Cronkite (pic) was known as “the most trusted man in America.” And as Cronkite said himself: “Certainly no words go out that I haven’t seen, and most of which I’ve written.”

I bring all this up because of this week’s controversy about Facebook’s news feed (and whether or not some conservative views were “blacklisted” from the “TRENDING” news module.) So why are editors important and why can’t we just have an algorithm do the choosing? As CNNMoney’s Brian Stelter reports: “Editors weed out spam, scams, hoaxes, and duplicative stories. But this week’s controversy reinforces the uncomfortable feeling that Facebook is a “black box.” But those of us who grew up thinking that journalists had a commitment to fairness and balance only have to look back to the days of Hearst and Pulitzer and their fight for click-thoroughs er, circulation.

So surfer beware as you waste your time on Facebook – don’t unquestionably believe any news you see there. Perhaps your time would be better served by streaming “The Social Network.”

(“A black box is a device, object, or system whose inner workings are unknown…” – Wikipedia)

We’ve Discovered 10-Bit Video!

We’ve Discovered 10-Bit Video!

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At home there are some 10-bit TVs and displays that can display HDR video.” – Mark Walton in Ars Techina

Well, my 1984 Zenith color TV could display 10-bit video quality. Not when watching an OTA broadcaster like the Almost Broadcasting Company, (who used 8-bit D-2 videotape,) but most likely when watching Discovery Channel (they used 10-bit Digital Betacam) and definitely when watching my 12 inch analog videodiscs. (I know because my post facility mastered some of those discs.)

Now I know that my Zenith had maybe 350 lines of resolution (if I was lucky), but it didn’t have just 256 steps (8 bits) of brightness. In fact, because it (and the whole transmission chain at the time) was analog, it had no steps at all. Brightness flowed smoothly from 0.339 volts (black) to exactly one volt (white). None of this stair-step stuff you see at the end of some commercials where the finely-graduated background color looks more like van Gogh’s “Starry Night“. So in this 4K and HDR world we now live in, its CRAZY to have newly produced specs (like the NABA-DPP Common Technical Specs) that call for delivery of 8-bit files instead of 10-bit files. What a rip-off for consumers who purchase HDR sets expecting to get better OTA and cable TV pictures.

Channel In A Pox

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Channel In A Pox

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So let’s say you want to buy some “Channel-In-a-Box” servers. Your network runs up to ten feeds – East, Central, Mountain, Pacific, a North regional feed (for snow tire commercials), a South regional feed (for the radial tire commercials) and three occasional feeds for those regional college games. You buy 15 Fast Allegro Real Time CiaB systems – a primary for each feed and a backup for every two channels. (Remember – no single point of failure!) Of course it’s 2016 (and you want to save some $$) – so you skip the HD-SDI outputs and order the 10Gb Ethernet IP only version.

Now your vendor has configured your system with at least two of everything so that you can sleep at night. So what are the chances that all of your primary FARTs will be non-airable all at the same time? Well if your vendor promised you “six nines” of uptime over the course of course of a year I hope you have that in writing ’cause I bet you’ll only get “two nines” (3.65 days of downtime) till your vendor exorcises all the software bugs from your system!

Now I know that your old “single function” equipment had downtime too. But you were always able to patch (or route) around a bad piece of baseband equipment. But what do you do when that new banner/bug/snipe that graphics just made takes your CIB off the air?

UHD: 8 Bits vs 10

UHD: 8 Bits vs 10

Simulation of 8-bit pictureFinally realizing that more pixels alone is not enough, the UHD Alliance has come out with specs for what they call “Ultra HD Premium.” Besides HDR and a wide color gamut, the performance metrics require that the video bit depth must be 10 bit. (I assume they are talking about the luminance channel here, as most video is encoded as luminance plus color difference signals.) However if you look inside almost any broadcast/cable/satellite transmission facility, you’ll see that most are using 8-bit mezzanine formats such as XDCAM HD 50 for server storage. Why is this so bad? Imagine paying $1K or more for a 4K monitor and seeing background colors like the thumbnail above. (Or at left depending on the screen size of your device.) And no, the graphic artist did not design it that way.

While the upcoming 4K Blu-ray Disc format (which requires a new 4K Blu-ray Disc player) and some streaming services (like Netflix) will be capable of delivering Ultra HD Premium content, don’t expect any from broadcast or cable services any time soon. The future over-the-air ATSC 3.0 standard will support Ultra HD Premium services, but you’ll need some future ‘to be announced’ converter box to make it work with today’s 4K displays. Gee, it’s fun being on the bleeding edge of technology, isn’t it?