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WHAT IS DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND WHAT NEW WHYY SERVICES WILL IT MAKE POSSIBLE?

What is today's analog television and why is it outmoded?
The picture you currently receive on your television set is based on a 50-year-old analog system. The quality of the analog picture is no longer acceptable by today's standards because the signal can be easily distorted as it travels over the air from the TV station to your home, and it has no expansion possibilities.

What is digital television?
The digital television system is a technological revolution that will dramatically improve the quality of WHYY's television signal and services to your home.

The limitless potential of the new digital technology will make it possible for WHYY to increase its services to the citizens of the Delaware Valley through Multicasting, Datacasting and High Definition Television (HDTV). The new WHYY services will help improve the lives of the more than 5 million people in the region by providing programming and services to reinforce the values of education, citizenship, creativity and innovation.

The digital technology will enhance dramatically the TV picture you receive at home, making it crystal clear with CD-quality sound. The digital revolution is possible because images and sounds are captured and transmitted using the digital code found in computers -- as zeroes and ones. Almost all communications already are being transmitted digitally -- computers, radio, movies, photographs, print, telephone.

What does digital technology mean for WHYY and citizens of the Delaware Valley?
The new digital technology will make WHYY more vital, visible and an even more important community resource because it will enable WHYY to....

  • help the region meet its economic challenges, from workforce training solutions to expanding the reach of local arts and cultural organizations.
  • offer multiple channels of simultaneous programming that will serve the needs of specific groups -- from preschool children to senior citizens.
  • create innovative learning opportunities for the community and provide new services to promote life-long learning.
  • offer enhanced enjoyment of TV12's nature and science programs, documentaries and arts performances through wide-screen, high-resolution images of near-photographic quality.
  • make additional streams of program information available to homes and schools via multimedia including TV, computers and the Internet.
  • continue the excellent and universally accessible program services that TV12 and 91FM have provided for more than 40 years.

What are the key features of digital television?

  • High Definition Television (HDTV)
  • Multicasting (four or five simultaneous program services)
  • CD-quality audio services
  • Data transmission (enhanced information resources)

What is High Definition Television (HDTV)?
HDTV is a wide-screen format (a 16:9 versus the current 4:3 aspect ratio) that offers 200% improvement in the picture resolution of the current analog system, and provides a crystal-clear picture, similar to a movie screen, compact disk-quality sound and perfect reception.

HDTV will significantly enhance the beauty and detail of public broadcasting's signature programming, from nature and performing arts to science, drama and travel. Think about watching your favorite nature show or travelogue with crystal-clear pictures and audio.

What is Multicasting?
When programs are not being broadcast in High Definition Television (HDTV) during prime time, digital television -- through signal compression techniques -- will allow WHYY to transmit four or more programs simultaneously on different channels. Even though it is called Standard Definition Television (SDTV), the quality of the picture on any of the new multicast channels will be higher and better than we have today.

For example, think of multiple TV12 channels where only one now exists, and here's what multicasting by WHYY could entail:

  • a service devoted to adult education, college credit telecourses and GED.
  • a service dedicated to training the labor force to improve the area's economic vitality.
  • a service devoted to children's programming; another for K-12 instructional programming.
  • a service for arts and cultural programming; another focused on public affairs.
  • the universally accessible program service WHYY has provided for more than 40 years.

What is Data Transmission?
The new digital technology -- in Standard Definition or High Definition -- will affect more than TV. It means new distribution methods for radio, enhanced computer services for schools, and services that merge TV, computers and the Internet. By using leftover or "opportunistic" bandwidth, WHYY will be able to transmit video, audio, text or data directly to computers, fax machines or over the air to your home computer or television set. The streams of information available might appear as a menu of choices on the TV screen, which the viewer will be able to read or print out for future reference. For example:

  • a travelogue might be transmitted with streams of data about sightseeing and transportation information that viewers can access while watching the program.
  • teachers will be able to print out teaching guides and learning materials while viewing TV.
  • the individual stock market investor might watch a favorite business program and gain instant access to economic information.
  • the educational experience of preschoolers will be enhanced by playing with interactive toys.

Public broadcasters, including WHYY, have always been leaders in harnessing the power of communications technology for public service. WHYY's current services include:

  • closed captioning for the hearing impaired
  • descriptive video for the visually impaired
  • radio reading services
  • Classical 24, WHYY's classical music service on TV12's Second Audio Program channel.

How will WHYY pay for its conversion to digital technology?
The conversion to digital technology will cost WHYY in excess of $5.8 million. WHYY's $15 million Campaign for Independence has earmarked in excess of $5 million toward new equipment. Additional revenue for equipment will come from WHYY's existing operational funds, a portion of which each year are earmarked for new equipment. Federal and state funding will also support public broadcasting's transition to digital technology. The total project will cost $23 million.

Will I still be able to watch television on my old set?
Yes. Until 2006, or until 86 percent of U.S. TV households have access to digital television sets, broadcasters will be required to continue to broadcast on both their current analog and new digital channels. TV12 will continue to broadcast its traditional programs in its current analog format until that transition.

Manufacturers are creating a converter box that will allow viewers to view the digital channels on analog TV sets. These boxes are expected to be in stores by December 1998. However, in order to experience High Definition Television (HDTV) and interactive TV, viewers will need the new digital television sets, which are expected to be in stores by December 1998. A new generation of computers will also work as DTV receivers.

Will these new sets be expensive?
No one can be sure how much the new sets will cost. Information currently available anticipates prices to range from $4,000 for a 32-inch direct monitor to as much as $8,000 for a 46-inch rear projection set. The set top converter box will cost about $300. These costs are expected to drop quickly over the next two years.

Will I have to pay to receive digital signals?
Under FCC rules, every station will be required to transmit at least one free stream of programming. WHYY will offer many additional services at no cost. WHYY is committed to making the best programming available to everyone in the community. A universally accessible educational, cultural and information service is critical to ensuring that the next generation is not polarized into information "haves" and "have-nots."

Will there be a comparable digital radio service?
Not exactly. Local radio stations will have the opportunity to convert to a digital format several years from now. The conversion will improve the quality of the signal. However, no expanded services will be possible.

Contacts: Nessa Forman (215) 351-1265 and Art Ellis (215) 351-1262