How Does Digital Broadcasting Work?

  • For the past 50 years, TV signals have been broadcast in analog format. These are standard radio waves that are received by your antenna and converted into sound and pictures on your TV. Adding pictures to the sound carried via radio waves involves a camera converting video into rows of dots (pixels) and arranging (synchronizing) them into pictures. Digital broadcasting is radically different from analog--but may still be quite familiar to many people. If you've ever been connected to the internet and downloaded any pictures or information, you're already a digital user.

  • Digital broadcasting comes to your TV in the form of binary digits--computer signals composed of zeros and ones--using the same process that occurs constantly in every computer on our planet. Just as you can play sophisticated electronic games with incredibly realistic pictures created from computer signals, digital broadcasting delivers amazingly clear video to your TV. The speed of digital transmissions combined with the ability to use "compression" to pack more information into these signals paved the way for high definition television (HDTV).

  • Digital broadcasters have three primary options (called formats) for the level of data they deliver to your TV. Format "480" delivers standard definition television (SDTV) reception to your set, similar to the analog over-the-air signals (but better) that you've been receiving since the 1950s. Two other formats, "720" and "1080" provide you with the exciting video found with high definition (HD). By receiving many more pixels (dots), your TV picture becomes incredibly more detailed and lifelike. Format "720" delivers 80 percent more pixels than SD, while format "1080" delivers a huge 270 percent more dots to your TV.

  • Using what is called "MPEG-2" compression, digital broadcasters can also send you one or more "sub-channels" over the same frequency, a feature impossible to accomplish with analog TV signals. This digital broadcasting ability allows you to receive the hundreds of programs now available. For example, if 50 broadcasters were sending you programming using analog technology, you could possibly receive 50 TV shows at any given time. Using digital broadcasting technology, the same 50 broadcasters could choose to deliver four sub-channels each to you. The result: You could receive up to 200 different TV programs at any one time.

  • The power, speed and clarity of internet signals has been used and enjoyed for many years. These same abilities are now integrated with television to give you wonderful new viewing experiences. Using the reliability and speed of computer technology, digital TV broadcasting data, not pure sound and pictures, will open vast new horizons to viewers. For example, in the near future, you'll be able to combine your TV directly with internet functions (the digital signals are identical) to explore new worlds of entertainment and information.

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