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March 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Jim Sullivan <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 1 Mar 1992 12:16:36 CST
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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     Hi.  My name is Jim Sullivan and I would like a few minutes of your time.
It may be the most important message you hear in your lifetime, so please sit
back and listen to what I have to say to you.
     As I am sure you are well aware, this country is having some rough
economic times.  Unemployment is running at an unacceptably high rate.  People
who have lost their jobs are having a very difficult time finding new ones.
And almost every day you hear more bad news about lay-offs and businesses
having to close their doors because of the poor economic conditions under which
we are currently suffering.
     In Texas, where I live, we have had times as close to a depression as you
can get.  My parents lived through the Great Depression of the Thirties.  They
told me about it, and I always hoped it would never happen again.  But I have
never seen in my lifetime the number of home foreclosures I have seen over the
last few years.  And the problems with the banking system, particularly in
Texas, have been on the national news almost every day for quite some time.
    It did look as if we were coming out of these economic problems.  But the
country's rebound from the current recession, which has hit nationally and not
just in Texas, is now in question.  Some economists say that the recovery has
stalled out, and that we may be in store for "second dip" in the economy, a
continuation of the economic problems.  There are others who have been
predicting another catastropic depression in the Nineties; books have even been
written about it.
     Well, what is this country doing about it?  Not a whole lot, to be honest
with you.  Think about it.  We really don't have a cohesive, comprehensive
national economic plan; at least not one the general public is familiar with.
If you have a problem, and you don't have a plan to solve it, you have an even
greater problem than you started out with.
     What I believe we need is an important breakthrough in technology.  One
that will help this country regain its leadership position in world technology,
productivity, and economic status.  It is no big secret that foreign countries,
such as Japan and Germany, have taken over the leadership in electronic
technology, that they have higher productivity than we do, and that their
respective economies are stronger than ours.
     A major breakthrough in technology would obviously do a great deal to
restore our leadership role in the world.  Not just research at a university,
because that does us little good as far as our economy goes, if the results
cannot be turned into useful products and services developed by this country
and distributed throughout the world.  But instead, I speak of a new technology
that would be beneficial to a large majority of people in this country and
throughout the world.  A critical technology that would re-establish the faith
we have in ourselves as a nation and that would bring money back into the
country, rather than have it flow outside the country, as it has been for years
and years.

     There are a lot of problems that we face in this country.  To name just a
few:  disease, poverty, suffering, crime, and the ever-present potential for
wars with other countries.  But without a healthy economy, all of these other
problems are difficult if not impossible to solve.  And so, even though I am
greatly interested in these and other problems, I see the economy of our
country as the most important problem of all of these.  If it can be solved, I
foresee economic prosperity that would allow the mitigation if not solution of
these other problems.
     So how do I propose to solve the economic problems of this country?
Digital television.  First, I will explain a little about what digital
television really is.  Next, I will explain to you why this would revolutionize
the communication and computer industries and why this would be so beneficial
to our country.  Finally, I will wrap this up.
     Digital television is an enormous leap forward in communication
technology.  It is essentially the final act of the merging of communication
and computer technology.  If you have seen the fantastic special effects in the
movie "Terminator 2", which were for the most part the result of computerized
effects, you realize how much more powerful and exciting the movies can be with
such technical effects.  There are virtually no limits as to what visual
information can be put onto film which has been processed through special
computer systems.  Most, if not all of the digital special effects in
Terminator 2 would be extremely difficult to duplicate using more traditional
special effect techniques.
     Full digital video promises much more than the current broadcast
television signals can.  The reception should be an exact copy of what was
originally broadcast from a television station; and what the TV station
broadcasts, if it were not live, would be an exact copy of the original.  The
older style of television recording and broadcasting is called "analog", and it
is difficult to maintain the quality of the transmitted pictures due to the
format in which the picture is stored and broadcast.  "Analog" is related to
the word "analogy" which means "something similar to".  Analog television
signals are electronic, magnetic, or eletromagnetic in nature depending upon
whether the signals are being processed, stored, or transmitted.  An analog TV
signal is a format which resembles the original picture.  A photograph is an
analog format of some scene which the photographer wanted to keep for some
purpose.  The photograph is just chemicals on a plastic-like surface which have
colors and hues that resemble, to a high degree of accuracy, the original scene
that was photographed.  This concept is relatively easy to understand.  A
television analog signal is much more difficult to understand in detail, so let
me just say that analog video is just an electronic, magnetic, or
electromagnetic image of what a camera originally saw, or what was developed on
some other type of video equipment such as a title generator.  Although we
cannot see such video signals themselves without specialized electronic
equipment, we can use television monitors, VCR's and receivers, just as you
probably have at home to convert the analog video signals back to a picture on
your TV screen for viewing.  So the original scene is sent through a camera,
converted to this analog format, processed, transmitted to your home, received
by your TV, converted by your TV back to a picture on your screen, and viewed
by you at home.
     Digital video requires substantially more technology.  Instead of a format
which resembles the original scene (in an electronic way), the picture
information is stored as a collection of numbers in a computer.  A huge volume
of numbers must be stored.  These numbers specify the color of a very small
portion of the viewing screen, called a pixel.  In order to store enough
information for just one picture on your TV screen, thousands of these numbers
would have to be stored.  Every second you watch your TV, you are actually
seeing about thirty complete pictures.  Since the pictures appear so quickly on
your TV set, it gives the illusion of continuous motion.  The enormous storage
requirements needed for digital television are a big part of the problem in
converting from our present system to digital video.  And your TV would have to
be capable of understanding this new format, decoding it, and displaying the
result on your screen.  This would probably require you to buy a new type of
television set, when one becomes available.
     This transition from the current analog-based broadcast standard to the
new digital standard could be phased in.  Broadcasts could continue on the
regular TV channels, which would mean you would not immediately need to buy a
new TV set.  But if you did choose to buy a new digital TV receiver, the same
analog broadcast could be sent out (in digital format) simultaneously on other
channels so that you could take advantage of the much improved quality of the
digital video signals.  In addition, these new digital TV's would undoubtedly
be integrated into a computer system, so that you would be buying both a
computer and a television in one system.  Since many of the components for
digital television receivers and computers will be very similar if not
identical, you will probably save a great deal of money.  It is quite likely
that digital video standards will be upgraded often in the future; but you will
not have to buy a new TV set every time the standards are changed.  Instead,
you will probably just buy a small device you plug in to your TV/computer; this
device will accept the upgraded standard, decode it, and let your TV system
handle the display of the pictures and audio.  I would anticipate the cost for
such an upgrade kit to be very small, maybe twenty-five dollars or less.
     Digital television is closer than you think.  Television and film can be
digitally stored on magnetic tape currently, and processed during the editing
process of a movie or television program.  This is a very expensive process at
the present, but the trend of all electronic equipment over the past forty
years has been increasing in terms of quality and decreasing in terms of cost.
This trend appears to have accelerated during the 1980's with the advent of the
personal computer system.  The advances that have taken place in home and small
business computers over the last ten years are incredible.  The computational
power is almost unbelievable and the cost is dramatically lower than it was for
comparable equipment available ten years ago.  A similar trend has developed in
television sets, VCR's, stereos, CD's and other home entertainment electronics.
     By the way, just in case you did not already know, a CD (or compact disc)
player is just a digital audio device, and is rapidly increasing in popularity
as well as decreasing in price.  Video is next in line to "go digital".  And
there are currently some large corporations, such as Zenith, AT&T, and RCA
(among others) that are involved in the development of digital video equipment.
But foreign countries, in particular Japan, are also very active in the
development of new electronic equipment, and that creates some problems.
     One major problem is generated as a result of the fact that most of the
electronic equipment we buy is manufactured outside the United States.  This
creates a great economic drain on this country, since we spend more on products
and services that are imported into this country than we receive for products
and services that are exported from this country.  That means that more money
is going out of the country than is coming in.  The economists call this a
"balance of trade deficit" and it is a very serious problem for this country.
If you or I or anyone else spends more money than we make, sooner or later we
are going to run out of money and credit and we are going to have big problems
handling our debts.  The same is true both for our federal government, which
has been spending more than it takes in in taxes for many years, and for our
country as a trading partner with other countries in the world.  These are very
serious problems which our country desperately needs to resolve if we are to
avoid economic collapse sometime in the future.  Because we have lost the lead
in technology, productivity, and product reliability to other countries, such
as Japan, our citizens are more willing to buy products manufactured outside
the United States.  And when the cost is lower (due to the technical and
productivity leadership of some other countries) and when the products are more
reliable (due to a greater emphasis on quality than domestically manufactured
goods), I can't blame the consumers a bit.
     So how do we go about regaining our lost status as world technical,
productivity, and economic leader?  As I indicated when I began, we need a new
technical breakthrough to get the job done.  When this country saw the Soviet
Union put a man into space before we were able to, the "space race" began.
This country picked itself up out of the lull of the 1950's and put its minds
and bodies back to work.  We caught up with and surpassed Russia in our schools
and in the space race.  And as the result of a concerted, committed national
program, we put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's.  No other country
has done that since.  It was all a matter of making a goal and making a
commitment to achieve that goal.  And one man's dream became a national program
and an eventual reality.
     When polio was crippling and killing so many children in this country, we
set a national, perhaps less official, goal of ridding the planet of that
invisible viral enemy.  And because we hated that enemy so much and because we
loved our children even more, we didn't let anything stand in our way until
polio was a preventable disease and not a dreaded killer.
     There are many other examples that show this country is capable of 

accomplishing anything it sets before itself as a national goal.  I have no
doubt that we could use this same type of national energy and concentrated
effort to get this country back on track economically and ensure our children
will not grow up in a country that is economically disadvantaged and that has a
very poor standard of living.  And if we were successful in re-establishing a
very healthy economy, that would be the first step in the process of solving so
many other problems which we should not just accept, but should make strong,
positive efforts to solve.
     Other countries, such as Japan and Germany, have extensive national
programs to support private enterprise development of new technology, and we
would be better off to learn from their example.  We need a national program
that supports financially, and in all other ways, the development of digital
television.  I believe this could be a reality in as little as a year.  If we
allow the Japanese to perfect the HDTV (high-definition television) standard
and market it, we will undoubtedly remain technically and economically inferior
to Japan for years to come.  HDTV, just in case you don't already know, is
simply an improved version of the analog signals your TV currently receives and
displays.  It has been said that going to HDTV instead of full digital
television is like trading a 1940's technology for a 1970's technology.
Digital television will become reality sometime in the future.  The key
questions are when will it become widely available and who will do it.  Since
we already have an advantage in research over the Japanese in digital
television, and since they already have the technical lead in HDTV over us, and
since digital is a more modern technology than HDTV, it would make sense to
push hard to bring this technology from the research lab to the market place as
soon as humanly possible.  The cost to consumers in terms of purchase price for
a digital TV set and for an HDTV set would probably be about the same, and one
or the other would probably be required to upgrade to the new formats for
television broadcast signals which will become reality in the very near future.
HDTV is expected to be no more than about five years away; digital television
cannot be delayed more than about ten to twenty years maximum.
     But we do not have to take the backseat to the Japanese any longer.  We
can press our technical advantage and make digital television a commercial
reality in a very short period of time.  Prototypes are already available; with
some additional reseach work and a national push to convert to digital, I again
predict that digital television can be a reality in about a year.  Patents that
the U. S. companies would be granted for digital television would create a
great deal of wealth flowing back in to this country and would create an
enormous number of new jobs to design, manufacture, distribute, and service
these sets.  These sets could be sold both domestically and throughout the rest
of the world.  The economic impact of such technology and related developments
are mind-boggling.  Millions and millions of new sets would be sold.  There
would be tremendous advances in the technical quality of television and movies,
which are highly dependent on one another these days.  The advances in editing
equipment and broadcast distribution would be almost unbelievable; the special
effects of Terminator 2 would become commonplace and standard.  The quality of
broadcast television reception would become near perfect.

     The consequences of the development of digital television as a national
priority of this country are staggering.  It would provide a sense of national
unity which we have not had for a long, long time.  It would restore our self-
confidence as a country and our faith in the future, which according to polls
are at an all time low.  It would bring us to world leadership economically and
technically.  And it would be built on a solid basis--new product technology.
The prosperity of the eighties was built on speculation and on mergers &
acquisitions.  Speculation always requires at least one person to lose in order
for someone else to benefit; this kind of growth is always doomed to failure,
as we found out in the land deals in Texas during the 1980's.  Mergers &
acquisitions create no new wealth; they are simply "shell games" where assets
are shuffled around and repackaged.  We are beginning to see the results of
this shell game, as investors realize that you can't turn a pig into a palace
with a paint job.  Even the decreased taxes we were given during the eighties
only served to run up an enormous national debt, which our children and our
children's children will have to pay for us, and led us to believe we were in a
state of prosperity when we actually just living on a big national credit
card--and one which must eventually be paid off in full.
     But new, marketable technology can reverse the economic situation we are
now in and get us back into a state of excellent economic health.  We can make
enough money to pay our debts if we leap ahead in our technology rather than
sit idly by, resting on our past accomplishments, and letting other countries
outperform us in the world market.  We can do so if we act now.  If we wait
much longer, there may not be any real alternatives to save us from our
previous mistakes.  We can look at the goal, make up our minds to achieve it,
and let nothing stand in our way of that goal.  Or we can look at the problems,
and give up because the problems appear to be so great.  The choice is up to
us, and no one can afford to wait and let the other guy do the work.  It won't
happen that way, and things will only get worse for us in this country.  Even a
bad decision is so often better than no decision, since it at least gets us
moving in some direction rather than wallowing around and getting nowhere.
Friar Tuck was happy where he was, until Robin Hood knocked him off the bridge
and brought him back to reality.  And believe me, we need to come back to
reality in this country and get moving again in a positive, productive
direction before it is too late.
     You're probably wondering "What can I do?".  I'm glad you asked.  You can
write letters to your elected representatives in support of this movement for
digital television.  If you don't have Congressional and Senatorial names and
addresses handy, you can easily obtain them by calling or visiting your local
library.  Many representatives are also listed in your phone book.  George
Bush's address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D. C.  You can send
telegrams to these same people also.  You can simply say "I favor immediate
national support of full-scale, expedited development and distribution of
digital television technology.  I would like to know how you feel about it and
what you are doing about it, in writing, before the next election comes, and
hopefully long before then."  I am not suggesting that you choose your 

representatives on this one issue, but it should be an important issue on which
you base your vote next November.  You can contact the political party of your
choice and let them know you expect action on this issue.  You can contact your
friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives, and other associates and discuss this
with them and encourage them to work with you toward the very worthwhile goal I
have outlined above.  These are things that everyone can and should do to help
us all out of our current national economic problems.  But there is even more
that you can do.
     You can form and/or join organizations which support this movement.  You
can run for office or volunteer to help those that will be running and who
support the issue of digital video development in America.  If you are a
scientist or engineer, if you are involved in any aspect of the television or
film industry, if you are in government or politics, if you are in industry or
the academic world, or if you are interested for any other reason in this
project, you can use you authority and/or influence and/or other resources
(such as money!) up to the legal limit to help digital video become a
commercial reality.
     I am not going to tell you that it will be easy, nor will I tell you that
there will not be plenty of problems along the way.  But I believe that the
problems that we will encounter if we do not rapidly move to implement digital
video, will be worse than anything we might encounter on the road to digital
television.  If we keep our eyes on the goal and keep reminding ourselves of
its importance, the problems we face in the process of accomplishing our goal
will seem like minor details.  Our attitude toward this goal will be the key
factor in determining whether or not we achieve it, and not the technical
problems themselves.  In a way we should be grateful for the technical problems
that currently exist; if it were too easy to solve the problems, some other
country would have already done it for us.  We are up to the challenge, as we
have always been in the past.  Now all we have to do is to make a commitment
and begin our work.  The rest will follow if we have the faith to continue
forward on this.
(Popular Science, Nov. 1991, has a good, readable article on the current state-
of-the-art of digital television.  Your local library probably has a copy.)