Digital TV standards battle: ISDB-T pushed

Brazil comes to the defence of it's push for the adoption of ISDB-T over DVB-T in South Africa

Digital TV standards battle: ISDB-T pushed

At a Business Forum on Trade and Investment Opportunities between South Africa and Brazil on Friday, Andre Barbosa Filho, Special Advisor to the Civil House at the Presidency of Brazil, came to the defence of the push to have ISDB-Tb considered for South Africa’s digital terrestrial television standard (DTT).

ISDB-Tb is the Brazillian modification of the Japanese ISDB-T standard.

The Department of Communications confused and enraged the broadcasting industry earlier this year when it announced its re-evaluation of South Africa’s digital terrestrial television standard.

DStv, e.tv, the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association and the South African Communications Forum all state that South Africa had already decided on DVB-T. Gazetted resolutions and regulations published by ICASA all seem to support this fact.

Mamodupi Mohlala, Director General of the Department of Communications has been adamant that South Africa hasn’t settled on a DTT standard yet, however.

Filho says that they only want the two standards to be fairly compared. A fair comparison, he explained, implies the setup of an ISDB-T trial network in South Africa.

He wasn’t specific about whether it should be the Japanese ISDB-T, Brazilian ISDB-Tb, or a version of the standard customised for South Africa’s 8MHz broadcasting environment.

ISDB-T (and Tb) has only been deployed in countries that use 6MHz transmitters and Set Top Boxes (STBs). This fact has been used by proponents of DVB-T such as MultiChoice and e.tv to warn against a switch to ISDB-T as it will involve a customised configuration only used in South Africa.

Filho said that the allegation that ISDB-T wasn’t suitable for 8MHz was a lie. He reassured the delegates present that they had international manufacturers ready to produce 8MHz ISDB-T transmitters.

ISDB-Tb is an open source standard, according to Filho. He emphasised that there are no royalties applicable on the standard. He also said that open TV and freedom of information must be guaranteed when selecting a standard.

In a media briefing held by MultiChoice and e.tv in June, the two broadcasters stated that ISDB-Tb is not as royalty-free as the Brazillians are making it out to be.

Brazil developed custom open source “middleware” called Ginga which powers their standard’s interactivity feature. This middleware is royalty free, however both DVB-T and ISDB-Tb use MPEG4 video compression technology which is protected by patents.

Filho also said that South Africa and South America have far fewer spectrum problems than Europe. He believes that this should be taken into account when selecting a standard.

Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha, Executive Director of the South African Communications Forum, said that the South African government had originally determined that South Africans would begin migrating to digital TV in 2011.

This date would slip to 2013, according to her, due to the debate around the standard.

“[South Africa] is ready to switch on in six to nine months,” Braithwaite-Kabosha said. She believes the debate around DVB-T and ISDB-T (and -Tb) is the only thing holding it back.

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