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Old July 31st, 2004, 12:12 AM   #1
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Why is there no analog HD NTSC?

I have been reading on the web about PALPlus, a widescreen analog PAL extension which seems to be gaining ground in Europe. Near-HD quality with SD broadcast compatibilty. This technology, in typical european style, is "the product of a big cooperative project undertaken by many of the major European broadcasters. They started in 1990 with the view of providing (by 1995) an enhanced definition television system (EDTV) which would be compatable with existing receivers. In this, they seem to have succeeded admirably, and PALplus has in fact been transmitted by some broadcasters since at least mid 1994". It takes analog PAL into higher resolution territory, provides better color, ghost cancellation and provisions for progressive video.

I wonder why something like this has never happened to our aging NTSC. Driven by lobbying from the electronics manufacterers, the US government seems to favor all thing digital and thus ensure that we will all have to buy new receivers in the near future, since digital HDTV is of course totally incompatible with analog sets in all it's possible forms. The PALPlus approach seems so much more intelligent.

Are there any Europe-based participants that can tell us some more about PALPlus? Does anybody know if such a thing is was ever proposed in the NTSC world?

More info on PALplus:
http://www.wordiq.com/definition/PALplus

And:
http://tallyho.bc.nu/~steve/palplus.html
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Old July 31st, 2004, 05:59 AM   #2
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About 16 years ago, there were efforts to enhance both NTSC and PAL, not at the broadcast end, but with home equipment. This was to be done by improving the VCRs, camcorders and monitors available to consumers. The main monitor improvement was called "Increased-definition Television" or "IDTV". This was based on digitally converting an interlaced input to a progressive display.

The earlier IDTV models by Sony, Philips and Toshiba had some problems, mainly with motion artifacts. However, Toshiba's final version had it all together and their 32" IDTV put on a super picture, even from ordinary broadcast sources. A friend paid $3,200. for one and it still works fine today. The main reason their IDTV was discontinued was the high price and low sales. With a good camcorder tape as the source, its display was so fine, it couldn't be used for editing, as it covered up too many flaws.

In VCRs, as well as camcorders for high-end consumers, Sony produced Extended-definition Beta (ED-Beta). On metal BetaCam SP tape, it delivered 520 lines of horizontal resolution. The 2-CCD ED-Beta camcorder brought a new level of quality to home video. When I played the footage I shot onto my friend's IDTV, there was nothing at the time that could approach it in display quality, other than broadcast-level camcorders and monitors. If only they had produced a small camcorder version of ED-Beta, instead of the 17-lb. hulk I have. They could have easily made a 5 or 6-lb. model and it could have delivered results that for practical purposes, were just as good.

Of course, Super-VHS and Hi-8 were introduced at about the same time and though lesser in picture resolution than ED-Beta, were also designed to boost the level of consumer video. Those two subformats have persisted to this day and even had some entry into professional video, as did ED-Beta.

However, these improvements in equipment had nothing to do with advanced broadcasting, which didn't exist at that time. But, if the higher level of PAL-Plus broadcast quality had been implemented back then, using the existing SD systems, there would have been more awareness and demand for the performance levels of IDTV monitors and ED-Beta. If you made an IDTV (progressive display) monitor, that could fully use a PAL-Plus signal, think how great that could look.

I haven't studied PAL-Plus, but I'll bet that to be backwardly-compatible with regular monitors, it uses a tacked-on band of higher frequencies, that add more resolution to a picture, but can be ignored by non-Plus receivers. This is the way that 3 levels of 3/4-inch U-Matic
VCRs were made backwardly-compatible. The higher segment of luminence carrier that gives U-Matic SP 330 lines of res, is ignored by the older models that only handle 280 or 250 lines of res.

Probably, if you played PAL ED-Beta or BetaCam SP camcorder footage (digital-format recordings would do just as well) onto a high-quality, SD PAL monitor, you'd see something similar to what is provided by a PAL-Plus broadcast.
It's most likely too late for an "NTSC-Plus" broadcasting subsystem to find a place, as HDTV is filling that niche in North America and Japan. But when I previously suggested that SD broadcast bandwidth and picture resolution should have been increased in the original specifications, in the 1940s, this is just the sort of thing I had in mind.

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Old July 31st, 2004, 07:17 AM   #3
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Pal-Plus Technology

After just wading through as much of the website on the 2nd link Ignacio provided, that I could handle at one sitting, I have formed two conclusions: The first is that the things I know about television are almost infinitely lesser than the things I do know. The second is that the Pal-Plus subsystem is much more complicated that I had imagined. The number of problems they encountered when they altered parts of the existing system and the fixes they had to invent to solve them, is immense.

Apparently, PAL-Plus provides a widescreen (16:9), letterboxed image, that gives about 40% more horizontal resolution than a standard PAL picture and has richer and more accurate color. A ghost-reduction feature can be implemented by using one of the scanning lines as a reference base. It seems that all PAL broadcasts, at least in Europe, may carry this ghost-busting feature in the future.

But, reading about all the electronic manuevers they have to implement, to make the system backwardly-compatible with standard monitors and VCRs, makes you realize how much simpler things would have been, if they'd just put this higher-level of performance in the original PAL specifications.

If PAL-Plus does catch on in a big way in Europe, you can understand why they have a much smaller interest in HDTV than we do in the U.S. Maybe eventually, all the PAL home equipment in use would have the PAL-Plus modifications and they could simplify the broadcast process by eliminating the parts necessary for backward compatibility.

But, this raises the question about whether the newer PAL-Plus receivers, VCRs and monitors could function themselves, without the broadcast signal features that make it backwardly-compatible with the older equipment? Maybe the complications from the legacy of the original system could never be fully cast off, without scrapping the SD system entirely. Or, by temporarily providing separate and parallel systems, as is being done with NTSC and HDTV. After several more years of transition, the separate HDTV system way might prove to be best. It will be interesting to see how the feasibility of European PAL-Plus ends up, compared to how well HDTV serves society in former NTSC territory.

Most of us are lucky. All we have to do is pay for a bunch of this gear. We don't have to invent it and work out the myriad of bugs that come with any advanced system.

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Old July 31st, 2004, 11:05 AM   #4
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Thank You Steve for your insight on the subject. I quite agree with what you say, although I suspect that most modern TV sets have digital image processing anyway (not too different from what IDTV might have been), and thus getting them to decode PALPlus is probably not significantly exprensive. Also any TV that can decode any form of DTV or HDTV should be easily PALPlus compatible for just a few cents more. Exciting times are ahead of us. Hope HDV fits into it all well and really works so we can actually use the higher resolutions that will become available without completely ruining our budgets.
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Old July 31st, 2004, 11:49 AM   #5
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I think we're going to see it mushroom here in the US pretty soon. Comcast is running ads for their HD cable service all over the place and so is Voom. At Best Buy a few days ago I noticed they are devoting about twice as much floor space to widescreen TV's as they did only a couple months ago. Prices are dropping quickly also. They had several brands of 30" to 34" tube-type HDTV's for around $700. There were also a whole new crop of smaller sized widescreen LCD's (17" and 23") although these are still a bit pricey. But even WalMart carries a couple models of CRT HDTV's for around $700.

I'm still waiting it out myself though. We'll see if the predictions of low cost widescreen LCD's materialize. I've read several articles in business journals predicting big price drops next year due to new factories in the Far East coming online, some analysts are viewing these as "plasma killers"....

I'm also excited by the prospect of HDV, but it looks like it's gonna be a bit of a wait before we see any new cameras, doesn't it?...
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Old July 31st, 2004, 10:43 PM   #6
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Correction

On my last message, in the first paragraph, a sentence should have read,
"The things I know about television are almost infinitely lesser than the things I don't know". Perhaps no one else noticed the non-sequitorius mistake. I deny that it was a Freudian slip.

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