BEIJING China has moved closer to adopting its own HDTV standard with the announcement that it will launch a set of terrestrial specs based on technologies that reflect the convergence of TV, telecommunications and computers.
China's State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (Sarft) said it also plans to cooperate with the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) to boost the local digital TV and set-top box industries through digital satellite and cable broadcasting.
China initiated HDTV broadcasts last October during the government's 50th anniversary celebration. Sarft's Academy of Broadcasting Science (ABS) demonstrated a prototype of its own standard, although some observers here still maintain that China will choose a terrestrial standard from Europe, North America or Japan.
"It looks like [the] existing HDTV standards have some limitations because they are based on TV-broadcasting services, [whereas] digital technology is converging the services of TV, telecom and computers," Haitao Zhang, vice minister of Sarft, said at China Cable Broadcasting Network 2000 conference. "That's the reason why many TV station operators are asking standards organizations [to] modify their DTV standards."
Whereas China's huge mobile phone industry uses just 18 MHz of bandwidth for its services, Chinese TV and radio stations use about 75 percent of the frequencies under 1 GHz. Therefore, Zhang said, the radio and TV industries should play a key role in shaping China's information sector.
Zhang said China must move quickly to complete research and development of a terrestrial HDTV standard. Sarft plans to complete a draft spec by the end of the year but expects the final version to differ somewhat from the draft, since the agency continues to receive suggestions and reference technologies from other government bodies and technical authorities. For example, Tsinghua University has submitted a solution that combines TV and mobile-telecommunications services.
Sarft has formed four HDTV working groups: standards, R&D, broadcasting and testing. The standards group is cooperating with 40 experts from local universities and institutes to draft the standard. The R&D group, headed by Baichuan Du of ABS, is charged with generating technologies to support new standards. The broadcasting group will be located at the headquarters of China Central Television. The HDTV testing group will focus on implementing the standard and accompanying technologies.
Sarft and MII also will cooperate in helping DTV and set-top box manufacturers design products to deliver digital cable and direct satellite broadcasting services. China has adopted the European DVB-S spec as its digital satellite standard. Sources here said Sarft will announce a digital cable standard soon based on some DVB-C elements.
"Because analog broadcasting has occupied virtually all terrestrial channels, we'll begin to transfer analog TV to DTV from standard-definition digital TV broadcasting via cable," Zhang said. "That not only will push digitalization of the cable TV network but also will create demand for value-add services, digital TVs" and set-top boxes.
According to industry figures, as of year-end 1999 China had 77 million cable TV subscribers and a 3 million-km (1.86 million-mile) network. The government is considering establishing a new information infrastructure on that network. The planned digitalization of the cable network has thus attracted both local and overseas producers and system integrators.
Besides Lucent Technologies, Cisco Systems and other global telecommunications giants, local phone equipment manufacturers like Zhongxing and Huawei, both based in Shenzhen, along with Great Dragon (Beijing), used the cable conference to demonstrate broadband equipment for delivering digital services through cable. The local companies offer a range of competing equipment, including dense wave-division multiplexing and SDH optical communication systems, ATM switches and routers, Internet Protocol telephony systems and servers.
Another emerging market here is for set-top boxes that provide conditional access to cable systems and other value-added services. Shanghai Bell, a joint venture between Shanghai Telecom and France's Alcatel, has announced a Net-life system on cable. Several apartment complexes in Shanghai are offering Shanghai Bell's subscription TV programs as well as video-on-demand, high-speed Internet access, video phones, online stock trading and shopping, and even remote medical diagnostics.
European system providers are moving into the market alongside such set-top names as Skyworth (Dongguan) and DIC (Shenzhen). Nokia has been producing set-tops in Beijing since 1998. NDS (West Drayton, U.K.) works with Legend to design and produce boxes for the Chinese market. Thomson (Cergy Pontoise, France) and Viaccess (Paris), a France Telecom Group company, are scouting local OEM partners.
China's radio network reaches more than 90 percent of the population, and nationwide TV broadcast coverage was 91.6 percent last year. The government is aiming for 100 percent coverage in rural areas through a satellite broadcast receiver project.