1993 - 1995 Digital HDTV Grand Alliance Development

Formation of the Grand Alliance

Jan-April 1993 – Competitive activities proceed at NAB 93 as each proponent makes system improvements and contemplates re-testing of improved systems


March 1993 – With FCC Advisory Committee (ACATS) encouragement, discussions begin amidst Industry speculation

                             Broadcasting & Cable  |   Multichannel News  


April 12, 1993  – Plans are finalized for Technical discussions


April 14-15, 1993  Grand Alliance Technical Meetings are held

May 11, 1993 - ATRC proposes details of Grand Alliance video compression tests 


May 20, 1993 - Final discussions take place 

May 24, 1993 - Digital HDTV Grand Alliance is formed. (WSJ  and NYT press coverage)

June 2, 1993 -  A first explanation of the Grand Alliance agreement and working process

Designing and Building the "Best-of-the Best"

Oct 21, 1993 – Key technical decisions are announced.  MPEG compression (including B-frames), MPEG packet transport. Comparative testing results in the selection of Dolby’s AC-3 audio subsystem

Jan 1994 – Comparative laboratory testing of Zenith's VSB hardware and General Instrument's QAM hardware results in the selection of Zenith’s VSB transmission subsystem


Feb 1, 1994 - A Grand Alliance status report (Glenn Reitmeier, Sarnoff/Thomson report) provides context on ACATS history, Grand Alliance  organization and its anticipated schedule.

The Grand Alliance  organization chart  shows the key role of the Technical Oversight Group (TOG) and the various Technical Experts Groups on Format, Compression, Transport, Transmission, Audio, Systems and Interoperability. 


Technical decisions often had ramifications across multiple Expert Groups and they were adjudicated by the TOG, which came to a consensus on all key technical decisions

The Public Relations Group  became the Communications Strategy Group (CSG), which charted the course of the alliance and its drive to establish a digital HDTV standard.  The CSG was chaired by Bruce Allan (Thomson) and included Robert Graves (AT&T), Glenn Reitmeier (Sarnoff), John Taylor (Zenith) and Alan Schlosser  (consultant).

1994 – Design and construction of Grand Alliance prototype hardware begins: Video Compression Encoder (AT&T), Data Packet Encoder (Sarnoff), Data Packet decoder (Thomson), Video Decoder (Philips) and Video Format Converter (AT&T and Sarnoff). System Integration will be performed at Sarnoff.

March 20, 1994 - The Grand Alliance reports on its progress at NAB (the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention

      Grand Alliance planning:  GA NAB94 plan  |  GA Q&A prep

      "Pardon Our Dust - System Under Construction" sign

      Interoperability Aspects of the Grand Alliance HDTV System, Glenn Reitmeier, Sarnoff

      Grand Alliance Video Compression System

      Grand Alliance HDTV Audio Subsystem - Dolby AC-3, Craig Todd (Dolby)

      Grand Alliance Transmission System - VSB,  Wayne Luplow (Zenith)

      Grand Alliance HDTV Video Formats,  Bob Keeler (AT&T)

       NAB 94 Grand Alliance Press Releases


The Press Releases provide excellent background and context. They optimistically predict that the standard will be set in 1995 and that receivers could go on sale as early as late 1996.  [The ATSC standard was indeed set in Sept 1995;  Controversy and politics delayed FCC approval until late 1996 and consequently the first consumer receivers became available in early 1998]

April 14, 1994 - Grand Alliance System Description v1 documentation is completed and submitted to ACATS


April 19, 1994 - The ACATS Technical Subgroup Master Calender is revised.  Testing of the Grand Alliance prototype system was targeted for Nov. 1994 and the completion of all testing and reports by Mar 31, 1995 [Ironically, this was the date that the Grand Alliance actually shipped its two prototypes for testing and to it's world premiere demonstration at NAB 95]

May 10-11, 1994 – NIST Digital Video Workshop is held to "highlight technical issues for industry and government decision makers with respect to advanced digital video (ADV) in the National Information Infrastructure (NII)…"  The Grand Alliance system is a key element of the workshop.  The Workshop Report states that "The Grand Alliance proposal for digital, terrestrial broadcast of HDTV incorporates several features to achieve interoperability with NII-type services..."  but it marked the beginning of growing opposition from the computer industry


July 1-14, 1994 - Work is in progress among Grand Alliance members to lock down the prototype hardware construction schedule.   As the hardware architecture and interfaces become more defined, more realistic planning moves the estimated start of testing from mid-November 1994 to late January 1995.  The additional requirement of a very high quality 1080i to/from 720 format converter (by AT&T and Sarnoff) had been a previously unplanned task. 


Sept 23, 1994 - After a period of conceptualization and planning its key messages for various industry and government stakeholders, the final version of the Grand Alliance Washington Demonstration script is agreed upon, and production begins.

    Watch the Grand Alliance Washington Demonstration Video

Dec 7, 1994 - Grand Alliance System Description v2 documentation is completed and submitted to ACATS.  This document became the basis for the ATSC Digital Television standard

Dec 1994 - John Taylor (Zenith) reports the Grand Alliance's progress in the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society Newsletter

System Integration

Grand Alliance Technical Leaders Complete System Integration at Sarnoff's Field Lab - Mar 30, 1995

Wayne Luplow (Zenith), Glenn Reitmeier (Sarnoff), 

Bob Rast (GI),  Terry Smith (Sarnoff)

Ralph Cerbone (AT&T), Jae Lim (MIT), Aldo Cugnini (Philips)

Jan - March 1995 – Ongoing system integration at Sarnoff’s Field Lab.  Sarnoff leads system integration of subsystems built by various companies: 

  - Video Format Converter (Sarnoff and AT&T)

  - Video Compression Encoder (AT&T and General Instrument)

  - Audio Compression Encoder (Dolby) Packet Data Encoder (Sarnoff)

  - 8-VSB Transmission and Reception (Zenith)

   - Packet Data Receiver (Thomson)

  - Audio Decoder (Dolby)

  - Video Decoder (Philips)


March 30, 1995 – System integration at Sarnoff’s Field Lab is completed. 


                              Photos  (below)  |   Video (Glenn Reitmeier)

World Premiere at NAB 95

March 31, 1995 – the two prototype hardware systems are shipped.  One goes to the Advanced Television Test Center and the other goes to the Grand Alliance booth at the NAB convention

April 9, 1995 - NAB Engineering conference feature a special session with Grand Alliance, ATSC and ACATS speakers


   Richard Wiley (ACATS Chairman) presentation  |  audio  


   Jae Lim (GA/MIT)  presentation  |  audio


   Wayne Luplow (GA/Zenith)  presentation  |  audio


   Glenn Reitmeier (GA/Sarnoff)  presentation  |  audio


   Peter Symes (Grass Valley) presentation  |  audio


   Peter Fannon (ATTC)  presentation  |  audio


   Q&A part 1  audio ..................................................


   Bob Hopkins (ATSC) presentation  |  audio


   John Abel (NAB) presentation  |  audio


   Joe Flaherty (ACATS) presentation  |  audio


  Saul Shapiro (FCC)  presentation  |  audio


  Mike Sherlock (Broadcasters' Caucus / NBC) presentation  |  audio


  Q&A part 2   audio 

April 10, 1995 – The Grand Alliance HDTV system makes its world premiere demonstration at NAB ’95


The Grand Alliance Booth featured a large-screen projection display of the prototype hardware and four "kiosk" areas that demonstrated

        RF signal modulation  |  Digital HDTV Picture Quality  |  Flexible Packetized Data Delivery  |  Interactive Advertising


Grand Alliance Press Releases  |  Grand Alliance Premiere and press conference video highlights  |  Grand Alliance brochure

08 - Bob Hopkins
00:00 / 00:00
01 - Richard Wiley
00:00 / 00:00
02 - Jae Lim (MIT)
00:00 / 00:00
03 - Wayne Luplow (GA/Zenith)
00:00 / 00:00
04 - Glenn Reitmeier (GA/Sarnoff)
00:00 / 00:00
05 - Peter Symes (Grass Valley)
00:00 / 00:00
06 - Peter Fannon (ATTC)
00:00 / 00:00
07 Q&A Session #1 - All
00:00 / 00:00
09 - John Abel (NAB)
00:00 / 00:00
10 - Joe Flaherty (ACATS/CBS)
00:00 / 00:00
11 - Saul Shapiro (FCC)
00:00 / 00:00
12 - Mike Sherlock (Broadcasters Caucus/NBC)
00:00 / 00:00
13 - Q&A Session #2 - All
00:00 / 00:00

April 10, 1995 - World Premiere of the Grand Alliance HDTV System at NAB 1995

Testing and Evaluation

April - August, 1995 – The Grand Alliance HDTV system is tested at the ATTC (Advanced Television Test Center) and ATEL (Advanced Television Evaluation Laboratory)

July 19, 1995 - With the goal to finalize a complete digital HDTV standard based on the Grand Alliance system, ACATS and ATSC start to make technical decisions on issues that are outside the scope of the Grand Alliance itself, such as standard definition video formats. 


April - September, 1995 – It becomes obvious that Standard Definition video formats can and should be added to the Grand Alliance System.  Considered "out of scope" by MIT, Grand Alliance members work with other industry representative in the ATSC to debate the merits of various proposed formats and to reach consensus

Sept. 16, 1995 – the A/53 ATSC Digital Television Standard is completed.  ATSC standardizes the 1080i and 720p square pixel HDTV formats of the Grand Alliance and also includes standard definition 480p and 480i formats, including both square and rectangular pixel options.


Oct 4, 1995 - ATSC also publishes a companion A/54 Guide to the Use of the ATSC Digital Television Standard


Oct 31, 1995 – ACATS Technical Subcommittee meets for a final review of test results for the Grand Alliance system

                      Summaries of:   ATTC test results  |  ATEL Test results  |  CableLabs test results


The ACATS Technical Subcommittee issues its Final Technical Report, concluding:

    "1. the Grand Alliance system meets the Committee’s performance objectives and is better than any of the four original digital ATV systems

      2. the Grand Alliance system is superior to any known alternative system; and

      3. the ATSC Digital Television Standard, based on the Advisory Committee design specifications and Grand Alliance system, fulfills the                    requirements for the U.S. ATV broadcasting standard.

      Accordingly, the Technical Subgroup recommends that the ATSC Standard be adopted as the U.S. ATV broadcasting standard."


Nov. 11, 1995 – In response to rising objections from the computer industry about interoperability between HDTV and computers, the Grand Alliance stages an extensive interoperability demonstration of live video from camera and computer sources over ATM network  links, satellite and terrestrial broadcast at the MSTV Advanced Television Update.  Although low power, this is the world's first live broadcast of an ATSC signal.

           Grand Alliance Update (Rast),   |   Interoperability Demonstration (Reitmeier)Top 10 HDTV Myths (Perlman)     

        rehearsal video Grand Alliance Encoding Hardware at Sarnoff (Reitmeier)

Nov 28, 1995 – ACATS issues its Final Report and  Recommendation that the FCC adopt the ATSC standard. (ACATS Press Release)

Nov 30, 1995 – The Grand Alliance demonstrates its system for Congress Members and staff on Capitol Hill


Dec 20, 1995 – ATSC approves the A/52 standard that documents the Dolby AC-3 audio system