Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB)

Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is a set of standards that define digital broadcasting using existing satellite, cable, and terrestrial infrastructures. In the early 1990s, European broadcasters, consumer equipment manufacturers, and regulatory bodies formed the European Launching Group (ELG) to discuss introducing digital television (DTV) throughout Europe. The ELG realized that mutual respect and trust had to be established between members later became the DVB Project. Today, the DVB Project consists of over 220 organizations in more than 29 countries worldwide. DVB-compliant digital broadcasting and equipment is widely available and is distinguished by the DVB logo. Numerous DVB broadcast services are available in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The term digital television is sometimes used as a synonym for DVB. However, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standard is the digital broadcasting standard used in the U.S.

A fundamental decision of the DVB Project was the selection of MPEG-2, one of a series of MPEG standards for compression of audio and video signals. MPEG-2 reduces a single signal from 166 Mbits to 5 Mbits allowing broadcasters to transmit digital signals using existing cable, satellite, and terrestrial systems. MPEG-2 uses the lossy compression method, which means that the digital signal sent to the television is compressed and some data is lost. This lost data does not affect how the human eye perceives the picture. Two digital television formats that use MPEG-2 compression are standard definition television (SDTV) and high definition television (HDTV). SDTV's picture and sound quality is similar to digital versatile disk (DVD). HDTV programming presents five times as much information to the eye than SDTV, resulting in cinema-quality programming.

DVB uses conditional access (CA) systems to prevent external piracy. There are numerous CA systems available to content providers allowing them to choose the CA system that they feel is adequate for the services they provide. Each CA system provides a security module that scrambles and encrypts data. This security module is embedded within the receiver or is detachable in the form of a PC card. Inside the receiver, there is a smart card that contains the user's access information. The following describes the conditional access process:

  • The receiver receives the digital data stream.
  • The data flows into the conditional access module, which contains the content provider's unscrambling algorithms.
  • The conditional access module verifies the existence of a smart card that contains the subscriber's authorization code.
  • If the authorization code is accepted, the conditional access module unscrambles the data and returns the data to the receiver. If the code is not accepted, the data remains scrambled restricting access.
  • The receiver then decodes the data and outputs it for viewing.

For years, smart cards have been used for pay TV programming. Smart cards are inexpensive allowing the content provider to issue updated smart cards periodically to prevent piracy. Detachable PC cards allow subscribers to use DVB services anywhere DVB technology is supported.

DVB is an open system as opposed to a closed system. Closed systems are content provider-specific, not expandable, and optimized only for television. Open systems such as DVB allows the subscriber to choose different content providers and allows integration of PCs and televisions. DVB systems are optimized for not only television but also for home shopping and banking, private network broadcasting, and interactive viewing. DVB offers the future possibilities of providing high-quality television display in buses, cars, trains, and hand-held devices. DVB allows content providers to offer their services anywhere DVB is supported regardless of geographic location, expand their services easily and inexpensively, and ensure restricted access to subscribers, thus reducing lost revenue due to unauthorized viewing.


This was last updated in May 2007

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