The V-chip

The V-Chip
What is a V-chip? This term has become a buzz word for any discussion evolving
telecommunications regulation and television ratings, but not too many reports
define the new technology in its fullest form. A basic definition of the V-chip;
is a microprocessor that can decipher information sent in the vertical blanking
of the NTSC signal, purposefully for the control of violent or controversial
subject matter. Yet, the span of the new chip is much greater than any working
definition can encompass. A discussion of the V-chip must include a
consideration of the technical and ethical issues, in addition to examining the
constitutionally of any law that might concern standards set by the US
government. Yet in the space provided for this essay, the focus will be the
technical aspects and costs of the new chip. It is impossible to generally
assume that the V-chip will solve the violence problem of broadcast television
or that adding this little device to every set will be a first amendment
infringement. We can, however, find clues through examining the cold facts of
broadcast television and the impact of a mandatory regulation on that free
broadcast. “Utilizing the EIA’s Recommended Practice for Line 21 Data
Service(EIA-608) specification, these chips decode EDS (Extended Data
Services)program ratings, compare these ratings to viewer standards, and can be
programmed to take a variety of actions, including complete blanking of
programs.” Is one definition of the V-chip from Al Marquis of Zilog Technology.

The FCC or Capitol Hill has not set any standards for V-chip technology; this
has allowed many different companies to construct chips that are similar yet not
exact or possibly not compatible. Each chip has advantages and disadvantages for
the rating’s system, soon to be developed. For example, some units use onscreen
programming such as VCR’s and the Zilog product do, while others are considering
set top options. Also, different companies are using different methods of
parental control over the chip.

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Another problem that these new devices may incur when included in every
television is a space. The NTSC signal includes extra information space known as
the subcarrier and Vertical blanking interval. As explained in the quotation
from Mr. Marquis, the V-chips will use a certain section of this space to send
simple rating numbers and points that will be compared to the personality
settings in the chip. Many new technologies are being developed for smart-TV or
data broadcast on this part of the NTSC signal. Basically the V-chip will
severely limit the bandwidth for high performance transmission of data on the
NTSC signal. There is also to be cost to this new technology, which will be
passed to consumers. Estimates are that each chip will cost six dollars
wholesale and must be designed into the television’s logic. The V-chip could
easily push the price of televisions up by twenty five or more dollars during
the first years of production. The much simpler solution of set top boxes allows
control for those who need it and allow those consumers who don’t to save money
and use new data technology. Another cost will most definitely be levied to
television advertisers for the upgrade of the transmitting equipment. Weather
the V-chip encoding signal is added upstream of the transmitter or directly into
uplink units and other equipment intended for broadcast; this cost will have to
compensated for in advertising sales and prices. The V-chip regulation may also
require another staff employee at most stations to effectively rate locally
aired programs and events. All three of these questions have been addressed in
minute detail. Most debate has focused upon the new rating system and its
implementation. Though equally important, this doesn’t deal with the ground
floor concerns for the television producing and broadcasting industries. Now as
members of the industry we must hold our breath until either the fed knocks the
wind from free broadcast with mandatory ratings’ devices, or allows the natural
regulation to continue.


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