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MAC – see what happens when governments make technical decisions on political grounds.

 

In the early 80s, before the UK government killed off the UK's Independent Broadcasting Authority and privatised its laboratories near Winchester (now owned by NTL), IBA engineers came up with a new TV system which they called MAC (multiplexed analogue components). MAC used the extra frequency space available from satellite transmitters to deliver clearer pictures.  Whereas ordinary PAL separated the black and white content of a TV signal from its colour by frequency, MAC separated the signals in time, by sending them in bursts. MAC also delivered widescreen pictures, more like a cinema screen.

A satellite dish at the IBA's HQ used for MAC test transmissionsMAC on show at an IBC exhibition in Brighton

The IBA installed test dishes at its HQ in Winchester, UK and used mobile dishes at exhibitions like this one in Brighton.
 

In 1982 a UK government committee gave MAC its blessing and four years later the European Commission issued a legal order or Directive (86/529/EEC) which decreed that every satellite broadcaster in Europe must use MAC, instead of the existing PAL system. But Europe then split the standard in two; the UK insisted on a full-blown system called D-MAC, while France and Germany settled for a stripped down version called D2-MAC.

This made it far more expensive for electronics companies to develop microchips for receivers. It also made Britain the odd country out.

Europe's Eureka research programmed picked up on MAC to develop and promote as the future of HDTV

P W Bogels headed up the MAC project

P W Bogels headed up the MAC project
Europe and the UK government regularly extolled the virtues of MAC
By 1988 MAC was seen as the path to HDTV

 

  Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions
 
Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions
Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions

 

    Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotionsEurope promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions
Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotionsEurope promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions  

Europe promoted MAC and HD-MAC for the future of television and the path to  HDTV. This is one of the original 1990s official promotions

This came from a 1991 update on progress

When BSB signed up to provide Britain's satellite service, using D-MAC was part of the deal. Chips were ordered from ITT in Germany, but proved so difficult to make that they were lateBy the time MAC was working in the lab, Luxembourg satellite operator Astra, and Rupert Murdoch's Sky, had spotted a loophole in the EC Directive which said that all European broadcasters had to use MAC. The Directive applied only to satellites that worked on the frequencies officially reserved for direct broadcasting into the home. Astra and Sky used lower frequencies so did not have to use MAC. In the UK BSB sat helpless, waiting for expensive MAC chips from Germany, while Sky broadcast in PAL to receivers that used tried, tested and cheap circuitry.

 Factories started churning out MAC TVs One of the promo shot for MAC TVs
Factories in Europe geared up for the mass production of MAC TV sets and satellite receivers
MAC widescreen CRT TVs
MAC CRT widescreen TVs MAC CRT widescreen TVs
A protoptype MAC receiver More MAC widescreen CRT TVs
More MAC widescreen CRT TVs Although MAC gave clearer pictures, most viewers did not care. Their TV sets were often too badly adjusted to show the difference anyway.
Working on MAC in Philips Lab in Eindhoven
 Some European satellites used MAC for a few years, mainly because the pictures are easier to scramble and harder for pirates to hack. But MAC was doomed, because Digital TV was already working in laboratories round the world.
 

All in all MAC cost European industry many hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development. It could be regarded as money down the train or money well spent on building a knowledge base for digital TV.

 
 
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