Corrections or additions?
This article by Dina Weinstein was prepared for the November 22,
2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
AgileVision & DTV
When Anthony Gargano was 10 years old his Uncle Mario
gave him an old short wave receiver as a birthday present. Little
Tony was fascinated with it.
From the apparatus, he could hear the British Broadcasting
In those Cold War years he could also hear information from the United
States government’s Voice of America and the Soviet propaganda tool
Radio Moscow. But it wasn’t enough to just enjoy the messages from
around the globe. Tony was curious about how the receiver worked.
Uncle Mario offered some explanations about how broadcasts and
from around the world could be heard in a South Philadelphia bedroom.
This led Gargano to a neighborhood radio club, where, at the age of
13, he learned about ham radio, short wave broadcast transmission
and participated in Cold War era weekly civil defense drills.
Electronics and communication are still Gargano’s passion. To this
day he has a ham radio apparatus in his car. On it he communicates
with fellow operators from around the block or around the globe. And
now he heads AgileVision, a start-up company being incubated at the
Sarnoff Corporation and formed by Sarnoff and Mercury Computer
a Massachusetts-based producer of digital image processing systems.
The goal of the new company is to provide video processing systems
that will make the change to DTV less painful and more profitable
for approximately 1,600 U.S. broadcast companies and nearly 10,000
U.S. cable operators as they transition over the next few years.
offers the first scalable, multifunctional device that can splice,
insert, and manipulate Digital Television (DTV) stream content. By
saving an expensive step — changing from a compressed format to
a more easily handled mode and back again — it preserves quality
and saves money.
Mastering gadgets and communication is a theme in Gargano’s life.
"My wife calls me gadget man," he says. His son, Anthony Jr.,
is a daily sports talk show host on WIP 640 AM. Daughter Christine
is a graphic designer. And he’s come a long way from humble
Gargano’s father was a bartender, his mother a seamstress, both
Americans, says Gargano.
Gargano, 58, comes to AgileVision from Sony Electronics in Park Ridge,
where he was senior vice president of the communications systems
broadcast and professional group. He did communications maintenance
in the Air Force, and on the GI Bill went earned his bachelor’s degree
and MBA from St. Joseph’s University. Prior to joining Sony, Gargano
spent more than 10 years at RCA/GE in a variety of positions,
manager of video systems for RCA Broadcast. Gargano also spent 10
years at General Instruments, where he developed expertise in the
Communications has come a long way since Gargano’s radio
club days. Global information is available for many, now that today’s
cable, satellite, and Internet communications make the world a much
smaller place, where instant broadcasts from around the world are
taken for granted.
Not so in 1957, the year the Russians sent the satellite Sputnik into
space. "They claimed victory for being the first in space,"
Gargano says. "There were articles in the paper that you could
hear broadcasts from the Russian satellite. So people in my
came to me because they knew I was into ham radio. There was a lot
of interest and people wanted to hear those broadcasts."
Gargano chuckles to remember 1953, the year England’s Queen Elizabeth
was crowned. "The broadcast networks were fighting over who would
fly the footage back to America to be the first to broadcast the
Gargano now waits for the latest revolution in digital communications
to take off. In 1996 Congress authorized the creation of digital TV
standards and the implementation of digital TV broadcast starting
in May, 1999. They gave every broadcast station another channel to
broadcast digitally. This means eventually analog broadcasting will
vanish. By 2006 all broadcasters are expected to exclusively broadcast
digital signals and analog bandwidth is returned to the Federal
Commission (FCC) for reassignment.
"There’s no turning back," says Dennis Wharton, vice president
of the Washington, DC-based National Association of Broadcasters.
"It’s either go digital or go dark, whether it’s telephone, cable,
computers, or radio. Broadcasters at TV stations can’t stand still
or the government will take back their licenses. Digital is the
That’s what Gargano is banking on. When TV converts from analog to
digital signals, it exponentially improves the picture and sound
It also allows broadcasters to multicast — to give more program
choices on the same airwaves. And because it can simultaneously offer
voluminous amounts of data, it lets the formerly passive viewer have
an interactive experience. Want statistics on the player who just
made the touchdown? Or a printout of the recipe being demonstrated
on the cooking channel? With DTV, you can get that instantly.
"It’s all part of the digital revolution we’re undergoing,"
says Gargano. "In the audio world we have gone from analog records
to CDs, in video, it’s VHS to DVD. And even in the movie industry
there are digital applications for film distribution."
On the fourth floor of the studios of the Garden State’s
public broadcaster New Jersey Network (NJN), a cozy corner is arranged
for viewing high definition television. The Public Broadcasting System
has set up a loop of digital programming which airs on a large
screen. Next to it, sit two computers displaying digital content.
One shows Internet content streaming digitally. The other monitor
shows the same video image from the television displayed on the
It’s an experiment, explains Richard Williams, assistant director
of engineering. NJN’s location and involvement in digital broadcasting
makes it a test bed for, as Williams puts it, "Digital Alley and
companies located from Cherry Hill to Murray Hill." Beyond New
Jersey there are dozens of companies in the digital field. NJN is
one of 22 PBS stations streaming a digital signal. More than 150 TV
stations have made the transition nationwide. Williams has found the
AgileVision product, the AGV-1000, helpful because it allows engineers
to insert the NJN and PBS logos while a show is running without
the broadcast image.
"That’s a big deal because branding is important," says
noting that broadcasters like PBS try to distinguish themselves from
the History Channel or Discovery Channel. The software allows NJN
to insert commercials or underwriting into the programming to meet
obligations to funders. When necessary, the AGV-1000 will insert the
Emergency Alert System within the digital compressed stream. That
is difficult in the digital realm Gargano explains: "Because
is changed to 1s and 0s. You basically lose the image."
But NJN sees digital TV as more than just a great picture and the
same old programming. "There’s an opportunity to add educational
content to TV shows," says NJN official Ronnie Weyl. "For
teachers and students, they’ll be able to click on a program about
Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, and get more information about him.
We compare ourselves to a library with too much stuff to put on the
shelves. So in digital broadcasting we’re interested in having
channels: an educational channel, an arts channel, a public affairs
channel where people could go to the legislature, an interactive
where people can talk to public officials.
Gargano is also testing the AGV-1000 at WCAU-TV, the NBC affiliate
AgileVision bills its product as "DTV in a box." Williams
and Gargano say the alternative to the device for DTV providers is
a whole rack of equipment. The NAB estimates each television station
is budgeting $10 million for new equipment to make the digital
AgileVision is trying to address not only the cost of the transition,
but the possibility that the technology may change quickly.
AgileVision is working on upgradeable software for computers rather
than developing dedicated hardware. "That is the right approach
for broadcasters in this new technology that’s going to be changing
very rapidly," says James R. Carnes, Sarnoff’s CEO. "So they
can buy a piece of hardware and then keep implementing newer and newer
versions of software as the technology advances."
Gargano estimates the $225,000 AGV-1000 will be available for sale
to providers in January, and he projects $30 million in revenue the
first year. Even though the product sounds useful and economical,
Gargano has a hard time convincing potential investors that High
TV and DTV is going to take off. "The pace of implementation of
digital broadcast has not gone as fast as we had anticipated because
there’s controversy about some aspects of the standards," explains
Carnes. "Broadcasters are a little slower than we had hoped in
terms of implementing this digital system until these controversies
get squared away. And that’s been impacting the pace and growth of
revenue for the company."
Carnes blames the broadcasters for not changing over to DTV fast
Recently FCC commissioner William Kennard lambasted broadcasters for
dragging their feet. He’s going to ask Congress to impose spectrum
fees and to make all TVs manufactured after 2003 to have a DTV
The NAB’s Wharton thinks Kennard should take some of the blame.
FCC has exhibited a startling lack of leadership," says Wharton.
"We’re over two years into the transition and they haven’t
rules that would benefit consumers and spur sales of digital sets.
Consumers have to go to Circuit City and have the assurance that the
set will work properly. We’ve asked the FCC to establish a cable
requirement so customers who watch cable will be serviced."
Wherever the blame lies in this sphere, Gargano must convince
that the transition to digital broadcasting will occur on time and
that consumers will jump onto the new technology. "The technology
is terrific," Gargano says, "but I’m still looking for
But we are in positive discussions with several VC firms and strategic
investors." He guards against pursuing technology for technology’s
sake. "You must not lose sight of it. Technology must have a real
application, it must have a deliverable value. And it must be easily
— Dina Weinstein
Princeton 08540. Anthony Gargano, president and CEO. 609-514-4032;
fax, 609-514-4029. Home page: www.agilevision.com.
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