Thursday, January 1, 2009

So, when is the new year, anyway?

Everybody wants to celebrate the instant that the new year arrives, which makes New Year's Day unique in the annals of holidays.

The problem has always been that the North American TV industry operates entirely on Eastern time. We West-coast denizens always get the celebration tape-delayed. But even folks who live in Eastern time aren't going to get a good cue from the TV, since the digital production chain introduces all sorts of delays, not all of which can be compensated for.

The conversion to digital TV broadcasting makes things even worse, because the decoders introduce their own delays, and the magnitude of the delay depends on the decoder, so they can't be compensated for by the broadcaster (this is even assuming that the audio and video maintains the synchronization intended by the broadcaster).

We watched Anderson Cooper on CNN-HD over DirecTV this evening. The ball drop was a full 15 seconds late as I measured it. It's entirely possible that CNN might have been on a (censorship) delay loop for the event, but it's clear that TV is no longer useful for time synchronized events anymore.

And the phone isn't much better. We have Vonage, and if you tune in to WWV on the radio and compare that to calling up WWV on the phone, there's a distinct latency delta between the two.

Never mind the fact that at 0000 UTC there was a leap second this year, so everybody who's been out of the loop on that one will be a second off. At the moment, the NTP server at is a second off, so apparently they didn't get the memo.

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