8VSB is the modulation method used for broadcast in the ATSC digital television standard. ATSC and 8VSB modulation are used primarily in North America; in contrast, the DVB-T standard uses COFDM.
A modulation method specifies how the radio signal fluctuates to convey information. ATSC and DVB-T specify the modulation used for over-the-air digital television; by comparison, QAM is the modulation method used for cable. The specifications for a cable-ready television, then, might state that it supports 8VSB (for broadcast TV) and QAM (for cable TV).
8VSB is an 8-level vestigial sideband modulation. In essence, it converts a binary stream into an octal representation by amplitude-shift keying a sinusoidal carrier to one of eight levels. 8VSB is capable of transmitting three bits (23=8) per symbol; in ATSC, each symbol includes two bits from the MPEG transport stream which are trellis modulated to produce a three-bit figure. The resulting signal is then band-pass filtered with a Nyquist filter to remove redundancies in the side lobes, and then shifted up to the broadcast frequency.
Vestigial sideband modulation (VSB) is a modulation method that attempts to eliminate the spectral redundancy of pulse-amplitude modulation (PAM) signals. Modulating a carrier by a real-valued data sequence results in a sum and a difference frequency, resulting in two symmetrical carrier side-bands. The symmetry means that one of the sidebands is redundant, so removing one sideband still allows for demodulation. As filters with zero transition bandwidth cannot be realized, the filtering implemented leaves a vestige of the redundant sideband, hence the name “VSB”.