In Japan, the TV Revolution Waits
The leader in high-definition television technology won't offer a consumer model for 5-10 more years
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Mr. Masuko also mentions other special events, such as horse races and concerts, which have been distributed in HDTV format to isolated areas by cable or satellite. And he mentions coverage of the Seoul Olympics, from which stunning HDTV images were transmitted to Japan and elsewhere.Skip to next paragraph
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``It is the unstoppable wave of the future,'' he says.
Both MITI and NHK are engaged in public-relations offensives to capture the attention of the Japanese public. They are also working closely with manufacturers to make the sets affordable.
Interviews with executives from such companies as Matsushita, Mitsubishi, and others put the timetable for widespread use somewhere between those of MITI and NHK, at 5 to 10 years. Even then, they say, the sets will be far more expensive than today's standard sets, perhaps three times the price.
So far public enthusiasm seems muted.
``We are not so excited about it,'' says Kazuyoshi Momohara, an executive of Fuji Keizai Company, an international marketer. ``The programming is not so interesting.... So who cares if the pictures are so good?''
``I've never heard of it,'' says Prof. Tsutomu Tsukamoto, who teaches biochemistry in Kyoto. ``It's not part of the daily life. Maybe they are testing, but I know nothing about it.''
The Japanese have poured an estimated $1 billion into developing HDTV since 1970, compared to an estimated $100 million spent in the United States and about $200 million invested by European governments and companies.
Despite a relatively slow start, recent reports in the US have shown interest in an entirely different form of digital technology that could make the Japanese analog technology seem outdated by comparison.
Since there are as yet no international broadcast standards, the race to develop HDTV goes beyond the goal of superior images and sound to that of product development: television sets; video systems for educational, military, and industrial uses; and the computer chips that drive them.
``The companies and countries that control the development of HDTV will have a huge lead in the coming competition for leadership in the electronics world,'' said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D) of Massachusetts, chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications, in recent Congressional hearings.
The sole surviving US builder of television sets, Zenith, recently sold its personal-computer business to focus on HDTV development. Estimates as to when Zenith's digital technology will be ready for transmission are also 5 to 10 years.
It is hard to find anyone who denies that an affordable HDTV system would rapidly gain a place as the next generation of TV equipment for our video culture.
``Not since the introduction of color into the world of black and white over 30 years ago has TV in this country been on the threshold of as dramatic a change as it is today,'' says Brenda Fox, general counsel and vice-president for special policy projects at the National Cable Television Association.
Not to be confused with IDTV (improved definition television) or ARTV (advanced resolution TV) - both of which are marketing catchwords used by various companies - HDTV increases the number of TV scanning lines from the current 525 to 1,125. The width-to-height ratio of the screen has been changed to match the wide screens in movie theaters.