'Improved-Definition' TV Tries to Upstage HDTV

WITH several years to go before high-definition television comes to United States consumers, Yves Faroudja hopes in the meantime to capture a market for his new technology that offers the next best thing: dramatic improvements in picture quality using the existing broadcast standard. The question is whether manufacturers of television sets - and consumers - will want to invest in an interim technology, especially with attention focused on the race to develop HDTV, which is expected to open new frontiers for the industry later in the decade.

Consumers may be wary

"I don't know ... [whether] the public will be willing or ready to look at an incremental step," says Corey Carbonara, director of New Video Technologies, a research project at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Next month, the Federal Communications Commission will begin testing HDTV systems developed by various corporations. The FCC plans to choose one of these transmission technologies, which must be compatible with existing TV sets, as a US standard for the HDTV by the spring of 1993. The market is likely to develop slowly, because huge investments are needed to replace existing production and transmission equipment, and consumers may be slow in buying new sets.

This will give Faroudja Research, of Sunnyvale, Calif., a decade or so to push its "SuperNTSC," says William Laumeister, a consultant to the company.

SuperNTSC operates within the existing guidelines of the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC). Its key components are a receiver (TV set) and an encoder at the transmitting end.

Like HDTV, the Faroudja system is for big-screen TVs. At diagonal screen widths "below about 20 inches, it really doesn't make a difference," Mr. Laumeister says.

A demonstration in Boston last week used clips from "Singing in the Rain" to show off SuperNTSC to representatives of Sony Corporation and journalists. The demonstrations, traveling next to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, are sponsored by broadcast, cable, and production companies.

With the help of these sponsors, Faroudja hopes to line up manufacturers like Sony, because 80 percent of the improved quality results from the new receivers, Laumeister estimates, and 20 percent from encoders.

The $10,000 encoder, which translates camera images into NTSC signals, offers enhanced details and a cleaner image to any receiver - not just the SuperNTSC sets. A local TV station, for example, might install the new encoder in some of its cameras.

The receiver doubles the number of scan lines on the screen from 525 to 1,050. While other sets have line-doublers, these have trouble depicting fast motion, such as sporting events, Laumeister says.

Manufacturers interested

The computer chips that make the system work will cost no more than $300, says Isabell Faroudja, vice president of Faroudja Research and the engineer's wife. Manufacturers are "very, very interested," she says. "If we sign an agreement in the next two to three months," Laumeister says, the new sets could be on the market by December 1992.

But many companies are focused on the race to develop HDTV. Zenith Electronics Corporation, the only US manufacturer of TV sets, wants to bring an HDTV system to market by 1994.

South Korean manufacturers may be the most likely to bite at the Faroudja technology, says August Grant, a media professor at the University of Texas, Austin.

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