Breakthrough for Tomorrow's TV

December 28, 1991

Close on the heels of the Japanese introduction of regular high-definition television broadcasting, a group of American engineers has demonstrated a superior system. The General Instruments Corp. team, led by Korean-born MIT graduate Woo Paik, has delivered the first installment on a system promised a year ago, just as many observers were writing off American hopes of catching up in the race to develop the television system for the next century.

To be sure, there is much still to be done. General Instruments, a maker of cable TV and satellite transmission equipment trying to protect its customer base, has not yet brought out a marketable product. But its late entry into the high-definition TV wars pushed other, more well-established competitors in the direction it wanted to go, toward digital transmission, and its video compression techniques will help preserve precious real estate in the broadcast spectrum.

Such success ensures that the costly analog system inaugurated in Japan, with its heavy use of the broadcast spectrum and its $30,000 TV sets, will be a milestone leading nowhere. Digital is clearly the way to go, even if another company triumphs.

Japanese electronics giants have joined several American projects to develop high-definition television, and those masters of the universe of consumer desires will still have major roles to play in the TV systems of the future. Japanese firms have long been the leaders in production of high-quality picture tubes as well as in the memory chips any truly digital system must have. Their American partners bring expertise in processor chips, an expertise critical for a digital broadcasting system whose receivers will need the power of small supercomputers to handle the signals.

So what we have here is a demonstration yet again that the race is far from over. The products that will revolutionize the consumer lifestyles of tomorrow are still out there, waiting to be developed. Americans, whose innovations in automobiles, road-building, air travel, communications and, yes, consumer electronics have changed lifestyles all over the globe, should know that giving up is not in the vocabulary of winners.

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