TELEVISION is moving into the digital age. A recent...

Salmagundi

June 24, 1993

TELEVISION is moving into the digital age. A recent agreement among the three top rivals to develop the next generation of TV sets promises to do for the clunky tube what the compact disc did for stereos: deliver sharper, clearer images as superior to those of conventional TV screens as CDs are to the humble 78 rpm record.

Television signals broadcast in digital format will be less susceptible to interference and distortion from weather and other factors. Images will have greater resolution than is possible on today's sets, rivaling those of motion picture screens. The new format will also make TVs full partners with the personal computer, paving the way for the proposed "electronic superhighway" to bring an unprecedented array of new information services and applications to households of the future.

The impetus for this development grew out of a world-wide competition among manufacturers sponsored five years ago by the Federal Communications Commission to develop a new high definition TV format. Initially, foreign companies enjoyed a seemingly insurmountable lead in developing the new technology. The Japanese, for example, sank a cool $1 billion into R&D in hopes of cornering the market.

But the first Japanese sets, which appeared in Japan in 1990, were based on analog technology, sold for $35,000 each and were limited to receiving HDTV signals, which commercial stations broadcast for only one hour each day. Meanwhile, the Americans and their European partners were working out systems based on the same type of digital code used in computers. By early this year, all three finalists in the competition had submitted proposals for digital HDTV formats.

Encouraged by the FCC, the three rival groups agreed to pool their resources to develop a single approach to digital TV, a decision that eases the threat of litigation in the event a losing competitor chose to challenge the winning design. The collaboration means the FCC could settle on a standard sometime next year, with the first digital broadcasts and receivers coming on line as early as 1995.

The first HDTV receivers will cost between $1,000 and $2,000 more than today's sets. But the price should come down as the new format catches on and its technology matures. Meanwhile, commercial stations will still broadcast conventional analog signals for years to come. Television, which has profoundly altered the age in which we live, seems poised to expand its revolutionary influence well into the next millennium.

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SPEAKING of the next millennium, data compiled by The PresentFutures Report indicates that Hispanics will be the largest minority in the U.S. by 2010, and will continue to grow. Between 2030 and 2050, Hispanics are expected to account for 57 percent of U.S. population growth.

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