HDTV demonstration gets imperfect reception Live digital screening brings mixed reviews


June 11, 1998|By J. Leffall | J. Leffall,SUN STAFF

"The Simpsons," "The X-Files" and "ER" are among the television shows that Dan Vayda and his brother Tom love to watch.

But they say neither they -- nor their parents -- would want to shell out tons of money to watch the shows on digital television.

The two Baltimore County residents, and others at Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s over-the-air demonstration yesterday, were skeptical about the initial costs of digital technology.

It will cost between $4,000 and $12,000 to buy all the equipment needed for a basic digital TV.

"That's steep. That's a car," said Dan Vayda, 19, a year older than his brother. "When you have college to pay for and all of the other expenses more important than a digital TV, I can't see paying that at all."

Yesterday's live digital television presentation at Boys' Latin School was the first of its kind in the country, according to Sinclair officials. One of the digital TVs used yesterday had the highest resolution of any in the world -- and cost about $20,000.

But Sinclair wants consumers to buy a different, less expensive model, which will allow users to receive up to four channels on one standard, six-megahertz channel. Megahertz are used to measure broadcast frequencies.

Companies such as Baltimore-based Sinclair, which owns or programs 57 TV stations across the country, including channels 45 and 54 here, want to use the digital spectrum to air many programs on one channel instead of using digital TV's capabilities to show one program that has a highly enhanced picture.

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission ordered that all television broadcasts in America go digital by 2006.

Initially, stations will broadcast an analog channel and a digital channel. If all goes according to the FCC's plan, digital TV will replace analog signals by 2006, and all households will have to either buy a digital TV or purchase a converter box to complement their current television. The converter boxes are expected to start at $600.

Although prices are expected to decline as the digital television age nears and companies find more cost-effective ways to manufacture digital equipment, Washington resident Doug Halonen isn't convinced.

Halonen said that while he saw a slight difference between digital and analog pictures, he wouldn't fork over the cash for a digital television or converter box.

"It's difficult, if you're not familiar with digital technology, to see the difference and want to pay the outrageous amounts of money they're asking for," he said. "To me, the story line of a particular program is what compels a person to watch, not the picture. Besides, I'm cheap."

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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