|HDTV: TRANSFORMING TV|
August 11, 1998
With twice the resolution of current television sets and endless possibilities, high-definition television sets recently hit the market. Following a background report, Joel Brinkley, author of Defining Vision, discusses HDTV.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
PONCE: Now on to the future of television with Joel Brinkley, a New
York Times Washington correspondent. He authored a book about high
definition TV called Defining Vision. Welcome, Joel.
PHIL PONCE: Joel, obviously, we showed shots of what a screen of a high definition television set looks like, but we can't convey the image because high definition -- we're not showing it on high definition.
JOEL BRINKLEY: We're looking at it on a standard television.
PHIL PONCE: Right. Why would someone want to spend seven to eight thousand dollars on a television set? What is so different about the image that we weren't able to convey to our viewers?
|Price for HDTV will drop|
JOEL BRINKLEY: Lots of people who look at high definition for the first time have a different perception of television altogether, because it feels like looking out a window, rather than looking at a picture. It feels involving.
I've watched lots of HDTV demonstrations with video professionals and average consumers, and it just makes people gasp when it's presented properly. However, I don't think many people are going to spend seven or eight thousand dollars for one of these sets. In fact, the industry does not expect to sell very many. Many of these sets are in stores just so people can see it, and they can present it to the public in a way that's appealing so perhaps they'll buy it later when the prices fall.
PHIL PONCE: So right now, the television sets that are going on the market, the ones we saw in San Diego, for example, the point of that is what, to wet the public's interest?
JOEL BRINKLEY: Largely. Of course, if lots of people bought the sets, Panasonic and the other manufacturers would be quite happy. But they don't really expect to sell very many at these prices. It's really just to let people know what it looks like and get the public excited.
PHIL PONCE: At some point, though, the prices are go down. It always does, so it seems, with consumer electronic products. Starting out at seven or eight thousand, where is it expected to go? Where does the industry expect it to go?
JOEL BRINKLEY: The one big reason these sets are so expensive is that these are digital sets, and they have very complex microprocessors in them that are being created just for digital television. And when the market is small and the processors are new, not many people are making them, and the prices of these kinds of things fall very rapidly, as we've seen with computers.
So I would expect and the industry believes that these prices will fall by half probably in two or three years, partly because these first sets are loaded. They have every option and gimmick on them you can possibly see, and by next year you'll start seeing sets that offer high definition without, you know, multi-channel, five-speaker system and a thousand other gadgets people may not want.
|A new viewing experience|
PHIL PONCE: And just a point of information you mentioned these are digital sets. High definition TV is a type of digital TV and a digital TV is different from the television sets that are on the market now in what way? Explain the difference.
JOEL BRINKLEY: Digital television sends the TV signal to your home in the ones and zeroes of computer code, rather than an analog wave form signal. That means that your TV can, if you want it, be a computer, in essence. Digital television also allows you to put more information in the same space, using digital compression. And that allows broadcasters and others to squeeze the extra picture content information into the TV channel but allows high definition, rather than what we have now.
But you don't have to broadcast high definition. You can broadcast standard definition like we have now. You can broadcast Web pages. You can broadcast almost anything you want, because a digital signal is imminently flexible.
PHIL PONCE: And a digital signal, as you're saying, allows you to transmit just a whole lot -- a whole lot more information, which makes for a clear picture, better audio, and that sort of thing?
JOEL BRINKLEY: That's correct.
PHIL PONCE: So this fall, if somebody does have a high definition TV or digital TV, what kinds of programs will he or she be able to watch?
It's going to take a while before the networks decide to do live programming in high definition, because they'd have to buy a whole new range of cameras and production equipment that are quite expensive. And the networks are just as curious as the rest of us to understand whether the public really wants this. They don't want to spend all this money to buy all this production equipment to find perhaps two or three years from now that the public looks at high definition with a yawn. Now --
|Old-fashioned television isn't going out of style|
PHIL PONCE: Is that a real possibility, that the market might not respond?
JOEL BRINKLEY: Well, it's a possibility, I suppose, but early tests have found a lot of interest in the public, and Americans seem to like whatever is the newest, greatest thing, whatever it is, anyway, and there's been so much interest and hype about this technology for years I would expect people are going to lap it up when the price becomes competitive.
PHIL PONCE: Some of the problems, though. This issue with cable, with access to high definition TV, if you're hooked up to cable, what's that problem?
JOEL BRINKLEY: There are two related problems. One, the cable industry does not want to carry the digital channels that the broadcasters will put on the air. Every TV station in the country, public broadcasting and otherwise, has been loaned a second channel by the government. And for a period of years, they'll broadcast the conventional programming in its usual place, and the digital and sometimes high definition programming on the new channel, usually in the UHF band. Well, the cable industry doesn't want to carry all of the old channels and all of the new digital channels, because they think that'll use up other channel capacities, so they're fighting a government requirement that probably will come out later this year, that would require them to carry it, as they do with today's TV channels.
Another problem, however, is that they haven't worked out the technical needs for carrying a digital signal from a cable box to a digital television set. That is, cables have not been finalized; there are still specifications that need to be worked out. So even if they carry the signal right now, there'd be no way to get it from the cable box to the digital television set.
PHIL PONCE: The vast majority of the universe is still going to have the old-fashioned analog television set. That is set to be obsolete by the year 2006. I mean, is that actually going to happen? Is that what you expect?
JOEL BRINKLEY: No. The government -- the federal rule says that the TV stations that are on the air now will go off the air in 2006, return to the government, and auctioned. The government expects to raise five or six billion dollars from this, and that money has already been counted in future budget projections that allows the government to say there's a balanced budget.
However, there's an amendment that was added to this law last year that says they cannot turn off the analog station in any city that does not have homes -- 85 percent of the homes -- have high definition or digital television sets. Well, there are 5 or 10 percent of homes in most cities now that still have black and white televisions. The idea that in 2006, which is seven or eight years from now, everybody's going to have bought a digital television set, nobody believes that's going to happen. It's fiction.
PHIL PONCE: Joel Brinkley, thanks for being with us.
JOEL BRINKLEY: My pleasure.
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