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HDTV: New TV, but not just digital


April 3, 1997
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EST

From correspondent Garrick Utley

NEW YORK (CNN) -- What do we watch, but cannot see?

You can see the electronic images that can be transmitted from any place in the world. What we don't see is how they get to us. It is called television, and, oh, how we take it for granted. Now, get ready for a big change.

It is the shape of things to come: A television screen 25 percent wider than today's, with digital clarity.

"It changes the very nature of television," says Joel Brinkley, author of "Defining Vision."

"It gives you this very wonderful picture that is almost like looking out a window, almost feels three-dimensional and is very involving in a way that TV is not today."

Pricey digital TV is next techno frontier

Long time coming

old TV

HDTV has been a long time coming.

The first television sets looked primitive, and they were. Television was not an industry; it was an experiment.

The front page of The New York Times from April 8, 1927, headlined the transmission of television pictures, from Washington to New York. It was a first.

And, believe it or not, the conventional wisdom of the era was that the commercial use of this new technology was "in doubt."

Everyone bought new TV sets when the picture turned to color, and now they will have to do so again, with high definition sets.

The catch-22 of the new television is that unless you are at a test station in Washington or a few other locations you can't yet see the high definition, because the TV you are watching now can't capture it.

But the test TV shows how the wider screen -- with a broader visual context-- can change the way we look at the world from news to sports.

Broader context

In a football game the tendency today is to follow the ball: get a close-up on the football and stay with it. As a result, you miss a lot of action that goes on away from the focal point.

"I think the tendency tommorow will be to pull back and shoot that full line and let people watch what they want to watch and get a much better view of the field," says James McKinney of WHD TV in Washington. "The resolution is so high; the ball will be perfectly clear."

Watching a television screen that will broaden the picture and sharpen the image is only the beginning of what high definition will offer. Behind the screen, it will connect to the digital world of computers, bringing the power of television and computers together.

The new TV sets will go on sale next year, when broadcasters begin showing programs in the high definition format. Initially, the sets will cost at least $1,000 more than today's models, although the price should drop quickly.


The HDTV technology is different than the digital TV approved Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission. Digitalization changes the way the TV signal is sent to your home. HDTV changes the image and the picture.

But will consumers buy? Those who don't want or can't afford the new sets will be able to use adaptors on their old televisions. But if you want the new high-definition window on the world, you will have to buy a new set.

The arrival of high definition television is more than another consumer product. It will move us deeper into the digital world.

We can only speculate what we will find along the way -- which new industries will rise, which will decline. But we will watch it happen with a digital clarity we have never experienced before.


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