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When can you get HDTV? (A Historical Commentary)
Consumer Web Pages
The early years - Analog Japan vs. American Digital Active development of HDTV has been going on for the past 18 years. Why don't you have HDTV yet? It's a combination of business and political factors. Early proposals for HDTV involved analog technology dominated by Japanese firms. The government delayed implementation to allow American digital technology to be developed. Then a long study process was undertaken to choose the best technology available (and resultant patent royalties).
Who makes money on HDTV? The Government. Unfortunately, broadcasters didn't see a business model for broadcasting HDTV. The U.S. government did, however. They hope to auction off the old TV channels for new communications services once the transition to HDTV is complete. Thus, they required broadcasters to start transmitting HDTV in the largest U. S. markets, with a phased implementation over a few years to all of the U.S.
To make more money, the "H" in HDTV might go away. Along the way, HDTV became DTV - Digital Television. Digital signals can be compressed for transmission over a smaller channel than an analog one. That compression allowed high-definition, theater-quality images to be sent in a standard TV channel. Broadcasters realized that the same technology could be used to send four, five, or more television programs in their one DTV channel instead of a single HDTV signal. In fact, this technique has been used for years by all the Direct Broadcast Satellite systems, such as DirecTV and EchoStar. Market conditions make it attractive to send several standard definition programs instead of one real high-definition one.
To see HDTV-like programs today, you'll probably need to go to a movie theater So, if you're using a DBS service, effectively you already get DTV, though not in the widescreen format. DTV, like DBS, offers better perceived quality to the consumer because there are no ghosts or noise, and most viewers don't notice the motion artifacts yet. Will broadcasters offer true high-definition programs over their DTV channels? So far, only in prime time, except for a few cable networks. Otherwise, you see the same old standard TV program "upconverted" or rebroadcast in the DTV channel - not a real high-resolution version.
Which comes first - the channel or the set? With all this history behind us, you'd think we're ready to implement HDTV, or at least DTV, now. Well, its still a chicken and egg problem, with broadcasters complaining there's no market for programming because no one has a DTV set; and set manufacturers says no one will buy a set without programming.
Don't plan on watching HDTV while driving A new round of government-media-manufacturer fights emerged over the standards used to transmit a signal. Some media firms complained the existing U.S. standard was not as good as a European one. A small glitch in the plans of American engineers is that there is no way to get DTV on a mobile platform, such as a car, train, boat, etc.
Just because it's flat or digital doesn't mean it's HDTV Recently, flat-panel LCD or plasma TVs have entered the market. While they are cool-looking, in many cases they are not true HDTV resolution. Other manufacturers are offering sets in the old 4:3 display format instead of the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio of real HDTV.
HDTV - an opportunity to return to the business models of the 1970's With HDTV, consumers will have to purchase a new generation of equipment to replace the DVD player, VCR, or Tivo-like recorder they have today. The content industry, who tried to outlaw VCRs in the 1970's, is trying again with HDTV equipment. Legislation may require that future products prevent you from recording movies for later viewing.

So when can you get HDTV? It's been two years away for the past eighteen years now, so don't hold your breath...

To Learn More

If you want to learn more, we suggest the following resources. Please do NOT try to get information from us - Image Circuits can't provide information to consumers.


Useful Consumer HDTV and DTV Web Sites


Dummies PBS Digital TV Page A very polished site for the naive consumer. Good starting point for elementary information. Consumer explanations of HDTV from a professional video web site.

Consumer Electronics Association Industry trade association for electronics manufacturers. Includes a guide listing current consumer HDTV sets and decoders and a reasonably good introductory brochure.

What's on HDTV in your area? Check the TitanTV listings.

FCC Consumer Site The FCC's primer on digital TV.

Enthusiasts and Hangar Pilots AVS Forum A forum or bulletin board on TV and related home entertainment equipment. This is a good place to ask troubleshooting or purchase questions.

Keohi is another good site for purchase, reception, and tweaking info, as is HDTV Primer.

Be careful about the advice you read on other forum sites. Many are just run for easy profit without informed moderators.

Antennas - Recieving a HDTV over-the-air signal is usually difficult. The CEA consumer site, is a good place to start. It will show the bearing and distance to each station. If your channels are UHF, a popular choice are the ChannelMaster 4221 ($30) and 4228 ($50) antennas. If you re-assemble these in the shipping carton, you can attempt to use them indoors before going to the attic, roof, mast, and perhaps tower you will need.

Display Setup - For standard definition, it is hard to beat the DVD Essentials DVD.

Multimedia Central Home Page Author of a popular technical book explaining digital video concepts.

Nerds and Wonks Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Information on standards for studio HDTV.

Federal Communications Commission The government agency that regulates television broadcasting in the United States. The FCC database lists all active stations and construction permits.

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