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The Digital-TV Battlefield

Digital TVs are in the stores, but consumers are rightly wary. Every industry has a different take on digital TV, spelling a long, messy transition. Don't touch that dial!

TELECOM, CHIPS, AND DATA-NETWORK COMPANIES
TV stations preparing for digital broadcasts are buying expensive new equipment from Lucent Technologies, Harris, IBM, and many digital-broadcast startups. Cisco and Northern Telecom can sell high-speed switches to route the digital signals.

GAME COMPANIES
Video games look great on big, wide screens--a point not lost on Nintendo, Sony, Electronic Arts, and other game-masters. They may release new titles that take advantage of the screen and exploit it in online games, too.

TV EQUIPMENT MAKERS
They think digital TV is a gold mine. The new sets, costing $5,500 and up, carry cushy premiums, and may also spur sales of DVD players, VCRs, and audio gear. But technical glitches could foil the launch. And confused shoppers may decide to wait--slowing sales of regular TVs as well.

CABLE SYSTEMS
Cable systems are at odds with broadcasters. Cable is experimenting with fast cable modems and flashy set-top boxes that link TVs to the Internet. But right now, cable can't display broadcasters' HDTV signals. If you want digital TV, you'll need an antenna.

SATELLITE BROADCASTERS
DirecTV/USSB and EchoStar Communications are starting high-definition broadcasts. Startups such as St. Louis' Unity Motion are leasing transponders on satellites to beam high-definition movies and other programming to areas that can't receive digital broadcasts.

COMPUTER COMPANIES
Microsoft is working with cable, positioning Windows CE as key software for the set-top box. Compaq and Gateway did poorly selling large-screen PC/TVs for the living room, but they'll probably come out with low-cost set-top boxes or other appliances.

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
It wants to speed broadcasters' introduction of HDTV, especially since the industry was given extra airwaves for free. The faster HDTV takes off, the sooner the Feds can reclaim and auction off airwaves now used for analog broadcasts.

BROADCASTERS
Most will offer some high-definition programming, to see if it attracts viewers. Some may split their new broadcast spectrum into 6 or more standard-definition channels, which they'll use for local programming, pay-per-view movies, or fast Internet service. No one has come up with a slam-dunk business model.

HOLLYWOOD
Movie studios and cable pay-per-view programmers won't release new shows for high-definition TV until copyright issues are resolved. They're worried about illegal copies made on digital VCRs. But Sony is converting hundreds of older films into high-definition formats.




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Updated Oct. 15, 1998 by bwwebmaster
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