Zenith, AT&T; Join to Develop High-Definition Television

Times Staff Writer

Zenith, the only U.S. maker of television sets, and AT&T; said Tuesday that they have teamed up to develop a high-definition television system.

Addressing concerns that foreign competitors are winning the race to develop HDTV equipment, Zenith Chairman Jerry Pearlman predicted that the partnership would yield “winning American technology” that will “allow the U.S. to leapfrog the Japanese and Europeans.”

Zenith and AT&T; were among 40 to submit high-definition television proposals to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the Defense Department. The agency, which has earmarked $30 million for development of HDTV systems, is expected to award contracts in April.

The identities of the other companies competing for government funding couldn’t be learned late Tuesday. However, industry sources said IBM, Tandy, Sun Microsystems and SRI International were known to have at least considered a proposal. The deadline for submitting proposals was Monday.


“It is encouraging to know there has been this kind of response,” said Pat Hill Hubbard, vice president for science and technology policy for the American Electronics Assn. “We’re very pleased.”

The Defense Department, which uses HDTV technology in certain weapons systems, invited proposals for the technology last December. The department said it expected the technology to have consumer applications but that it would “by no means solve the HDTV problem.”

Some economists and electronics industry officials have expressed concern that unless U.S. firms catch up to Japanese competitors in HDTV development, this nation will lose out on another key consumer electronics market.

The Japanese started work on HDTV--a wide-screen television with well-defined, color pictures--in 1970. Since then, the Japanese have developed cameras, tape recorders and broadcasting equipment for the new high-definition format. Next year, high definition-television will become available to Japanese viewers. But the televisions will cost a lot--about $4,000.


Last month, 16 U.S. companies, including Zenith, IBM, Apple Computer and Texas Instruments, agreed to work on setting up a partnership to fund development of high-definition TV sets. Besides conducting research, the group would also license HDTV technology to other U.S. companies.

The Defense Department said it will award $15 million for development of a device that will receive high-definition signals and another $15 million for a device that will display a high-definition picture. The two devices would ultimately provide the basis for an HDTV television set.

Jan Bodanyi, a department spokeswoman, said the government would pick one proposal in each area, and possibly more.

Zenith and AT&T; will work on developing the technology to receive the HDTV signals. The proposal asks for $13 million from the department. The total price tag would be $24 million, said Daniel S. Lankford, a vice president at AT&T; Microelectronics, one of the AT&T; units working on the project.

Lankford said Zenith and AT&T; separately submitted proposals for developing a display screen, the HDTV equivalent of a picture tube.

Lankford said that if AT&T; and Zenith failed to receive the government contract, research would continue, but more slowly. “We would have to reevaluate the time and resources devoted to the project,” he said.