As leading electronics companies race to develop high-definition television, some predict that the technology will become far more than a means for affluent TV addicts to enjoy clearer pictures and better sound quality.
When combined with advanced microchips, HDTV may allow the creation of hybrid television-computers that allow users to control images by touching the screen or tapping a keyboard.
“Television is moving from straight HDTV to one that allows the user to get closer and participate,” Joseph Krauskopf, a manager at Intel Corp., said at a recent industry conference. “We’re seeing a shift from passive to active use.”
Intel, a leading U.S. microchip company, is one of several firms that envision the hybrid machines. A viewer, for example, could tour a museum using HDTV and choose to obtain more information about specific exhibits.
The HDTV set could serve as a new information source, delivering a news service tailored to an individual’s personal needs. It could also act as a home control center, switching lamps on and off, drawing the bath or taking phone messages.
“HDTV is rightly and wrongly named,” said Michael Jeremy, an electronics analyst at Baring Securities in Japan. “The word TV attracts consumers but it’s really a lot more. The overall trend is toward computerization of consumer products and consumerization of computer products.”
Some industry analysts doubt that many consumers will be attracted by HDTV’s more exotic possibilities.
“Life is getting so much more technologically complex outside the house. When people get home, they don’t want to fool around with machines beyond the remote control devices,” said Chuck Goto, electronics analyst at S. G. Warburg Securities in Japan.
But even if HDTV is widely used only to watch television programs, it promises to become a vital product for the world’s electronics firms, particularly for U.S. companies.
The U.S. consumer electronics industry drowned in a sea of cheap Japanese exports in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, America has an opportunity to make a comeback by using its skills in semiconductors and computer software to develop HDTV.
Although Japan, the European Community and the United States are likely to adopt different HDTV broadcast standards, there is little doubt that by the end of this decade HDTV sets will be in millions of homes.
Less than 1% of Japanese homes will have an HDTV set this year, but the figure will reach 45% by the year 2000, Japan’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications predicts.
The Japanese market alone will reach a total of $97 billion by 2000, the ministry says. Some analysts think that the global market could be worth nearly $400 billion by then.
HDTV technology is already being used in professional fields such as filmmaking, printing, publishing, medicine and defense. Japanese manufacturers, who are far ahead of their European and U.S. competitors, have been selling studio equipment for HDTV since 1984.
Some Japanese firms will begin selling 35- to 40-inch HDTV sets in Japan by the end of this year, and the publicly funded NHK television broadcasting company plans limited HDTV programming, starting next year.
The sets will cost $33,000 to $47,000.
“The price of a high-definition set is going to have to drop below 1 million yen ($6,600) before most consumers will consider buying them,” said S. G. Warburg’s Goto. “Below 500,000 yen ($3,300), the market will really take off.”