In a stunning admission of failure, Japan said Tuesday it will abandon the high-definition TV system that it has spent years developing, in favor of an American-backed digital standard for the new technology.
Japan's Posts and Telecommunications Ministry said it abandoned its analog technology because the all-digital U.S. system is likely to become a world standard.
The decision, which tarnishes Japan's reputation for technological prowess in consumer electronics, goes beyond television as entertainment. High-definition TV, with cinematic images and crystalline sound, is expected to be the means by which consumers and businesses access information, visit and possibly even commute using the high-capacity information infrastructure of tomorrow.
Several years ago, Japan jumped off to a big lead in HDTV research, a lead that was the cause of much worry over U.S. competitiveness. But the ability to express information digitally is at the heart of the information age, and American researchers soon pioneered a digital standard for television.
In May, three U.S. groups that had been vying to develop a proprietary system to serve as the U.S. standard for HDTV joined forces to pool their expertise and share royalties from the new technology. Earlier this month, the consortium recommended a digital transmission standard that would accommodate computer users, over-the-air broadcasts and cable TV.
A digital system converts the sounds and images of a television broadcast into numerical codes, transmits them that way and then converts the codes back into identical sounds and images when they are delivered to the home. That results in a clearer picture than analog systems, which use signals much like those used for TV and radio transmissions today.
The change to a digital standard will prove costly for Japanese electronics companies, who are among the world's leading producers of television sets and other consumer electronics. It will also require that the nation's TV stations convert to expensive new digital equipment.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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