Thursday, March 30, 2000
Unless you have a direct broadcast satellite (DBS) system like DirecTV, you are currently receiving analog television signals--either over the air (broadcast) or via cable. You are watching television via the same signal that has been reaching American homes since stations began broadcasting in color more than 40 years ago. The major changes: Color has replaced black and white, and "Ally McBeal" supplanted "I Love Lucy."
DTV technology will, in theory, dramatically change televsion. DTV will be able to send HDTV programs with picture window resolution, a wide aspect ratio (the width-to-height ratio similar to that of theatrical movies), and six-channel Dolby Digital surround sound.
Broadcasters will also be able to use their bandwidth to send Standard Television (SDTV) programs and there''s additional bandwidth available that can be used for sending data. This enhanced television will enable viewers to see and use World Wide Web content, including stock reports, electronic coupons, or even the telephone directory.
All this is possible now, and in fact, some people in the major urban markets receive these signals from the networks. But there are no programs being broadcast in DTV in Monterey County. Why? It''s expensive. Each station must spend millions of dollars to replace existing equipment, and new broadcast towers with digital transmitters need to be erected. Manufacturers already have digital-ready, widescreen TVs, digital box decoders, computers capable of HDTV, and flat panel displays. But until consumers start buying, the prices are out of reach of most.
But get ready--the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is requiring an end to all analog programming by May 2006. Of course, this will only really happen if more programming becomes available so the cost and benefit to consumers makes sense. When the time comes, programs like "Shape of Life," filmed with HDTV technology, will come alive in nearly living color.