Television Today and Tomorrow

Article excerpt

New technical standards loom, but in the meantime, television still

offers plenty worth watching--and discussing--with your students.

Television is not a neutral word. No other technology is

as ubiquitous (an estimated 98 percent of American

homes have at least one set) or as controversial. Some see

it as a usurper, raising our children for us, imparting values

we don't recognize, and urging products on us that we neither

want nor need. Even less strident voices have a hard

time seeing it as a good thing. Like candy, it's a treat,

unhealthful if overconsumed.

Yet we watch. In fact, according to a 1990 study by the

American Academy of Pediatrics, "By the fine today's

child reaches age 70, he or she will have spent approximately

seven years watching TV." At the same time, there

are indications that we are watching less. A poll conducted

by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News showed that 65

percent of TV households watch less than they did five

years ago. The reasons for turning it off? A dislike for

commercials; other activities such as work and exercise;

lack of interesting programs (79 percent of those polled

wanted more programming about history and the arts; 60

percent wanted fewer game shows and 85 percent wanted

fewer soap operas). PCs and online services are another

reason people are watching less. Finally, many believe that

TV is a bad influence on children.

But it's not all bad. Television can illuminate complex

concepts, lend a personal voice to abstract political situations,

and allow students to witness events as they unfold,

making it a powerful tool for educators. The challenge,

then, is to find the best resources and use them to spark

learning.

Technical Changes on the Horizon

With the recent announcement by the FCC that, by 2006,

all TV broadcasts will be digital, educators may be

wondering what shape TV will eventually take. Digital TV

(DTV) breaks down into two forms: High Definition

Television (HDTV), and Standard Definition Television

(SDTV). These two standards are based on the number of

scanning lines on the television. As you might guess from

the names, HDTV offers improved picture quality through

a much greater number of lines (up to 1125); while SDTV

will be digital, but maintain picture quality similar to what

we have now (as low as 525).

The FCC has allotted a certain amount of bandwidth for

these new digital transmissions, and networks quickly realized

that they could broadcast up to six programs using

SDTV, and only one with HDTV, so it's most likely that

rather than getting better picture quality, we'll actually just

get more programming choices. Some of these might be

subscription based, similar to cable television now.

Because the transmission will be digital, there will be

greater opportunities for interactive content to reach users

via television, rather than by computer.

Digital televisions should become available in 1998.

However, there is some question about when local TV stations

will actually make the switch. For them, the cross-over

represents a large investment to upgrade equipment,

with little return, so they're understandably reluctant.

Will your television become obsolete in 2006? Let's get

out the

crystal

ball--the

answer is

cloudy.

There has

been talk

of set-top

box adapters

that will translate

the digital data

into a form

conventional

TVs understand. It seems premature to "kill your

television" at this point, as there is much to be worked out

before the transition occurs. …