A Giant Leap for Television

Article excerpt

The last big change in broadcasting came in 1953, with the switch from black and white to color. Now high-definition TV promises a whole new era in viewing for those who can afford it.

Sen. John Glenn's return to space in late October coincided with another historic launch -- that of high-definition television, or HDTV. Of course, few viewers watched the blastoff on The new technology -- most who did were perched inside electronics stores, a scene recalling the days when television was introduced in the late 1940s.

While TV stations in many major U.S. cities will begin broadcasting in HDTV this fall, networks, cable-TV companies and consumers must buy new equipment to send and receive the HDTV signal -- a circumstance that will slow down nationwide conversion. "This is a radical transition in home-entertainment technology," says Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association. "This is not going to happen overnight."

But retailers are finding that shoppers are willing to pay $5,000 and more for HDTV sets to watch a higher-quality picture. Allan Farwell plunked down $5,400 in August for one, which he hung in his San Diego sports bar, despite that local broadcasters will not air HDTV programming for another 12 months. "Right now, it's a great TV," says Farwell. "It will be a unique TV when we get high-definition reception."

Farwell isn't the only enthusiast. Dow Stereo/Video, which operates a chain throughout San Diego, has sold "dozens and dozens" of HDTV sets, according to Tom Campbell, corporate director for the company. "People are buying based on what they can see and enjoy today" he says. "If you were selling on the future, forget it."

TV makers are confident Americans' penchant for buying electronic goodies, from personal computers to satellite dishes and videocameras, will lead them to HDTV. Consumers have taken to large-screen televisions, and 18 million U.S. households have spent at least $2,000 on a TV set, according to statistics from the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association. …