Technology Takes TV to Dizzy Heights

Article excerpt

Technological wizardry will not only transform the media and entertainment industries, but revolutionise advertising, says Colin Chapman

Well before the turn of the century Europeans will be able to tune their television sets to 180 channels. Television -- whether entertainment, sport, home shopping or business and finance -- will also be freely available on the desktop through easier-to-use personal computers. And, by then, the technologies of television, telecoms and information technology will have converged so that many businesses and households will access data through one unit as friendly as the TV set and as essential as utilities like gas and electricity.

This changing environment, as radical as the cable and satellite TV revolution of the past five years, will transform the media and entertainment industries, hasten changes already underway in the ad business, and alter lifestyles.

The most important new technology in television is digitalisation, which will replace analogue as the international standard. Digitalisation will not only provide for much better picture quality, it will also allow frequencies on both terrestrial transmitters and satellite transponders to be split, making it easy to transmit a far greater number of signals.

This change will, to some extent, be resisted by traditional broadcasters -- especially those in the UK, for example, who have bid and committed millions of dollars for their government licenses. You will hear them talk about the need to "maintain standards", rather in the manner that London Weekend's Greg Dyke ferociously but unsuccessfully opposed BSkyB's move into soccer. But eventually these latter-day Luddites will be forced to accept the new technology.

Already Societe Europeenne des Satellites, the Luxembourg-based company that operates the Astra system, has announced it will launch two satellites with digital television capacity. Across the Atlantic, Hughes Communications intends to launch a 150-channel system next year using digital compression technology.

At the user end of the market, NBC, one of the big three American networks and a subsidiary of General Electric, has teamed up with IBM to offer a PC-based news service which consists of compressed video and stills transmitted down standard phone lines and viewed in a window of the computer desktop.

Another technology in development will dramatically improve the quality of liquid crystal displays to the point where screens will become both flat and pliant. At this point it will be possible to transmit a newspaper directly to a lightweight but bendable viewing screen making printing unnecessary and paper redundant. …

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