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
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
that will translate
the digital data
into a form
TVs understand. It seems premature to "kill your
television" at this point, as there is much to be worked out
before the transition occurs. …