Monday saw the bigwigs of television broadcasting and the computer industry meeting in Washington to discuss the specifications for digital TV. Meanwhile, the DTI announced that finalised rules for implementation in the UK are on the way. However, commercial delivery may be delayed by the continuing government delays on both sides of the Atlantic.
Under duress from Susan Ness, commissioner at the US Federal Communications Commission, TV and computer manufacturers and representatives of the broadcasting community met in Washington on Monday to agree on how signals should be compressed and delivered.
As yet no decision has been made as to which video format is to be adopted - the broadcasting and computer industries favour different standards. TV and computers can be manufactured to receive both signals and the likelihood is that both signals will be used, and it will be left to consumers to choose.
Industry chiefs are predicting the first digital television sets will hit the market in early 1998, assuming government licensing bodies don?t drag their feet.
The DTI has announced a two-week consultation period before issuing licensing laws. In a written answer to a question, Charles Hendry MP made clear that the purpose ?of these regulations is to ensure that all broadcasters can gain access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, to any digital set-top boxes which can receive their signal.?
In the UK BSkyB has been promising commencement of digital broadcasts in autumn next year. However, analysts now suggest that they may delay the order of 900,000 digital set-top boxes used to receive the service.
The industry watchdog Oftel is to be given sweeping powers to stamp out anti-competitive behavior. Government actions come in response to complaints from cable operators that fear a BSkyB monopoly.
BSkyB is unlikely to proceed in the face of such uncertainty. Its competitors believe that the regulations will only address part of the problem.
The filmmakers, meanwhile, are petitioning to have the standards changed altogether. They will not be happy until TV sets are formatted to display wide angled films.
The real bad news is that even if all these problems can be ironed out by the end of next year, prices of sets are expected to range between $1,000 and $3,000.
Digital television promises a personal cinema in your front room, with the clarity of the projected image, CD-Rom sound, interactivity of top range video games and hundreds of channels to choose from on a pay-by-view basis.
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