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Forum: HDTV: Give Consumers the Real Thing

We are literally months away from realizing the dream ofdigital high-definition television. HDTV is the next generation of television and amongthe most extraordinary consumer technologies ever developed. The world's leadingtelevision manufacturers have unveiled the products -- and broadcasters have committed tothe programming -- that will deliver this technology to American consumers later thisyear.

Unfortunately, some leaders in the cable industry havedifferent plans for American consumers. Recent announcements by cable industry leadersindicate that they will not provide HDTV through their systems initially. That means thatsome of the 64 million cable subscribers may never have the chance to see true HDTVthrough their cable systems, and enjoy its extraordinary benefits.

HDTV DEFINED

The centerpiece application of digital television, HDTV isthe most talked about and hotly anticipated development in the history of television.Everyone who has seen it testifies to its stunning picture quality and crisp digitalsound. This stunning picture quality is the result of nearly twice the vertical and twicethe horizontal resolution of today's analog televisions.

Earlier this year, as part of an effort to educateconsumers and facilitate broad understanding of digital and high-definition televisionproducts, the consumer electronics industry standardized the definition of HDTV. Includedin this definition were clear parameters for picture resolution. The industry agreed thatHDTV is defined by a vertical display resolution of 720 progressive (720P), 1080 interlace(1080I), or higher.

Some in the cable industry now say they will not initiallybe able to deliver HDTV broadcasts through their systems -- broadcasts with a resolutionlevel of 720P, 1080I, or higher -- in the 480 progressive (480 P) format. Under thesecircumstances, some cable viewers could be deprived of a true high-definition experience.

CABLE PROVIDERS MUST

CARRY TRUE HDTV

Under the law, cable companies must pass through localnetwork broadcasts without degrading the signal. Imagine if a cable company were to take anetwork broadcast, such as the Super Bowl, and transmit it to its viewers in black andwhite! Viewers would be outraged. Any plans of some cable companies to not carry the HDTVsignal through their systems are even more egregious.

The fact is that nearly 6 of every 10 American householdsreceive their television via cable. And if cable companies do not carry HDTV, these 64million cable viewers will never get the chance to see HDTV for themselves. Instead, theywill receive digital television with a picture quality no better than what they nowreceive on their current analog set. The extraordinary promise of HDTV will have died onthe vine.

That is why the upcoming must-carry proceeding by theFederal Communications Commission is so critical to the success of HDTV. The FCC mustensure that if broadcasters transmit programming in high definition, cable companies arerequired to pass the programming through to the consumer in the same manner.

WITH CONSUMERS,

SEEING IS BELIEVING

HDTV will have an amazing future -- but only if people areallowed to see it. Surveys of consumers who have seen the technology demonstrate anoverwhelming interest and a desire to invest in the technology. But, their investment inan HDTV receiver will have limited return if they are prevented from seeing theextraordinary picture quality improvement of true high-definition. Consumers must haveaccess to the full benefits of this technology if we want to ensure a rapid and successfuldigital TV transition.

While the digital transition will bring benefits that donot require the resolution level of HDTV, it is clear that consumers want their viewingexperience to include the highest resolution available. Cable operators should join themanufacturers, broadcasters, programmers and satellite providers who have alreadyexpressed a commitment to offer consumers true HDTV. This will ensure that all Americanviewers have access to the best TV technology available.

Gary Shapiro is president of the Consumer ElectronicsManufacturers Association.