Do the Geeks Have a Head Start with DTV?

In a perfect home-theater world, all consumers would demand ever-better video technologies with which to watch films and other programming at home. We would enthusiastically support companies that brought us video displays of increasing size and resolution, and we would favor movie studios that supported our quest for images and sounds of the highest definition. But the real world could be an unfriendly place for HDTV fans, according to a report just released by the McLaughlin Consulting Group.

The study states that "although the FCC's DTV broadcasting ruling can be regarded as a 'trigger event' that forced the digital era on the entertainment industry, the real long-term force behind DTV is the Internet. HDTV is a side show. And forget the acronyms---HDTV, EDTV, SDTV. What the consumer will receive is more choices of higher-quality video in a 16:9 format and an improved audio experience. That's about it. Eventually, the computer industry will have to adopt the 16:9 format for all of its monitor products."

Although the report points to the Internet as key in bringing DTV to the public, it also warns that "the computer industry should position itself to develop, manufacture, install, and---where appropriate---manage the digital systems of the entertainment industry, including set-top boxes and televisions. Thus far, however, the industry lacks the comprehension, leadership, and organization to accomplish this goal."

The study also found that of the 106 million consumer displays (TVs and computer monitors) in the US at the end of 1998, 23 million (22%) are coupled to the Internet. "The consumer is being drawn into the interactive services environment. The Web will be on TV and TV will be on the Web. The cable, satellite, and terrestrial TV industries are in a pitched battle with the computer and telecommunication industries to control the market for signal transmission, storage, and routing."

These changes are predicted to disrupt the traditional markets for entertainment and computer displays. "Digital television, including high-definition television (HDTV) using legislated standards on how bits reach the public consumer, will offer a whole new set of multimedia and interactive services and applications to the consumer. Internet TV will digitize TV using existing computer network technology. The computer geeks have a head start. At this point, one could make the argument that digital TV will end up aligning with Web standards rather than with HDTV standards."