DTV Named Among Year's Top New Technologies

Five and one half years after the formation of digital television's Grand Alliance, the resulting technology has been honored with an R&D Magazine 100 Award as one of this year's most important new developments. "The key criterion of winning this award is technological significance," said the publication's Editor-in-Chief, Tim Studt. "This new DTV standard will change the quality and nature of television. It offers vastly increased visual impact, broader programming options, and the ability to use TV as an information appliance instead of just for passive entertainment."

The award was presented Thursday, September 24, at a formal ceremony at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, and was shared by the companies and organizations that participated in HDTV's development: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Philips Electronics North America, Lucent Technologies, Sarnoff Corporation, Zenith Electronics, Thomson Consumer Electronics, and General Instrument Corporation. The museum, at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, is the largest of its kind in a single building in the western hemisphere.

The Federal Communications Commission's Advanced Television Standards Committee based its final recommendation for digital television, including the highest-resolution format, HDTV, on designs submitted by the Grand Alliance, a group of academic and industrial researchers who collaborated on the project. ATSC DTV will eventually replace analog NTSC television in the United States, Canada, South Korea, and Taiwan. The system is being considered for adoption by China, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Singapore. Sufficient support by large countries throughout the world may allow the new format to become the de facto global standard.

Commercial broadcasters in the 10 largest US metropolitan areas will begin digital broadcasting in November. Hi-def signals will also be available via satellite. The FCC's timetable stipulates that all commercial stations be in fully digital operation by the year 2002, and all public stations be so by the following year. Traditional analog broadcasting will continue until the year 2006, when its phase-out will begin. Signals will be transmitted in both formats by broadcasters during the transitional period, after which ownership of the traditional television spectrum will revert to the FCC.

R&D Magazine was founded in 1959 and began its 100 Awards for scientific and engineering advancements in 1963. The awards are given based on the evaluations and recommendations of a panel of as many as 100 technology experts who advise R&D's editors. Many winners of the prestigious award have come into common use, and have had an enduring effect on modern culture. Among them: Polaroid film, the flashcube, anti-lock brakes, the automated teller machine, the liquid crystal display, the fax machine, the touch-sensitive screen, and the color graphics printer. A few winners have been commercial flops, such as the Digital Compact Cassette, an audio tape recording and playback format developed by Philips in the late 1980s and unsuccessfully marketed in the early 1990s as a replacement for the ubiquitous analog cassette.