Manufacturers Pumping Up DTV Output

Some consumer-electronics manufacturers are plunging ahead with increased production and new models of digital television sets, despite continuing controversy about broadcasting standards and a scarcity of high-definition programming.

At the insistence of renegade broadcasters led by the Sinclair Group, the Federal Communications Commission is reviewing the specifications for over-the-air signal transmission. Several tests have demonstrated that the technique chosen by the Advanced Television Standards Committee may be seriously flawed. To date, manufacturers have chosen to build digital televisions as individual components, with the receiver in a box separate from the display. Only a few integrated DTVs are on the market at present.

That scenario is changing somewhat, according to recent announcements from set-makers like Thomson Multimedia. On August 16, the French-owned company announced that it will introduce five new integrated television sets for the US market. The smallest will have a 34" diagonal screen, and will carry a suggested retail price of $3500. A similar but larger 38" set will run $3800. The new sets will be able to display "legacy video," a feature that makes them compatible with the old NTSC broadcasting standard, whose scheduled demise has been postponed by the FCC because of the slow development of the HDTV market.

The move into integrated sets is a statement by Thomson that it believes the current DTV broadcasting standard will survive the challenges. "We want the digital TV transition to keep moving forward," said Thomson executive David Arland. Thomson makes the RCA and ProScan brands, and has agreed to sponsor HDTV broadcasts of this year's American Football Conference playoff games and the Super Bowl, to be produced by CBS.

Toshiba has also announced that it will increase production of DTVs, boosting its line from 10 to 14 models. Only one of Toshiba's new units will be an integrated set, however. Pioneer and Mitsubishi have also expanded their offerings, but Sony Corporation and Chinese manufacturer Konka Group have both decided to hold back on new-product development until the US technical wrangle is straightened out. Thomson is hedging its bet somewhat by offering 13 additional models of separates.