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Heard on the Beat : Which Comes First, HDTV or Programs?

September 06, 1999|JONATHAN GAW

High-definition television presents the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum: Why would broadcasters pay the cost of sending out program signals in HDTV if no one has the special sets needed to receive them? Why would anyone shell out thousands of dollars for the new TVs if there is no programming?

Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc. in Irvine, a major manufacturer of HDTV sets, has come up with one solution--sponsoring the conversion of CBS Television's prime time entertainment shows into the digital format.

Last week, CBS said 12 of its 15 hours of weekly prime time entertainment programming, including hits "Touched By an Angel" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," will be in high-definition, an enhanced version of regular television featuring crisper video and CD-quality sound.

"This is the first sustained exposure on prime time of any network of HDTV programming," said Dana McClintock, a CBS spokesman.

NBC was the first television network to broadcast a series in HDTV, beginning with "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" last April. Under the deal with CBS, Mitsubishi will underwrite the costs associated with producing the majority of CBS's prime time entertainment programming in HDTV. The companies would not disclose the amount.

At the beginning of each HDTV broadcast, there will be an on-air, five-second banner advertising Mitsubishi's sponsorship of the program. Those with regular television sets will not see any difference in the programs. Those with HDTV sets, however, should see a wider picture with improved video and audio.

HDTV set Manufacturers hope that more enhanced programming will spur more consumers to upgrade their sets. Since HDTV programming began, 26,000 sets have been sold, according to the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Assn.

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