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TV, Computer Industries Reach Accord On Digital TV


Following weeks of talks, representatives from the television and computer industries reached an agreement in principle Monday on a broadcast standard for a new generation of high-definition digital TV.

The accord is aimed at allowing the Federal Communications Commission to finalize by year's end a government-prescribed standard for advanced digital TV, which offers cinema-quality pictures and CD-quality sound. TV manufacturers, as a result, hope to begin bringing digital-TV receivers to market in 1998.

While the accord between the computer, broadcast and consumer electronics industries calls on the FCC to issue a broadcast transmission standard, the agency would not mandate key aspects of digital TV technology.

Instead, the eventual shape of the TV screen and the technology for putting images on to the screen would be dictated by the market -- and not a government agency.

FCC officials welcomed the pact. ``I am confident that, based on today's announcement, the FCC can act before the end of 1996,'' Commissioner Susan Ness said in a statement.

FCC Chairman Reed Hundt said, ``Our goal has been to trust the market, not government, to define the digital television of the future. Today's agreement is wholly welcome.''

Computer companies, led by Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, had objected to the broadcast
standard the FCC initially proposed in May, saying it would work poorly with computers and stifle the the convergence of TV and computer technologies.The long-promised convergence would allow consumers to watch TV and surf the Internet via the same ``smart box.''

The latest round of talks, which were held in Washington, also resolved objections raised by Hollywood directors, actors and cinematographers who complained that the proposed screen size would mangle images in wide-screen films. The FCC proposal stalled after the Clinton administration made an election-year reversal in August and warned the plan could be ``overly prescriptive'' and could ``stymie'' development of new products and services.

It initially backed the plan, but reversed itself after the objections from the computer industry and Hollywood. ``If the FCC acts this year, it could make high-definition TV a reality for consumers in 1998,'' said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association, a trade group
representing TV makers.

The latest talks involved representatives for TV broadcasters, the big networks, TV manufacturers
Philips Electronics N.A. Corp. and Thomson Consumer Electronics, plus
Microsoft, Intel Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., and Apple Computer Inc.

The initial FCC proposal stemmed from a recommendation by an advisory panel that included representatives from the entertainment, broadcast, electronic and computer industries. The plan took more than eight years to develop.

The negotiations were initiated after a request last month from Commissioner Ness. She set a Nov. 25 deadline for the negotiators to reach agreement, although the date was not legally binding.


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