DAN RATHER: In CBS' Eye on America tonight you're going to see what you'll be seeing on the television of tomorrow, because tomorrow is almost here. And with it, high-definition television, which is designed to eventually replace the system we all grew up with. And CBS NEWS Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports, the difference is clear.
MAN: Oh boy! That's beautiful.
SANDRA HUGHES: It's the biggest innovation in TV since the advent of color in 1954: It's high-definition television, and it's coming soon to a living room near you.
MAN: Look at this stuff right here, the detail; then you go here, there's-- there is no comparison.
HUGHES: It's impossible to show the actual clarity of the high definition digital picture on your TV set, although you can probably see some of the difference when you compare. This is regular TV; this is high-definition. Regular, high-definition. Regular on the left, high-definition on the right.
Look at the detailed reflections on the ice; the extraordinary detail on skin. We asked people who watched a high-definition demonstration at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas what they thought.
WOMAN: The sound clarity, the picture-- I just-- like looking through a window.
MAN: I got to have it.
HUGHES: Here's how it works: Your TV scans 525 horizontal lines to make a picture. Full high-definition scans more than 1,000 digital lines-- more information, more clarity. And the wide screen means you can see more of the action at once. Sony TV's Carl Yankowski gives the play-by-play.
CARL YANKOWSKI (Sony TV): If we were watching a basketball game on this set, we would be able to see the perspiration pour off of the individual shooter after he makes a jump shot. We would be able to read the logo on the basketball as it swirls to the net.
HUGHES: And with digital, you get CD-quality sound. Broadcast executives like Joe Flaherty are breathless.
JOE FLAHERTY (CBS Inc.): When you put this together-- h-- high-resolution, surround sound, wide screen, more realistic color-- you have a psychophysical viewing experience unlike color, et al. So this is a major, major breakthrough for the viewer.
HUGHES: It starts by the end of next year, when each station in the ten biggest cities must offer a digital channel. By about 2006, the entire country will be able to get digital TV. Then, all the non-digital channels will be turned off and the nation will be converted.
HUGHES: In less than 10 years, every single TV set in this country will be obsolete. With a new converter box, you will be able to see a low definition version of the high definition broadcasts. But to see the real thing, you'll need a new rectangular high definition set that in the beginning will cost about $1,200 more than the comparable set costs now.
JOEL BRINKLEY (author, Defining Vision): This is the biggest mass market item there is in this country, and once they start makng these things in volume, the price will probably fall rather rapidly.
HUGHES: But the new sets won't be available till the broadcasts begin at the end of next year. For now, if consumers want to buy a set, they have to buy the non-digital kind.
REED HUNDT (chairman, FCC): This will work for sure for at least another nine years. If you're interested in the truly long-term 20-year approach, maybe you ought to wait till the Christmas of '98.
HUGHES: But for now, manufacturers don't anticipate sales of regular sets falling off any time soon...
MAN: I'm going to hopefully keep my 20-year-old set alive for another couple-three years and see what happens.
HUGHES: ...while consumers plan for the future.
MAN: Yeah, I'm turning it into a fish tank.
HUGHES: Not so fast. Remember, the last time there was a big change, it took the nation a decade to complete the transition. And that was only for color.
In Los Angeles, this is Sandra Hughes for Eye on America.