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Next-Generation TV Debuts

After years of hype, the next generation of television broadcasting will finally have the chance to show its promise.

Television viewers will get an opportunity to tune into HDTV programming this week, although most people will see little difference unless they've shelled out thousands of dollars for a high-definition television set.

PBS will be broadcasting a week-long experiment in HDTV this week. The broadcast, a 90-minute documentary called Chihuly Over Venice, follows renowned glassworks artist Dale Chihuly as he creates blown glass and sculptures in Italy, Ireland, Finland, and Mexico with his team of artisans and local glassblowers.

The show was shot for HDTV, but viewers will only be able to appreciate the cutting-edge experience that industry experts promised if they have spent upwards of $12,000 for an HDTV television set.

CBS TV inaugurated its formal HDTV schedule on Sunday, November 8th with a broadcast of the NFL game between the New York Jets- Buffalo Bills. The telecast, shot with special HDTV cameras, and containing HDTV graphics, was beamed to six east coast affiliates.

Unfortunately for New York viewers, two hours before game time an unexplained power surge damaged CBS's transmitters at the Empire State building and the signal was weak by the time it reached the suburbs. "Feedback from the other affiliates was generally strong," reported Brent Stranathan, the CBS Vice-President in charge of the transition to HDTV.

The resolution of HDTV broadcasts is four to five times better than what you know today, CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley reports. The other major difference is a "wide screen" format, similar to what you see in a movie theater, instead of the "square box" format of television today. The broadcasts also have digital surround sound, CD-quality sound, and much-improved color as well.

The FCC has ordered the stations in the 10 largest U.S. markets to broadcast a digital signal by May of next year.

While few consumers have purchased the new televisions, the market is growing. Greg Imel at The Good Guys in Studio City, California, says he has sold one of the models that cost between $4,000 and $6,000. The store sold three last week.

"It's almost the same price to buy a high-end analog big-screen TV right now," Imel says. "You have to see the picture quality and compare it to a regular television next to it."

By the end of November, more than 40 stations in 23 cities will offer high-definition programming, according to the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, D.C.

CBS's first prime-time HDTV broadcast will take place later this year with an episode of Chicago Hope.

"The sets are just coming off the assembly lines and are just beginning to be introduced in electronics stores nationwide," says Burnill F. Clark, chief executive of Seattle's KCTS-TV who produced the Chihuly show. b>"There will be a very small, a single-digit percentage, of national viewers who will have it."

"HDTV works so well in public television because travel and scientific subjects work well with our audiences," Clark says. "It really helps the viewer to take a vicarious tour of another part of the country and the world without leaving their front door. I would describe it as looking through the window. It draws you into the TV because now this picture is seamless. There are no spaces in the picture. It's just one beautiful glossy image."