By Lucas van Grinsven and Georgina Prodhan
Armin Schoenfelder would love to buy a television set that is ready
for high definition broadcasts but the German engineer wants to spend
no more than 900 euros, while the sets start at twice his budget.
"Sure I'm interested, but I'm looking at the prices," the 68-year-old
said as he browsed at the Saturn electronics store in Frankfurt.
Salesman Mathias Kerscher, 25, is not convinced about high definition
television (HDTV) yet, because no German channel is broadcasting in the
high-quality format yet. "Until there's a better signal, I don't see any
point," he said.
The two men illustrate the hurdles the consumer electronics industry
must overcome to promote HDTV: a weak European economy and lack of
Yet at the bi-annual consumer electronics trade show IFA in Berlin,
once the launch platform for DVD, big TV set producers draw confidence
from market research that suggests HDTV may grow faster than
black-and-white television did.
It took 25 years for 80 percent of households to own a black-and-white
TV, a percentage forecast to be hit within 15 years by "High Def"
households. It took color TV some 21 years, according to a study by
Euroconsult and NPA Conseil.
Consumers are now much quicker to pick up the latest gadgets to
receive TV broadcasts. In France, it took only five years before 2
million homes had purchased a flat TV, a period after which barely 0.5
million homes had a color TV.
Flat screens are not equivalent to HDTV but many of the new plasma and
liquid crystal display (LCD) sets are able to reflect the 1080
viewable lines of HDTV, creating a picture that has five times more
detail than standard definition television.
LONG TIME COMING
Unlike the picture quality of HDTV, the launch date of the technology
is far from razor sharp.
Research began in the United States as early as 1970 and became serious
in 1974 with the HDTV study of the International Telecommunications Union.
It took nearly two decades to set a world standard, after which the United
States kicked off the change-over.
In Europe, the electronics industry and the European Union agreed in
1992 to start HDTV as soon as 1999 but the first channel began service
in 2004 and 1080 will remain the only one until joined by Germany's
premium channel Premiere in November.
"There has been a widespread view in the industry that HDTV itself has
failed," a working paper by the European Commission said in 2004.
One reason the first incarnation of HDTV was late was that the
industry first planned an analog version and then realised it had to
shift to digital, which makes more efficient use of radio spectrum and
"I share the sense of frustration that it's been slow to happen, but
the wave has begun," the European president of consumer electronics
giant and TV market leader Sony Corp. Chris Deering, told Reuters.
The United States has led the charge to HDTV and 10 percent of homes
are ready for the new technology. Government regulation and HDTV
broadcast targets have contributed to this achievement, while Europe
has decided to let the market set the pace.
"The market has to drive it in Europe, more than in other places,"
The soccer World Cup may give HDTV the boost it has been waiting for,
said Premiere's head Georg Kofler.
"Ahead of the 1974 World Cup, many TV households swapped their
black-and-white TV sets for a color TV. We are expecting a similar
drive through next year's World Cup," Kofler said at a news conference
Booz Allen Hamilton consultants expect Europe to cross the 10 percent
penetration mark in 2008. This is a significant threshold, because it
brings a HDTV set close to every home.
"All we need is a set on every block, so people can see what it's
like, at the neighbors," Deering said, adding that he is more bullish
than even his own company, which expects aggregated market sales of 20
million "HD ready" sets by 2008.
"I think it will happen at an accelerated pace, with initiatives such
as those of Sky in the United Kingdom, which has very big plans for
HDTV. There are also initiatives in France, Germany, Italy and also by
the BBC in Britain. Britain will probably be one the early adopters,
and a lot of broadcasters look and learn from the BBC," he said.
HDTV may be adopted quicker in Europe than in the United States
because of recording equipment such as the new generation of
high-density DVD recorders, HD DVD and Blu-ray.
Rapid adoption by broadcasters will finally push European TV producers
to start using HDTV recording equipment, which is already a pre-
requisite for U.S.-based TV producers -- 70 percent of U.S. prime-time
broadcasts are in HDTV.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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