High-definition television, the long-promised next generation of TV offering clearer, wider images, has hit the Japanese market years ahead of plans in other nations.
Last week, most major Japanese electronics makers introduced new consumer HDTV products, including televisions, videocassette recorders and adaptors that allow HDTV broadcasts to be seen on today's TV sets.But with the new sets priced at 10 times or more that of current top-of-the-line models, consumers may not be rushing to the stores.
The new equipment, displayed at an international broadcast equipment show near Tokyo, demonstrates how far ahead Japanese companies are in commercializing a technology that is expected to play a key role in future consumer electronics.
HDTV offers dazzlingly detailed images, digital sound and wider, cinema-shaped screens. But the equipment available until now was aimed at a small number of professionals and was large, heavy, and expensive.
HDTV adaptors, for example, weighed as much as 209 pounds and filled a small cabinet. But the new models displayed this week by many companies tilt the scales at about 13 pounds and are the size of a large cable TV adaptor.
New high-density semiconductors that cram many circuits onto a single chip, and other advances have helped makers reduce the size of the equipment, which must process about five times as much video ``information' as current televisions. To do that, a HDTV set requires about 31 megabytes of memory chips - the equivalent of about 15 standard IBM personal computers.
Prices for the new equipment also have declined, from the range of a Mercedes Benz to a Ford.
Sony's new 36-inch HDTV set, one of the less-expensive models announced, lists for 2.3 million yen, or about $17,700. A company spokesman insisted the sets will be bought by ``ordinary' Japanese, to whom Sony plans to sell an initial 100 sets a month.
``Our current 32-inch model is priced at about 4 million yen ($30,700). In five years, we hope to bring that down to about 1 million yen ($7,700),' said Hideji Matsuda of Toshiba's new media division.
In Europe, companies have developed a competing HDTV system that is not expected to be brought to market until 1992.
And in the United States, government officials are still debating what technical standards to set for HDTV and how it should be broadcast.