Defining Vision: How Broadcasters Lured the Government Into Inciting a Revolution in Television, Updated and Expanded

Joel Brinkley, Author
Joel Brinkley, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-15-100087-6
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-15-600597-5
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This is the story of High-Definition Television (HDTV)-its development, the corporations involved, and their manipulation by the federal government. HDTV is television with the picture quality of film. It was developed when TV executives feared that the FCC would distribute unassigned channels to mobile communication companies that specialize in such things as police communication systems. To stymie the FCC, the television industry latched onto-almost accidentally-the idea of HDTV, which needs two channels to broadcast its picture. The government set up a lottery for the best version of HDTV, and the race was on. NHK, the Japanese television network, already had a system in place and was the early leader. But what is interesting here is the scampering of American companies to compete and, sometimes, to survive. The Sarnoff Research Center-originally RCA-came back to life after a decade of failure only to produce an inferior HDTV; Zenith, on the verge of bankruptcy, joined with AT&T with almost disastrous results; and MIT, with academic arrogance, couldn't find the right stuff. But the most intriguing company of all was General Instruments in San Diego. It started out making secure cable boxes for HBO, but through the genius of basically one man, Woo Paik, found what was thought to be unattainable: digital, high-definition television. Brinkley, a New York Times political editor, takes us from testing to the trials, and from the cutthroat competition to the formation of the ""Grand Alliance,"" whereby most of the companies banded together to create the final product. He has written a very complicated, though at times utterly absorbing, history that will appeal mostly to those involved with technology and the TV industry. (Jan.)
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