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Computer Reps Rap Digital Plan

Computer industry representatives registered strong objections Dec. 12 to a new digital TV standard that’s expected to gain Federal Communications Commission endorsement.

The criticism came during a daylong hearing concerning a sweeping proposal that’s likely to change the face of TV: the planned transition from analog to digital delivery of programming.

The Computer Industry Coalition on Advanced Television Service, a group whose members include Apple, Compaq and Microsoft, expressed “serious reservations” regarding the digital TV standard that has been forwarded to the FCC for acceptance. The proposal, known as the Grand Alliance standard, was developed over an eight-year testing period following input by TV set makers, broadcasters and research labs.

The computer group warned: “If these (Grand Alliance) formats are adopted, the technology differences between computers and televisions will continue to keep these worlds separate, and consumers will be confronted with unnecessary costs and obstacles.”

Progressive-scan favored

The group criticized the “old-fashioned” interlace format that’s part of the Grand Alliance standard, arguing instead for a progressive-scan format that would allow viewers greater ease in integrating computers with TVs.

Much of the Dec. 12 debate centered on whether broadcasters should be required to face heightened public-interest obligations once they’re broadcasting digitally.

Critics argue that because digital delivery provides broadcasters an opportunity to “multiplex” their channels and carry programming in high-definition TV, broadcasters should provide something in return: namely, better children’s educational programming and perhaps free airtime for political candidates.

Another key issue to be decided by the FCC is whether broadcasters will be required to air a minimum amount of programming in HDTV.

Silver King Communications chairman Barry Diller told FCC members that requiring HDTV minimums “would do more harm than good” because “we really don’t know” whether consumers want a better picture or a chance to see more channels.

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