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Panasonic tunes into digital TV

The company announces new products in anticipation of the debut of digital television service expected in November.

Panasonic's television division announced new products in anticipation of the debut of digital TV service expected in November.

As early as September, the company will offer a 56-inch wide-screen projection TV capable of receiving high-definition digital television (HDTV) signals for a hefty $6,000.

Separately, the company will release a 32-inch monitor suitable for both PCs and TVs priced at $1,799. Those who want to record digital TV with a digital VHS record will have to shell out around $1,000.

A separate TV set-top "decoder" device that can translate the various types of digital TV signals for display on standard televisions will be available for $1,700.

Major broadcast networks CBS, ABC, and NBC will have to transmit digital signals in the ten largest markets by May 1, 1999. Analysts say this represents a potential market of 50 million out of the total 100 million television viewers. Smaller markets will need to be online with digital TV by November of 1999, with all remaining commercial stations converted by the year 2002.

For those purchasers with cable systems, it's not yet clear whether signals from broadcasters will get "passed through" the cable networks. Some cable broadcasters have balked at re-transmitting the bandwidth-intensive 1080 interlaced (1080i) HDTV format, saying that there will be less space available for programming. Cable operators generally favor the 720 progressive (720p) scan format, a format which is also favored by computer companies.