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PBS viewers to experience new wave in digital broadcasting

Using specially equipped computers, watchers will chat with others, read commentary and look at pictures while watching the "Scientific American Frontiers" show next month.

Using specially equipped computers, a small number of Public Broadcast Service viewers will be able to chat with others, read commentary and look at pictures while watching Alan Alda's "Scientific American Frontiers" show slated to air next month.

This sort of digital television broadcasting is possible through technology provided by Wavexpress, a privately held company based in New York City.

About 250 people will take part in the experiment, which will include four segments of the show hosted by Alda: "Bionic Body," "Chimps R Us," "Flying Free," and "Fat and Happy?" The shows begin March 27 and will air through local PBS stations, located in in Portland, Ore., Washington D.C., New Jersey, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

"We view this as a significant step forward in the path of personal television," Cindy Johanson, senior vice president of PBS Interactive said in a statement.

Digital television promises a better-quality viewing experience but the technology has been slow to take hold in the United States.

About 182 television stations of the roughly 1,600 in the United States can broadcast digitally, a Wavexpress spokesman said.

Whether there is a pent-up demand for interactive television viewing is still in question. PBS said it is testing the market, but has noticed traffic bursts after broadcasting a show with Web tags.

"We know our viewers are educated, intensely curious intellectuals who want to know more about topics," said Deron Triff, director of business development at PBS Interactive TV, a group that was developed about 18 months ago.

The test involves about 250 people who own special digital TV tuner cards for the computer.