WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- High-definition television, the 21st century technology that promises crystal-clear pictures and CD-quality sound, took an important step closer to reality yesterday as a government advisory panel approved a standard for how pictures will be "drawn" on television screens.
The decision by the Federal Communications Commission's Advisory Committee on Advance Television Service Technical Subgroup could hardly have been more technical, yet it represented an important compromise between computing and broadcasting interests.
If the compromise had not been reached, American efforts to stay ahead of international rivals in the high-definition TV race could have bogged down in months, if not years, of Washington wrangling. With the decision, researchers can move forward with building a prototype of a product that many experts believe could revitalize the U.S. consumer electronics industry.
The FCC's panel endorsed a series of decisions proposed by a group dubbed the Grand Alliance after its members agreed in May to scrap their four competing standards and merge them into a "best-of-the-best" standard for the televisions of the future.
The most important decision was one that originally pitted broadcasters against advocates of the proposed National Information Infrastructure (NII), the so-called "electronic superhighway." The technical panel faced a choice between two methods of scanning pictures onto a television screen.
Television programs are a series of still images "written" onto the screen line by line at a rate too fast for the human eye to detect. One method of scanning, progressive, writes every line onto the screen. The other, interlacing, writes every other line, which conveys an image that is less vivid but acceptable to the eye.
Progressive scanning is generally recognized as the technological ideal, but it has a drawback. When the television feed is moving at 60 frames a second, a virtual necessity for live television, the typical channel is too small to handle all the data flowing through it.
Yesterday's decision upholds the Grand Alliance's view that the two methods can coexist in the prototype it plans to build for testing next year.