Foreign Technology: Federal Awareness of the Development of High Definition Television

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-03-21.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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GAO                          Report to the Chairman, Subcommit;tee
                             on Technology and National Security,
                             Joint Economic Committee, U.S.

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                             Federal Awareness of
                             the Development of
                             High Definition


 (;AO/NSIAD-90-        110
                   United States
GAO                General Accounting  Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20648

                   National Security and
                   International Affairs Division


                   March 21,199O

                   The Honorable Jeff Bingaman
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on Technology
                     and National Security
                   Joint Economic Committee
                   Congress of the United States

                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                   In response to your request, we have developed information on the U.S.
                   government’s awareness of the development of high definition television
                   (HDTV). You had expressed concern that the United States may have
                   been generally unaware of HDTV'S development until recently, thereby
                   contributing to a gap in U.S. knowledge of a major foreign technological
                   development. This report traces federal awareness of HDTV from the
                   beginning of its development to the present.

                   HDTV, as the name implies, means clearer, sharper TV pictures that will
Background         deliver movie theatre quality picture and sound in people’s homes. Much
                   of the interest in HDTV has centered on its potential uses in the televi-
                   sion, motion picture, and consumer electronics industries. HDTV is
                   expected to increase significantly the sales of videocassette recorders,
                   video cameras and television sets. According to one estimate, consumer
                   sales of televisions with HDTV capability could exceed $20 billion a year
                   by the late 1990s. But, because HDW includes the merging of broadcast-
                   ing, communication, and computer technologies, it is also a driving force
                   for several other industries, including semiconductors and fiber optics.

                   Federal agencies as well as the private sector have been aware of HDTV'S
Results in Brief   development for years. In particular, the Departments of Commerce and
                   Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the
                   National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), have followed
                   advances in the industry since the 1970s. In December 1981, informa-
                   tion about HDTV was presented during a congressional hearing. The focus
                   of the hearing was satellite communication. HDTV, which can be broad-
                   cast using satellite transmission, was extensively discussed by several
                   knowledgeable witnesses. Since that time, several federal agencies and
                   congressional committees have continued to address policy issues affect-
                   ing HDTV.

                   Page1                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-14OForeignTechnology

                        Early HDTV development began in the mid-1960s. The Japanese govern-
HDTV Has Been Under     ment first explored HDTV following the Tokyo Olympics in 2964. In 1970,
Development for Some    J apan began a formal research program and by 1979 started broadcast-
Time                    ing HDTV on a test basis.

                        By 1983, a major Japanese electronics company, Sony, began to commer-
                        cially market a complete line of HDTV studio production equipment. In
                         1988, the Japanese government broadcast the Seoul Olympic Games in
                        HLYN. And in June 1989, it broadcast HDTV for an hour a day, via satel-
                        lite, to large screen receivers in department stores and shopping centers
                        to promote it to the public. The Japanese government plans to begin reg-
                        ular HDTV broadcasting in 1991.

                        The Departments of Commerce and Defense as well as the NSF and NASA
The United States Has   have been aware of Japanese efforts to develop HDTV since the 1970s. A
Been Aware of HDTV      Commerce Department official told us that his office knew about Japa-
for Almost 20 Years     nese HDTV efforts as early as 1975. However, the HDTV monitoring infor-
                        mation being gathered by his office, including the potential impact of
                        HDTV on the U.S. computer and semiconductor industry, went unheeded
                        because the US. consumer electronics industry, according to a 1975
                        Commerce report, was in decline. In the late 197Os, however, some pri-
                        vate U.S. firms began researching HDTV. Notwithstanding this interest,
                        relatively little has been spent on research efforts so far. Through early
                        1988, private companies collectively have spent about $70 million on
                        HDTV research.

                        Other agencies have also shown an interest in HDTV. In 1983, NASA estab-
                        lished a separate directorate for television development, which focused
                        on the development of uses for enhanced television, We reported in
                        December 1989 that NASA believes that HDTV has several space program
                        applications, including launch control and evaluation and space station
                        operations. I

                        A 1989 report” prepared for the Department of Defense (DOD) on Japa-
                        nese HDTV noted that Japanese researchers had been publishing papers
                        describing various developments in HDTV for more than 10 years. DOD is

                        ‘High Definition Television: Applications for This New Technology (GAO/IMTEC-SO-SFS, Dec. 11,
                        “Japanese Developments in High Definition Television, TechSearch International, Inc., Austin, Texas,
                        September 1989.

                        Page 2                                                    GAO/NSIADQO-140Foreign Technology

               interested in HDW because it has numerous defense applications, includ-
               ing the ability to provide enhanced graphic displays, such as flight

               Congress was apprised of HDTV in the early 1980s. On December 16,
               198 1, the Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Consumer Protection,
               and Finance of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, held a
               hearing on satellite communications issues. In that hearing, the testi-
               mony of several TV and broadcast industry representatives included
               discussion of the benefits of HDTV. One witness, representing one of the
               major television networks, described HDTv as possibly representing the
               most significant communications development since the advent of televi-
               sion itself. This witness stated that his network planned a series of HDTV
               demonstrations during January and February of 1982 and expressed the
               hope that the Subcommittee and its staff would view HDTV firsthand. He
               said that his network was expecting to do several experimental broad-
               casts, including the 1982 Rose Bowl Parade. The broadcasts occurred
               and were considered a success by the network.

               This month we reported to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Telecommu-
Setting HDTV   nications and Finance, House Committee on Energy and Commerce, that
Standards      throughout their efforts to develop HDTV, the Japanese continually sub-
               mitted documents to the International Radio Consultative Committee, a
               United Nations organization involved with telecommunications, noting
               their progress.R As a result, in the early 1980s the Committee became
               interested in HDTV and initiated efforts to adopt a worldwide HDTV pro-
               duction standard. The State Department, as part of its role as the U.S.
               representative to the Committee, initiated action to develop a US. posi-
               tion on a worldwide production standard. At the Committee’s 1986 ple-
               nary meeting, the United States and Japan proposed a worldwide HDTV
               production standard. The European Community, however, opposed it,
               primarily for political and economic reasons. Many believe that the
               European Community-in        the interest of protecting European television
               manufacturers from Japanese competition-rejected         it because they
               believed its adoption would provide the Japanese a marketing advan-
               tage in consumer equipment such as television sets and videocassette
               recorders. The resulting controversy subsequently led the State Depart-
               ment to favor postponement of a decision. To date, no international
               standard has been set.

                   Definition Television: The Effects of Standards on U.S. Entertainment   Industries (GAO/
                   C-90-33, Mar. 16, 1990).

               Page3                                                     GAO/NSIAlMO-14OForeignTechnology

                  In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission, responding to a
                  request from the broadcast industry, initiated an inquiry into HDTV. The
                  inquiry has dealt largely with avoiding disenfranchisement of
                  over-the-air broadcast television companies because of the differing
                  standards for broadcasting HDTV. Currently, the Commission is examin-
                  ing a number of proposals for over-the-air HDTV broadcast systems.

                  To assess the commercial market for HDTV, the Commerce Department’s
Current Concern   National Telecommunications and Information Administration commis-
About HDTV        sioned a study by Darby Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based consult-
                  ing firm. This study, known as the Darby Report, was issued in early
                  1988. It concluded that if HDTV replicates the growth of color TV and
                  videocassette recorders, the market could expand rapidly to achieve
                  annual sales of almost 19 million units by the year 2008.

                  According to an American Electronics Association official, the Darby
                  Report communicated to the electronics industry the growing impor-
                  tance of HDTV and its long-term strategic and economic impact. There-
                  fore, later in 1988, the association raised concerns about the broader
                  implications of the HDTV issue. In response to these and other concerns,
                  hearings have been held in the 100th and 1Olst Congress. The issues
                  addressed progressed from concern over domestic HDTV standards and
                  frequency allocations, to how to ensure U.S. electronics industry partici-
                  pation, to debate about whether the development of HDTV can or should
                  be a primarily government-led effort because of its future importance to
                  U.S. industry.

                  To examine U.S. awareness of the development of HDTV, we reviewed a
Scopeand          number of reports and journal articles. We used these documents and
Methodology       discussions with federal and private sector officials to identify some key
                  events in IIDTV'S development and to identify points at which federal
                  agencies became aware of the technology. We further discussed the
                  issues of HDTV technology and federal awareness with officials of the
                  Departments of Commerce and Defense, NASA, and NSF, as well as with
                  university researchers and industry representatives. Our review was
                  conducted between September 1989 and January 1990. As you
                  requested, we did not obtain agency comments on this report. However,
                  throughout our review we discussed these issues with agency officials
                  and have incorporated their comments where appropriate.

                  Page 4                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-140ForeignTechnalogy

As agreed with your office, unless you announce its contents earlier, we
plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days from the date of
this letter. At that time we will send copies to interested parties and
make copies available to others upon request.

GAOstaff members who made major contributions to this report were
Steven Sternlieb, National Security and International Affairs Division,
and Thomas McGrane, Boston Regional Office. Please contact me at
(202) 275-4812 if you or your staff have any questions concerning this

Allan I. Mendelowitz, Director
Trade, Energy, and Finance Issues

Page 6                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-140Foreign Technology
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