September 1998


By Fred Henning

High Definition television (HDTV) is being demonstrated and you can even buy one starting at about $6,000. The big news however should not be HDTV but what came out of the Congressional Hearings regarding HDTV. The important item was the discussion of the Set Top Box and what it should be able to do, who will control the box and who will regulate the box!

The Set Top Box was originally proposed as a device that would allow you to be able to view non HDTV programs on an HDTV set from a roof top antenna. The CABLE and Satellite TV industries immediately got into the act and wanted to be sure that you could have cable and not just an outside antenna. Then came the computer industry wanting access for the Internet and of course the computer game industry wanted you to be able to play through the HDTV set. If there was to be internet access the telephone industry wanted their say.

All of this demonstrates that the convergence of communications technology has arrived. The issue is still what will be in The Box. I believe that within a few years, when HDTV becomes something that you and I could afford, the set top Box will be connected by a small cable to a central termination point. At this central point you will have another box that you can use to connect an outside antenna, cable TV connection, satellite TV connection, telephone line(s) for an Internet access MODEM and voice telephone and an Enhanced Computer Connection. The VCR connection and game connection may actually be on the box because they are used close to the TV.

If Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, etc. have it their way; the Enhanced Computer Connection would actually contain most of what the other devices/connections are used for. Connect the computer to a cable TV connection and it will be your control point. You will program your VCR, surf the net, call your parents and MODEM into work with everything displayed on the HDTV. The e-mail from work may be in the corner of the screen while the football game is life size. A $75-$100 Internet TV camera will allow your parents to see the children. Now it won't be you didn't call but you didn't call with the camera! Setting the VCR will become simple and because Web Pages will be viewed on HDTV, there will be another leap forward in what we expect them to be able to present and look like.

Expect those 400 channels but don't expect 400 FREE channels and above all don't expect that you will have the time to watch them. The broadcast industry fought the increased functionality of the Set Top Box because you won't be using the HDTV to watch as much off air TV and maybe they are right. The question is; will this concept be limited to that Giant HDTV or will we use the technology to communicate regardless of what we are looking at. Today you see the ads for Gateway and the "student computer" with DVD/disk player, TV and FM radio card, stereo audio, MODEM, etc. There is a telephone line and perhaps campus internet connection in each dorm room already. Connect the Computer and you have a new universe.

In today's world of communications the line between voice and data is gone. The "Telephone Industry" just wants to sell you 'bandwidth', a pipe, you can send voice, data, pictures, etc. down the pipe. The more you want to send, the bigger the pipe they provide. In order to provide all of the voice and data ABMC requires Ameritech needed to provide a direct Fiber Optic connection. The bits flowing through the fiber don't know what they are, it's the device that uses the bits that determines if they are sound, picture, numbers, etc., just like the Set Top Box.