Today, the living room. Tomorrow, the world

Wide-screen TV hogged the view when telly addicts checked the latest turn-ons. Steve Homer reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Goodbye standard telly, hello huge choice of sets that could eventually appear in a sitting room near you. Visitors to last week's International Funk Ausstellung in Berlin saw wide-screen TV, 3-D TV, flat TV, the Internet on TV, a telephone in a TV, programme guides for a TV, digital TV, miniature TVs and much more. True, there were hi-fis and radios, car navigation systems and computers, but this was television's show.

The wide-screen set, with a width to height ratio of 16:9 against the conventional 4:3, has been a long time coming. Four years ago, the IFA halls were filled with wide-screen sets, but they were too expensive and their sales were seen to be dependent on the arrival of high-definition TV in Europe. HDTV failed to materialise and sales were pathetic.

But things are starting to change. Sales of wide-screen sets in Japan are booming, with 1.5 million sets sold in 1994. By 2000, 80 per cent of TVs sold in Japan could be wide-screen. In Europe, we lag, but already almost 2 per cent of sets sold are wide-screen, and within five years, that is expected to hit 20 per cent.

Two things will drive the wide-screen revolution forward - digital TV and Digital Video Discs (DVDs), which are due out next year. Many stands were dominated by displays of digital television. The Belgian Grand Prix was transmitted using digital technology allowing five different sets of pictures to be carried over one channel. While following the leader around the circuit, you could always check what was happening in the pit lane.

While digital TV looks set to be introduced in Germany and Italy first, BSkyB could well be introducing digital TV late next year. The terrestrial broadcasters - BBC, ITV and C4 - are likely to be another year at least after that.

The prospects for Digital Video Discs received a major fillip at IFA. DVDs will offer more than two hours per disc (with a four-hour option), excellent picture quality and, importantly, will be able to carry films on the same disc in both 4:3 and 16:9 versions.

Philips, Sony and 3M are slugging it out with Time Warner, Toshiba and Matsushita via two different products, both of which are scheduled to go into the shops next year. In Berlin, these two implacable enemies finally started talking to each other. So instead of two incompatible DVD systems confusing the public and slowing sales, sanity looks set to prevail.

The other really exciting debut was the advent of Internet on the TV. Philips will launch an Internet service for its CD-I players this October.

The CD-I machine is a somewhat ancient computer with a CD-Rom drive which is designed to hook up to the sitting room television. Philips is pulling a clever trick by putting a Web Browser (the software that allows you to navigate around the World Wide Web) on a CD-I disc and then simply connecting a modem to the CD-I player. While CD-I will need an additional keyboard for text-based parts of the Internet, it is ideal for the "click and jump" applications such as the Web.

The last significant development at the IFA was the first showing of a prototype electronic programme guide. With more channels available, it is difficult to see what is on - let alone what is coming. The major TV set manufacturers and broadcasters are working on a non-proprietary system for guides to be delivered alongside programmes. They hope to avoid the confusion in the US, where competing proprietary systems are slowing down the market.