Japan will continue to back high-definition TV plans

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The Independent Online
THE JAPANESE government says it will not end support for the country's high-definition television programme, after angry protests from electronics firms.

Akimasa Egawa, a senior official from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, told industry representatives that the ministry would continue testing HDTV, which provides pictures of startling clarity, and would proceed with full broadcasting once the trials were over.

Mr Egawa said Japan would ultimately adopt a digital television system, following the lead of the United States and, more recently, Europe - HDTV at present is analogue. On Tuesday, Mr Egawa had caused an outcry by saying the ministry would decide by the summer whether to replace the current HDTV system - developed over three decades - with a digital system.

His remarks caused little surprise in Europe or America, where analogue television is increasingly regarded as obsolete. But they drew instant opposition from the public network Japan Broadasting Corp (NHK), which developed the analogue system now in use in Japan.

Mr Egawa was also attacked by the Electronics Industry Association of Japan, which said he would cause confusion in the marketplace and claimed that digital television was still a long way away.

But yesterday Tadahiro Sekimoto, chairman of the EIAJ and of NEC, the electronics group, said Mr Egawa had assured him of continued support for the existing analogue standard, known as MUSE.

'The public has been misled by press reports to believe that MUSE will be abandoned,' Mr Sekimoto said. 'It is regrettable that a small misunderstanding has threatened to crush what we have built up.'

HDTV has until recently been seen by many electronics firms, including Philips of the Netherlands and Thomson of France, as the key to future domination of the consumer electronics industry. Japan rocketed ahead with the development but the US authorities decided to leapfrog to digital television technology.

Last year the European Union also decided to pursue digital television after years of arguments over analogue HDTV formats and investments by industry and governments totalling hundreds of millions of pounds.

Digital television offers several advantages by allowing information to be broken up and manipulated, with video, text and sound transmitted as a series of bits of information. The technology lends itself to integration with computers and fits with the move towards interactive television and multimedia systems.

Critics of analogue HDTV say it is not what the consumers want and point out that the sets cost several thousand pounds.

A spokesman for NTL, formerly the engineering division of the old Independent Broadcasting Authority, said: 'Japan was way ahead of the game but it was a technology- led thing and the world is now consumer-led.

'In a sense they started too early. HDTV is not wanted yet. People want more choice and a multiplicity of channels, not just a few channels with a better picture.'