Not since color made black-and-white sets pass? has a new technology so compelled consumers to replace their primary entertainment appliance. In contrast to the variable radio waves of analog broadcasting, digital TV (or DTV) uses electrical pulses to transmit information precisely and efficiently. Thus, DTV offers startlingly sharp pictures, capable of revealing individual blades of grass on a field or the writing on a ransom note held in a fictional detective's hand. DTV also will enable new interactive features, thanks to its ability to pack enormous amounts of information in scarce bandwidth. For instance, it could let viewers call up stats on a ballplayer during the game or view a recipe from a cooking show. Broadcasters will be able to offer even more channels in the available bandwidth, too. The freed-up space will make room for better communications for public safety agencies during emergencies such as hurricanes and for next-generation cellular services.
This article was originally published with the title "Digital TV at last" in Scientific American 296, 2, 70-75 (February 2007)