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Japanese digital TV launches with a yawn

Over-the-air DTV began last week in Japan. But the lack of consumer excitement has been obvious.

Just as in the U.S., the Japanese DTV transition is being driven more by government mandate than consumer demand. Japan has set a 2011 deadline to complete its transition.

For now, HDTV is reaching only a few parts of Japan, although potential viewership is estimated to be 12 million households. Many believe the actual figure is half that due to Japan’s mountainous terrain. Actual viewers is believed to be even fewer — about 300,000.

The Japanese government is investing $1.6 billion to help get the system started, and is targeting the end of 2006 for making it available nationwide. “Do we really need it? There’s hardly anything you want to watch on TV as it is,” Eiichi Oshida, a professor of media studies at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, said to the Associated Press.

England, Sweden, Australia and South Korea also already have digital TV, although Spain’s commercial digital broadcasting company went bankrupt.

Japanese satellite subscribers have been able to get digital TV broadcasts since 2001, achieving 4.7 million subscribers. Receiving the new terrestrial broadcasts requires a tuner that costs about $730 in Japan. DTV set prices vary widely but are still considered expensive. A set with a 50-inch plasma screen, costs $7,300 in Japan.

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