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NAB dawns with 809 DTVs on-the-air

This year’s NAB will be the first conducted with a majority of television broadcasters transmitting both NTSC and DTV signals.

With more than 80 additional stations coming up since the first of the year, broadcasters appear to be taking the FCC determination to complete the DTV transition to heart. Whether or not this increased activity concerning DTV will translate into increased NAB attendance will be seen over the course of the next week. Attendance last year was down 15 percent from the previous year.

HDTV is still an easy target for comedians. At last week's Academy Awards, the host, Steve Martin, noted that the show was being broadcast in HDTV for the first time. "So I'd like to say a big hello to the three guys watching at Circuit City," he said.

The truth is somewhat different. DTV signals are now being transmitted in 186 markets that include 97.44 percent of U.S. TV households. In addition, 72.28 percent of the more than 106 million U.S. TV households are in markets with five or more broadcasters airing DTV and 36.55 percent are in markets with eight or more broadcasters sending digital signals. An estimated 4.9 million HDTV-capable sets have been sold in this country, but only about 640,000 have been purchased with a built-in tuner or add-on decoder box required for receiving an HDTV broadcast.

CBS and ABC have led the way. In October 1998, eight CBS affiliates carried the first widely available HDTV broadcast: The October 1998 launching of the space shuttle Discovery, with John Glenn aboard. The next month, ABC presented the movie "101 Dalmatians" in HD, and in January 2000 ABC broadcast the first Super Bowl in HDTV. Now, both networks offer all their primetime scripted shows in the HDTV format, as well as many sporting events, including the current NCAA men's basketball tournament and next month's Masters golf tournament. ESPN HD plans to carry 100 professional baseball, basketball, hockey and football games live in the next year in the HDTV format, while "upconverting" all of ESPN's other programming to the technical equivalent of HDTV.

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