Storm in a HD Cup

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: After months of furious debate over things like screen size and video format, the fight over setting standards for high-definition TV has come to this: let the market decide. The broadcast, computer and consumer electronics industries agreed to let market forces determine the format for the new TV displays, along with settling questions of screen size and shape. At the center of the fight was a long battle between the computer and television industries over which kind of video format would be standard. The new agreement lets manufacturers chose formats based on consumer demand. The decision is a compromise between computer designers, the Hollywood film industry, broadcasters and television set manufacturers. All were unhappy with a tentative set of technical standards for HD-TV called the Grand Alliance which elicited protests when the Federal Communications Commission tentatively approved it in May. Grand Alliance took nine years to develop, and now is likely to be severely modified or replaced in upcoming months. "This development is a bizarre denouement to what once seemed to be one of the most important technical issues of its time," says TIME's Philip Elmer-DeWitt. "During the Bush Administration, the conventional wisdom dictated that if the United States did not establish a standard for HDTV, it would lose the consumer electronics market to the Japanese companies which already had created a standard. The truth is that the internet now does many of the things we thought HDTV would do then, and the Japanese have not taken over completely." Despite the decision, you won't be watching 'Friends' in vivid color and CD-quality sound anytime soon. Industry hopefuls don't expect to begin broadcasting until 1998.