Terrestrial digital broadcasting, a new service most Japanese know little about, will begin in some areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya on Dec. 1.

Initially, 12 million households will be able to enjoy digital broadcasts, which will replace analog broadcasts and has been dubbed the “TV of the 21st Century.”

The new service is scheduled to be available in all major cities by the end of 2006.

Digital broadcasting transmits much more information than analog broadcasting, providing viewers with higher-definition images, information retrieval and Internet shopping capabilities, and interactive programs.

The government has high hopes for the service, which it says will truly make Japan an information-technology-based society.

But industry sources say the service may not catch on that quickly because most people are unfamiliar with it. According to a survey conducted by Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest ad agency, about 40 percent of the TV-viewing public knows nothing about terrestrial digital broadcasting. The government and the broadcasting industry plan to terminate analog services in July 2011.

“Once the deadline is fixed, the Japanese people will try very hard to get it,” said former telecom minister Toranosuke Katayama. He says he is optimistic because digital broadcasting will be free.

But receiving digital broadcasts will be an expensive affair, requiring the installation of new antennas, specialized tuners, and new TV sets with built-in tuners that sport price tags of around 200,000 yen.

The ministry expects this new market will generate some 40 trillion yen for the economy and provide an indirect boost of 212 trillion yen.

“This is a trump card for economic revival,” a ministry official said.

But informed sources say the state and the broadcasting industry need to temper their optimism, noting that the key to success will be depend on whether the new TVs are affordable and whether the programs are good, they said.

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