On a bitterly cold January day this year, the countdown read 1289 days, 3 hours, 32
minutes, and 33 seconds on the gigantic clock that looms over Beijing's Tiananmen
Square, blocking the view of the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. The clock, a short
walk across the square's gray paving stones from the portrait of Chairman Mao that's
hanging over the entrance to the Forbidden City, ticks off the seconds until the opening
ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games [see photo, "Countdown"]. At that moment,
in every corner of the world and all over China itself, Olympics fans will be watching
events unfold in crisp high-definition television, thanks to a state-of-the-art digital TV
infrastructure the Chinese government is now furiously assembling.
Throughout Beijing, an Olympics-related frisson is palpable, as rickety taxicabs are
replaced with shiny new models, their drivers listen to English-language lessons on tape,
and construction crews tear down block after block of crumbling brick buildings to make
way for gleaming towers of glass and steel. But nowhere is the pressure of that ticking
clock felt more intensely than in the television industry.
Elsewhere in the world, plans for the transition to digital TV are being thrashed out among
telecommunications authorities, nudged along by politicians who want decisions to be
made. In China, there are feuding ministries, too, striving to negotiate details of a local
digital broadcasting standard. But those in the consumer electronics industry do not
underestimate the government's power. Nobody doubts that the deadline will be met.
The stakes are huge. It's not just about showing China's high-tech face to the worldit's
also about getting a piece of the local market for television receivers, already the world's
largest, with some 40 million new TV sets sold to Chinese consumers annually. Most of
China's 350 million households already have at least one... [continues]
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