Sweating Out The Hdtv Contest

Over 10 trying weeks last spring, the pressure never eased. Daily at 7 a.m., a team of researchers from Zenith Electronics Corp. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. gathered in a nondescript office building in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va. For the next 10 to 14 hours, engineers hired by the Federal Communications Commission tested the picture, sound, reliability, and broadcasting range of Zenith-AT&T's version of high-definition television, TV's technology of the future. Evenings, the team checked its equipment--and often ended up in a race with the clock. If a bad part turned up, a technician from Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J., grabbed a new component and got the last flight from Newark to Washington. If the glitch was found late, the technician drove--so the next day's test could start on time. "It was exhilarating," says Arun Netravali, executive director of AT&T Bell Laboratories.

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