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If you’re thinking about buying an expensive plasma-screen TV from the post exchange so that you can watch the Wimbledon tennis finals in high definition, you might want to wait a few years.

American Forces Network won’t convert its satellite broadcast to a system that’s compatible with high-definition television until 2013 for Pacific viewers and 2014 for viewers in Europe, according to Larry Sichter, Defense Media Center public affairs officer.

AFN’s current digital compression system packs 10 channels into a slither of satellite broadband. So, for the meantime, watching AFN on a fancy new television set is like driving a Ferrari around post at 30 mph.

U.S. shows are broadcast in an NTSC standard (525 lines) while Europe uses the PAL standard (625 lines), Sichter said.

"As a result, video seen on a standard German television will be of a higher resolution than that seen on an American TV," he said.

The AFN signal seen in Europe goes through a process that further degrades picture quality, Sichter added.

It starts off as a digital signal but is then downlinked by AFN-Europe and converted to analog. AFN inserts regional and local command information and news spots/shows, converts the signal back using digital compression, and uplinks it to satellites, Sichter said.

"This recompression of an already compressed signal reduces the video resolution," he said.

Sgt. Randy Moon, who was shopping at the Grafenwöhr Post Exchange on Monday, said he has no plans to upgrade to an HD television while he’s in Europe.

The 24-year-old Cadiz, Ohio, native, who paid $100 for an old 36-inch television at the Thrift Shop, said the quality of the AFN signal means the only reason to buy an expensive television would be to watch DVDs.

"To me it’s not that important. I’d rather go on a vacation than pay a lot of money for a television," he said.

AFN will announce and publicize the exact details of its conversion plans sometime within the next 12 to 18 months, Sichter said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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