Japan's television firms have taken the first step towards phasing out analogue broadcasts with the launch of digital terrestrial TV.

DTTV -- which offers viewers improved picture and sound quality as well as interactive features -- commenced Monday in areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

"We mark this historic day of beginning terrestrial digital telecasts in the year of the 50th anniversary of [analogue] television broadcasts," declared Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. "I hope terrestrial digital broadcasting spreads across the nation as quickly as possible so everyone can benefit."

Japan lags many of its Western counterparts in launching digital terrestrial. For example, DTTV broadcasts have been available for several years in the UK. Nevertheless, Japanese broadcasters anticipate a rapid roll-out, with analogue switch-off planned by 2011 -- just a year later than the British target.

A word of caution, however, was sounded by Hisashi Hieda, chairman of Japan's National Association of Commercial Broadcasters, who warned of the high cost of digital conversion. "We again ask for public financial support to prevent the gap between the three urban areas and rural areas from becoming wider," he commented.

Data sourced from: The Asahi Shimbun (Japan); additional content by WARC staff