High-definition television (HDTV) has arrived, complete with double the resolution, which means twice the picture quality of current TV.

But the wide-screen, knock-your-socks-off picture has created a humongous Catch-22 in the television biz. Broadcasters are hesitant to go the expense of producing high-definition digital programming until more people have sets to watch it on. People willing to pay premium prices to be "early adopters" of the new technology can lug a 50-inch HDTV home for anywhere from $4,500 to $12,000, but they immediately have nothing to watch -- not in Utah, anyway.If the catch can have a third hook, it is that set prices will surely drop, but not until sales pick up dramatically.

Several sets on display at Salt Lake electronics stores are showing a picture the customer can't even get at home because it is being generated by a computer that doesn't come with the set. Movies piped from a DVD player look a lot better on HDTV than on current TV sets, but that limits the use of the HDTV to home theater applications. Even DVD doesn't fully exploit HDTV -- it's just the best material available, unless you live in one of the 42 metropolitan areas where broadcasters have made the digital switch.

More than a dozen manufacturers -- Sony, Panasonic, RCA, Sharp, Mitsubishi and the like -- showed off their HDTVs at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. Even some of them were surreptitously creating a high-definition picture using hardware they don't yet have on the market.

Television network executives at the show readily admitted they don't know how to proceed with programming because they haven't the slightest idea what consumers want.

The FCC is requiring all TV stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasts by 2006. "Analog" describes current television technology, with VHF channels from 2-13 and UHF channels from 14 and up.

Unlike the emergence of color TV that left black-and-white sets working just as they always had, there isn't an analog TV set on the planet that will be able to receive a digital broadcast -- unless the owner purchases a converter.

So, let's say the bargain-conscious consumer who doesn't have cable lands a great deal on a big-screen analog TV, and he shells out $300 for a converter box so the set will receive digital broadcasts. What about the black-and-white set in the kitchen? Unless this consumer wants it locked on the same channel as the box-equipped big screen, he'll have to buy a second converter. And little hand-held TVs like the Sony Watchman? Dead in the water.

A distinction to note up front is that all high-definition television is digital; but not all digital broadcasting is high-definition.

Satellite and cable companies are advertising digital channels now, but they are not high-definition, and they require a digital cable box, even if the TV is cable-ready.

TCI spokesman Matt Fleury said the company can send one HDTV signal in the space it can pack 12 standard-definition digital programs. Customers say they want more programs, not better picture quality, so TCI -- for now -- is following the cable-industry's inclination to shun HDTV.

Networks have promoted several national or regional high-definition broadcasts -- mostly NFL football. ABC and CBS have dabbled with high-definition broadcasts, but none of the networks has switched a program to high-definition digital all the time.

NBC is set to be the first when it switches the "Tonight Show" to high-definition two months from now. Once the switch is made, the detail in Jay Leno's dimple will be up to 10 times greater forever more, said Peter Smith, the network's technology vice president. "Once a show goes to HDTV, unless it meets a tremendous difficulty, it will stay HDTV."

KSL, the NBC affiliate in Utah, expects to be making digital transmissions by October, said Steve Lindsley, president of KSL-TV Group. KSL will then be sending digital Leno, but not high-definition Leno -- at least not yet. "Our position is 'Let's see what really takes off from the consumer standpoint.' "

KSL, like other local stations, will continue to broadcast an analog signal until at least 2006, when stations are supposed to relinquish all of their analog frequencies to the FCC. That means viewers without digital TV sets or converters can still watch Leno and other digital shows on their regular sets for seven more years.

"Bandwidth" is the jargon describing the bottleneck that may further delay wide availability of high-definition television, even when all of the programming outlets are digital.

Broadcasters can transmit several programs on the same digital channel, or one program and several audio choices, for example -- it's called multicasting. But if their digital broadcast is high-definition, one program consumes all of the bandwidth, or capacity.

Like the cable companies, broadcasters see the potential for greater advertising revenue by offering more programming variety instead of one program in high definition.

"NBC, like all networks, complained in the beginning we hadn't found a way to make money from this," Smith said. "We have to be focused on high-definition television, but we have to be flexible enough to look at these opportunities."

Frustrating consumers, in the meantime, is a shopping experience as pricey and complex as buying a car.

Bryan Watson, manager of sales training for RCA's parent, Thomson Consumer Electronics, said he developed a training course for the "May I help you" force that will be explaining digital products to potential buyers. Just the basic training for people already in the business lasts three hours.

As FCC Commissioner Susan Ness put it to the manufacturers showing off in Vegas: "Most (consumers) don't want to know the details, they just want sets that work, that are easy to use, and that are compatible with future and current choices in video entertainment."