No one contends high-definition television is the modern equivalent of the Gutenberg press - a technology that will propel human culture into a new epoch.

Still, in certain cases of hopeful hyperbole, some have gone a bit overboard on HDTV, critics say."There's been a lot of hysterical hype about HDTV," says one video expert. "You have to have a shovel and a brush to get down to the real thing."

The "real thing," most experts agree, is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, step - television that is markedly better, but still television.

Even moderate proponents of HDTV talk about closeups so realistic they're potentially nauseating, of televised football games so crystal clear that viewers can pick out who's carrying the ball even when the camera shows the entire field.

Peter Fannon, head of the Advanced Television Testing Center in Alexandria, Va., points out that the broader implications of HDTV often are overshadowed by the focus on the entertainment consumer arena.

"Better pictures sound like a simple notion," Fannon says. "Pictures that are as good as real, which is the best of what HDTV can do . . . mean the ability to solve problems more easily, to exchange crucial information quickly and intelligently and actually create whole new lines of activity that will contribute to overall economic and social advancement."

Yves Faroudja, founder and president of Faroudja Research Enterprises Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., provides a counterpoint.

The initial and lasting impact of black-and-white television "is much more important," Faroudja contends. "Color is not as important. And high-quality TV is not as important as the current system."

One popular notion is that the motion picture industry will suffer with the advent of HDTV as home screens supplant theaters. But movie makers already are using HDTV. Moreover, they plan movie distribution in three stages - theater, video, television. Simply adjusting the schedule, perhaps moving made-for-TV movies to the top of the list, would solve the problem and keep Hollywood in business.

For Faroudja, however, the growth of technology presents philosophical concerns.

"Five years ago, I didn't have a fax machine," Faroudja said. "Now I have two and it's not good enough. Now we have so much information, we're starting to spend our lives communicating instead of doing."