By Ronald Henkoff

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There's still plenty of static ahead for Zenith Electronics. The roughly $635 million the company will get from France's Groupe Bull for its personal computer manufacturing business will give Zenith enough to pay off much of its $600 million debt and boost R&D spending on its television operation -- especially on the much hyped high-definition television (HDTV), a technology that provides a sharper TV image. But HDTV suddenly looks a lot less promising. Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, a former supporter, now says the U.S. may not be singling out HDTV for federal research help. A mass market for HDTV television sets could be at least ten years away. Meantime, Zenith, the only major U.S.-owned manufacturer of TVs, must fight to survive. According to Television Digest, Zenith's U.S. market share has already slipped from 24% in 1975 to 12%. France's Thomson, which makes RCA among other brands, leads with 22%; the Netherlands' Philips, 11%; and Japan's Sony, 6%. Matsushita's Panasonics and Quasars have 5%. So why didn't Zenith's chief executive, Jerry Pearlman, ditch the TVs and keep producing personal computers, Zenith's one bright spot? He tried -- but could not find a buyer except at what he calls ''below fire-sale prices.''