Has HD officially arrived in Europe?

It appears that Europe is likely to adopt one standard, which will make life easier for everyone
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This year's IBC was branded with a distinctly different flavor from some previous shows. While HD products were often shown at IBC, they certainly were not the focus of anyone's stand. And while the topic of HD was always bandied about, there was little support for it, and certainly anyone with any authority was loath to express a desire for it.

That all changed, although perhaps in an unplanned way, when on Saturday, the daily's headline shouted, “EBU backs 720p HD.”

The chairman of the EBU B/TQE group, Mike Croll, reported that his committee was recommending “a new television format — 720p50” to European broadcasters who wish to deliver better quality images to new, large flat-screen displays. He called the format an important balance between increased resolution and the data rate needed to deliver virtually artifact-free images. He continued, “The combination of 720p50 and new compression technology is the best match to European applications … .”

You could practically hear the gasps from Sony executives throughout the hall. Sony has been a long-time promoter of the 1080i standard, which is also used by newcomer satellite company Euro1080 and U.S. networks CBS and NBC. The other technology, 720p, has been supported by Panasonic and selected for use by U.S. networks ABC and FOX. Thomson (and others) have cameras that produce both formats or data, so these firms find themselves above the fray.

While the battle between 720p and 1080i as HD standards has been limited primarly to equipment manufacturers Panasonic and Sony, users also struggle with the dilemma. It is they who have to endure the pain of translation back and forth.

The argument for a progressive standard sounds convincing when you realize that modern LCD and plasma displays are, by design, all progressive. These factors all make progressive look like a good choice, especially for a green-field installation such as Europe.

However, a lot can change when toes get stepped on. By Monday, attendees were greeted with the news that despite the previous headlines, the EBU had not endorsed 720p as a technical standard for Europe. Phil Laven, director of the technical department of the EBU, said that such comments were merely statements from the engineering committee and did not represent the official findings of the EBU. A decision had not yet been made, he said.

Sony executives could finally breathe again.

Sometimes it pays to wait, and Europe is about to be the beneficiary of delaying its decision on HD. The USA is a cluster mess of both 1080i and 720p production and transmission islands, even requiring some stations to manipulate both. It appears that Europe is likely to adopt one standard, which will make life easier for everyone.

The best news, however, is that HD for Europe has finally arrived. Hurray for that!

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