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BBC Considers HDTV

An article by Neil Wilkes, BBC 'considering' HDTV distribution on www.digitalspy.co.uk led me to check out the BBC report Progress towards achieving digital switchover -- a BBC report to the Government. The report includes a description of the digital transition in the United Kingdom, much of which I've reported on previously. HDTV is one of the items listed in the report under the section "Market Developments Which Could Drive Digital Take-Up." The report states, "HDTV is a potential key differentiator between digital TV and analogue and has been enforced by regulators in markets with historically poor television picture quality coupled with large screen sizes (e.g. US, Japan) and a pre-existing wide choice of TV channels. However, consumer uptake remains low." The report notes that as UK households purchase TV sets with larger screen sizes, they will see the picture quality limitations of digital TV and demand for HDTV will emerge.

The BBC report does not see HDTV driving the digital switchover, at least initially. It says that while "HDTV is likely to become a viable consumer proposition in the UK in the next five years, it is unlikely to drive switchover within that timeframe." The UK demand for HDTV is likely to come from those people that already have digital TV. The report also says that "because an HDTV channel would be extremely bandwidth-hungry (requiring an entire DTT multiplex which could otherwise carry 4-6 Standard Definition - SD - channels), limited DTT bandwidth suggests that, in the absence of improvements in the compression technology currently implemented for European digital TV, HDTV could only be efficiently introduced for the satellite and cable."

The report also says, "broadcasters could go a long way towards improving picture quality, without making the leap to HD, by paying closer attention to the way SD services are captured and played out." The section on HDTV ends with the comment, " The BBC is considering distribution of HD. This won't, in itself, be a driver for digital take-up for the owners of millions of small-screen SD analogue televisions currently in the market, but it would be a service potentially of interest to the growing number of owners of large screen devices." The report mentions "data to home" and mobile services (reception on mobile phones, within vehicles or on portable media screens, but says these would have implications for analog and digital coverage. While neither has been actively considered, services using interleaved spectrum will be investigated later this year.

Progress Towards Achieving Digital Switchover -- a BBC Report to the Government has some interesting graphs and data on the UK digital transition. For example, non-primary TV sets are used for 41 percent of the viewing in all homes. Also, at the end of 2003, 46.3 percent of UK viewers got their TV from terrestrial analog transmitters compared with only 12 percent from digital terrestrial transmitters and 3.9 percent from analog cable. SkyDigital (27.6 percent), Free-to-view satellite (0.8 percent) and digital cable (9.3 percent) were the other sources of TV.

The report is quite comprehensive. While research firms have done studies on the U.S. DTV transition, as far as I know none of the reports available free to the public are as detailed or as comprehensive as the BBC progress report. A similar report might make it easier for regulators, broadcasters and multichannel video program distributors to agree on the best way to push the DTV transition in the U.S.