Europe Using HD as Catalyst

While HD in North America has been touted as a key component of the DTV transition for consumers for several years (with mixed results), such was not the case in Western Europe. Until recently, most countries relegated HD in importance below SD, multicasting, VOD and DVR.

Yet with increasing momentum--especially in the U.K., Germany and France--HD is being realized in Europe as a marketable force for all DTV growth. And while HD is still virtually non-existent today in Europe, several DBS firms and other content providers have announced plans to begin implementing ambitious HD services within the next year or less.

A recent marketing survey from Understanding & Solutions, a research company, now finds that HD will drive "major renewal" in the European consumer broadcast products market. But the report points out a major hurdle for HD proponents: the current habit of installing only SD-capable sets in European homes that will not display HD.

According to published reports, the survey from Understanding & Solutions forecasts that by 2009, 43.4 million European homes will be connected to DBS services, yet only 15 percent or less are likely to have HD decoders.

Also, the first three broadcasters to launch HD in Western Europe will feature Dolby surround sound on their channels as an integral part of the services. French pay-TV operator Canal+ Group, German pay-TV operator Premiere, and BSkyB in the U.K. will provide Dolby digital audio in all set-top boxes deployed for HD services. Some European interests already are providing 5.1-channel audio with their current SD programming.