HDTV slowly coming to European broadcasters

Broadcasters are preparing to introduce HDTV in Europe this year and in 2006, Reuters reported.

Some of Europe’s largest TV distributors, such as cable operator UnitedGlobalCom, the French pay-TV service Canal+, and Germany’s Premiere, have aggressive plans for high-definition channels.

Premiere will start broadcasting via satellite in November and will make sure that around 3000 Premiere sports bars in Germany have HDTVs by June 2006.

Canal+ said it would launch its HD services in April 2006. The UGC said that by 2007 the majority of its customers would also be able to receive an HD signal.

Chris Deering, president of Sony Europe, said that for the past 50 to 60 years, Europe has been at the forefront of TV technology and picture quality. Now they’re at a risk of losing that edge.

Europe currently has one dedicated HDTV channel, called 1080. As a result, European film and TV production and post-production companies have been slow to learn how to use the new technology, unless they are producing for the United States.

The European Union has never set quotas for HD television, but European media and telecommunications commissioner Viviane Reding proposed two weeks ago to switch off the analog TV signal in Europe by 2012, forcing broadcasters to go digital, which would involve high-definition TV in most regions.

Ferdinand Kayser, president and CEO of satellite operator SES Astra, expects consumers to welcome the move to HD. He said consumers have already bought flat TV sets because of the improved picture quality.

Europe, so far, is the only region in the world where consumers, by buying HDTV sets, rather than the broadcast industry or the regulators, drove the move to HDTV. European households have traditionally been used to far better TV picture quality than U.S. citizens, who settled for a different technology, said Ben Keen, an analyst for ScreenDigest, a British market research group.

TV and set-top box makers expect to have industry standard HD equipment ready in the second half of 2005, which will then be labeled HD ready, making it easier for consumers to choose between devices.

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