UK broadcasters have admitted there is capacity for HD over the DTT system, writes Julian Clover
High definition television is coming to Freeview after all. The four established broadcasters announced this week that they would launch HD services on the UK digital terrestrial network using capacity freed up following digital switchover. This would mean not only BBC HD, but also ITV, Channel 4 and in time Five.
It is a climb-down for the broadcasters who had said that it was essential that the digital dividend be used to provide them with further gifted capacity in order to launch the services and ensure that terrestrial only viewers did not become second-class citizens.
Instead the broadcasters have listened to Ofcom, which despite initially failing to get its message through both publicly and privately had at least found a solution using the new technologies of DVB-T2 and MPEG-4 in order to use the existing spectrum. The solution will presumably also allow the dividend to be realised for the treasury, telco operators bidding for additional spectrum, and at the same time satisfying calls from European Commissioner Vivienne Reding to bring in new technologies.
The once high profile HD4all campaign that had brought together manufacturers and broadcasters to lobby Ofcom for capacity has been conspicuous by its absence. After a spurt of lobbying at the start of the year there has been little from the organisation since the spring. When we checked the website to see if we had missed anything we found that it had even been removed from the server. The manufacturers will now have the opportunity to upgrade the British public’s HD Ready displays with new set-top boxes, modules and in time integrated HD receiver/displays.
One is left wondering as to whether the BBC’s proposal’s to timeshift HD programmes onto push VOD the night before their network transmission were in fact drawn up by the Light Entertainment department.
Ofcom has made no secret of its plans, most recently signalled by the organisation’s chief executive at the Ofcom Annual Lecture, at the Westminster Forum in October. Rather than admit they were wrong that there was no room for HD within the existing spectrum – and it’s hardly that DVB-T2 was a secret – the announcement was clearly timed to steal the regulator’s thunder.
Despite the plans for DTT, Sky and potentially cable will keep the edge on HDTV, not just on multichannel services but also terrestrial broadcasts. How long will the BBC and ITV be satisfied with just one HD channel? Over time the amount of HD content will surely grow. Take the Wimbledon tennis championships, so often at the centre of new TV technologies. Will the BBC be satisfied with transmitting just one HD feed when there are HD cameras on each of the courts simultaneously serving overseas broadcasters? ITV2 and BBC Three both run, or preview, programmes that are available in HD. As sure as DTT has become the dominant distribution platform in the UK, then HD will follow.