Wednesday, June 21, 2006


HDTV may promise of crisp, clear images but it is still going through some growing pains, as the BBC's Martin Shankleman found out.

Q&A: High-definition TV

I think I might be starting to fall out of love with High Definition (HD). Don't get me wrong, I'm still very impressed, but that misty eyed infatuation has gone. And I can tell you the exact moment when it happened. It was 14.03 pm on Saturday 10 June, during England's opening match with Paraguay. Beckham was poised to take a vital free kick. As the rest of the team jostled in the penalty area, I suddenly heard a loud roar from the pub down the road. For a split second I was puzzled, but then realised these were England fans celebrating a goal, which according to my set had yet to be scored.

Sure enough, I looked back at my HD set and saw Beckham's kick soar into the back of the net.
The truth dawned, the HD picture was delayed by a second or so. That may not seem much, but it is enough to spoil your enjoyment of a match. A roar from the pub serves advance notice of what I was about to see on my set. In the case of a penalty shoot-out, the delay would ruin the drama completely. A BBC spokeswoman admitted this was a problem.


Commercial HDTV services began with Belgian channel Euro180 in 2004
Telewest launched the UK's first HDTV service in March 2006.
BBC and Sky began HDTV transmissions in May 2006
BBC to have 100% HD programmes by 2010
"It is something we're aware of, yes", she said, and helpfully suggested the most practical answer might be to shut the windows. She explained the problem was caused by the complexity of handling the extra information. "Any digital signal requires processing time at the capture stage, coding and again when it hits your set-top box. "This inevitably leads to a slight time lapse. Normally this doesn't matter very much, unless it's a live event as you've found," she said. If this delay was a big disappointment, so too was the lack of authentic HD programmes, even on the dedicated channels.

I first realised this while watching Test cricket from the West Indies. Even though this was shown on Sky Sports HD, the picture quality lacked the tell-tale clarity. A Sky spokeswoman confirmed my suspicion that I had been watching a conventional broadcast relayed on the HD channel. "Not all programming on all high-definition channels is actually HD," she said. A quick survey confirmed a real dearth of authentic HD programming on the dedicated channels. Not a single programme on Sky One HD in the schedules for the evening of 20 June had been shot in HD.

The same went for the evening schedules for Sky Sports HD for 19 June. Sky admitted that their only HD channels with guaranteed 100% HD content were the film channels. None of these criticisms detract from the amazing quality this new technology delivers to viewers. But customers should beware of the pitfalls before making what could be an expensive investment.


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