Analysts: HDTV slow off the mark

Analysts: HDTV slow off the mark

The technology's there, but the programming hasn't caught up

While sales of high-definition-capable television sets might be on the rise, it's likely to be a long wait before consumers get much programming to go with it, according to a new report by analyst group, In-Stat.

High-definition television (HDTV) refers to digital television transmissions of a higher resolution than standard-definition (up to 1920 x 1080 as opposed to 1280 x 720), which offer superior picture quality (in widescreen, surround sound).

In-Stat's research shows HDTV displays in the Asia-Pacific region growing at a compound annual growth rate of 43.9 per cent from 2005-2011.

"People are buying large format screens as a status symbol," In-Stat analyst, Alice Zhang, said. "[They] believe that HD will be the mainstream in the future."

But while more and more HD-capable, flat-panel TV sets are hitting the market at affordable prices, the number of broadcasters creating and transmitting commercial HDTV content was still limited, Zhang said.

Broadcasters with limited bandwidth to utilise were torn between offering high-definition content or a greater variety of standard content, she said.

High-definition broadcasts require bandwidth of at least 12Mbps-15Mbps, meaning a single HD channel uses the same amount of bandwidth as up to four standard definition channels.

Broadcasters in Australia, Zhang said, have had "little incentive to provide HD content" because the Federal Government required any program broadcast in high-definition to also be broadcast with a standard definition signal. This ensured that all digital television users were served with content.

"With a government directive to simulcast services in standard definition, the amount of capacity available in each frequency channel for HDTV services is reduced," Zhang said. "Using multi-channelling [providing multiple programs in standard definition at one time] as opposed to transmitting content in HD is arguably a more logical choice from an operator's perspective."

Zhang said one of the key drivers for HDTV adoption was sports programming. But events as large as the FIFA Soccer World Cup, the 2006 Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games were only broadcast locally in standard definition.

CEO of industry trade group Digital Broadcasting Australia, Chris Williamson, said broadcasters were keen to get their hands on HD programming, but it was not always available.

"The main sources of high-definition programming in Australia so far have been primarily sourced from here or from the US," he said. "Content from elsewhere, such as Europe, has until recently only tended to come in standard definition."

However, the tide was changing, Williamson said, now that the likes of the BBC were beginning to provide HD content. "There is a general shift toward HD worldwide," he said.

Some of the barriers to providing HD in Australia might be addressed by new legislative changes proposed by the Federal Government under its Digital Action Plan launched in November 2006, Zhang said.

She applauded two aspects of the action plan: the allocation of two unassigned digital channels throughout Australia for new digital services (rather than for another commercial TV network); and the imminent removal of the requirement that HDTV services be simulcast in standard definition.

Once the new legislation is introduced, broadcasters will be allowed to provide dedicated content on high-definition channels - with a few exceptions (such as the sports coverage protected by anti-siphoning).

"These regulation actions shall contribute to long-term, innovative HDTV services in Australia and increase digital take-up," Zhang said.

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