Monday, February 27, 2006

HDTV: new screens for new visions

The World Championship Soccer in Germany will be the occasion to introduce High Definition Television (HDTV) in the Netherlands. Beginning of June Sport1, a pay channel, will start with the broadcasts. Besides a sports channel, there will also be a movie channel, Film1, showing the latest Hollywood movies in HDTV format.

Sport1 and Movie1 are channels of chellomedia, part of UPC. Chellomedia has made agreements with the cable operators UPC, Essent, Multikabel and CAIW. Preceeding the launch of HDTV, there will already be a change to the anamorph broad picture format of 16:9 from the present 4:3 screen format of the analogue television. To watch HDTV format broadcast an HDTV ready television set is needed and an HDTV digital decoder.

It is interesting to see that after so many years of talk about HDTV at last something is happening. The HDTV discussion has been going on since the nineties. In the Netherlands there was an HDTV platform of broadcasters and Philips. There was also a European group lobbying the European Commission. Everytime HDTV looked like one of those technical unfulfilled promises. But now all pieces seem to fall into place after so many years: from the cameras at the soccer field to the transmission.

Not only the cable operators will start promoting HDTV, but also the internet operators. The cable operators will have a starting advantage in the Netherlands, given their cable network. They can handle the capacity needed for HDTV transmissions. Internet operators have a problem as the fibre glass connections are not very common yet. Still at the World Championship Soccer in Germany HDTV through internet will be tested by the public broadcast system together with the SURF, the network for universities and schools.

I guess that the penetration of HDTV will be slow. Given the infrastructure, the cable infrastructure, HDTV is most likely to succeed in that environment for the time being. Promotion by the cable companies will prompt people contemplating an HDTV (ready) television set and the necessary decoder. I guess that internet operators will not enthusiastically pour money into HDTV. KPN and perhaps Tiscali and Versatel might do so to promote their IPTV, but smaller providers will shy away from it as broadband capacity has to be paid.

The big question remains whether people will switch to HDTV for its quality. The pioneers users are going to pay a hefty sum for the acquisition of a HDTV television set. But there will be many laggards as the conversion from analogue to digital demonstrates. Look at radio. Digital radio is there but the change-over is hardly impressive. Also in television the conversion is slow. UPC is handing–out decoder, but have the subscriptions to the electronic bouquet of programs improved? Not spectacular is my impression. Viewers will have to be forced from analogue to digital; just tell them that analogue television will be stopped by a certain date. You might loose a few customers, but gain from the mass.

BTW Picture and title compliments of Dr Cesare Massarenti


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