I have noticed an increase in the press about the recent announcement of high definition (HD) broadcasts that will be made over the UK terrestrial digital TV service known as FreeView; these announcements that HD broadcasts will be broadcast over our airwaves, rather than exclusively over satellite services is a big boon. We are very happy that almost everyone home in the UK will be able to receive HD TV without the need for a satellite dish is good news.

What is perhaps not good news is that the vast majority of FreeView receivers, being both the set-top box variety and those tuners that are built-in to your TV, will not be capable of receiving, or at least, decoding these HD broadcasts over the FreeView service.

The press, not all of the press, but the sort of press that is aimed at the lowest common denominator, and has some ties to BSKYB (like those owned by News International, or those that broadcast their Porn channels on Sky), have decided to call foul on this limitation found within the vast majority FreeView tuners.

The theme that most of these news articles follow is consumers are being deceived, no conned, when they are sold an HD-Ready, or Full HD capable TV without the ability to tune in and decode these HD broadcasts. Not 5 minutes after FreeView made the announcement that they will begin HD broadcasts in 2010, did the alarmist and techno-ignorant press jump on the caveat emptor bandwagon stating that if you buy a TV set today, you will not be able to receieve HD TV. Surely the consumer will expect to be able to receive HD broadcasts out of the box, especially when their TV set has an ‘HD-Ready’ logo sticker on it?

I would agree that it is a realistic expectation for consumers to expect to receive HD TV from their TV set, but the reality is that out-of-the-box, almost all TV sets require some sort of additional hardware to in order to watch HD pictures. Think about it… if you want:

  • High definition films, your DVD player will not cut the mustard; you need to get yourself a blu-ray player; and yes… blu-ray movies to play on the blu-ray player. These players can play DVD’s, so this does not mean you have to chuck away you entire DVD collection, but it does mean that these discs are standard definition, and whilst your player, TV or AV receiver may be able to upscale the standard definition picture to a high-definition picture (like 1080p), the source still remains standard definition
  • HD TV, you need a HD TV service. TV’s that have FreeSAT tuners are capable of receiving HD TV broadcasts through a satellite dish, but more often than not those consumer who are serious about receiving HD TV will subscribe to a pay-TV service like SKY HD or Virgin HD; this will enable them to receive more channels than the standard FreeSAT offerings. This is my biggest suspicion as to who’s agenda is being circulated around the press… the press is stating you will need to buy a new HD FreeView receiver in order to receive the FreeView HD broadcasts, but none of saying that the same applies to existing SKY and Virgin Media subscribers too. If you are a SKY subscriber, and you purchase an HD ready TV, it does not mean you will receive HD TV. Only once you have ordered this service, had a new box installed (which does carry an installation cost) and subscribed to a HD TV package, which costs more than a standard SKY/Virgin subscription, will your HD Ready TV show off its capabilities. The FreeView HD service will incur a once-off cost for the purchase of a HD capable receiver, and these are very modestly priced, some cost as much as the installation costs of the pay-TV services, or a modest £140 will get you a HD capable PVR.
  • Games consoles: Nintendo Wii does not display HD, Xbox 360 and PS3 games consoles do, all you need to purchase is an HDMI cable… the PS3 has the added bonus of being able to play blu-ray movies
  • Audio: Most older AV receivers are not capable of decoding the newer high-definition audio soundtracks found on newer blu-ray moview releases, meaning that for those who really love their home surround sound will likely need to purchase new kit here… again the press has nothing to say about this, this of course is merely the advancement of technology; why is the announcement of FeeView HD any different?

Consumers should not confuse the the ‘HD Ready’ moniker as being description of the capabilities of the TV tuner, no more than you can expect to view HD using a standard SKY receiver, Virgin Media cable box, DVD player, video machine or games console, unless these devices are HD capable themselves.

Quite simply there are no HD channels at the present time being broadcast on terrestrial services, so how on earth can TV manufacturers be realistically be expected to have this capability ready, this is also a very recent announcement by the FreeView group, and thus manufacturers will need to ‘catch-up’ with this announcement to their commitment to the broadcast of HD TV.

A set that is ‘HD ready’ has nothing to do with what TV signals it is capable of receiving and displaying, it merely describes the maximum level of resolution, or detail the TV is capable of displaying; this does not mean the TV set is magically going to be able to take a lower resolution (standard definition) picture and magically convert it into anything better than what it receives in the first place.

What the press are also failing to mention is that the announcement of the FreeView HD services, due for launch in 2010, is actually an outstanding technical achievement. They have developed a technology that was first launched as the doomed ITV Digital service, a service that is well over 10 years old (and its technology equally old) into something that was initially thought to be impossible to achieve. Yes, they have made a technological achievement that means if you want these new features, you will have to upgrade your existing set-top box, or simply be patient and wait for the TV manufacturers to announce when their TV sets will be capable of receiving Terrestrial Digital HD TV. Buy a TV set today, you will most definitely need new hardware only if you want FreeView HD, otherwise you can continue using FreeView unhindered without any changes required to your TV or set-top box. You can even have HD TV today if you opt for FreeSAT (available on Panasonic TV’s), or you can wait for the TV manufacturers to catch-up and develop tuners that will take advantage of this very positive announcement.

Remember, whenever a new innovation and positive announcement is made in the TV broadcast arena, and this is quickly slagged off by the press, always question what the true motives are… more often than not it will be something that threatens someone’s comfortable and unchallenged position in the TV market, and will bring about some healthy competition.