HDTV trial to start in July (SBP – 28/April/2007)

My article on HDTV in Ireland, from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Ireland’s terrestrial television broadcasters are expected to start a high definition (HD) trial in July as part of the government’s digital terrestrial television pilot.

It is hoped that the trial, details of which have yet to be formalised, will feature content from RTE, TG4 and TV3 and will continue to run until late 2008, when the DTT trial ends.

HDTV offers far greater detail than the traditional broadcasts currently on offer. The majority of new televisions being sold in Ireland are now ‘HD Ready’, however, people hoping to view better quality pictures through them are still limited in their choice.

Currently, only Sky Digital offers a HD package to Irish viewers, while UPC, formerly NTL/Chorus, has merely pledged to launch a similar service at some point in the future.

Besides broadcasting, games consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3 use HD as standard, while next-generation DVDs are also HD. However, players for the competing HD formats, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, can cost anywhere between €700 and €1,400, depending on the make and format.

‘‘RTE is committed to high definition and as time goes by more of our people are preparing to move in that direction,” said John Hunt, director of operations, RTE Television.

‘‘But it takes a huge investment and is not something we want to rush into doing until everything is ready.”

Hunt said that a switch to HD involved an upgrade on every level of production, from the types of cameras used to the way sets are designed.

‘‘There’s also the point of making the move at the right time, when enough people can take advantage of it,” said Hunt. ‘‘There’s no point in us doing this as an elite thing.”

The potential application of HD content is another challenge facing broadcasters. One natural use for the higher standard is in movies and sports programming, something that Sky has already taken advantage of. However, other programming such as news and current affairs would not benefit as much.

Setanta Sports, which recently acquired the rights to nearly half of all English Premiership matches from next season, has said that it will not be moving to HD just yet, but it hopes to be closer to doing so in a year’s time.

‘‘At present we’re focusing most on launching Setanta Sports 1 in Ireland and organising ourselves for the new season and FA Cup,” said the company’s chief executive, Niall Cogley. ‘‘There are also issues of format and ensuring that we don’t invest in something that becomes obsolete.”

Cogley suggested that Setanta could be nearer to broadcasting in HD by the beginning of the 2008/9 season, something that was echoed by Hunt.

‘‘I think the last few months of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 will be the point to look out for,” said Hunt. ‘‘It’s hard to put a definite time frame on things, but with a full DTT service hopefully up and running by then there’ll be more room for HD.”

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