Friday, 3 February 2012

Starting the standard-definition switch-off?

A recent report from Digital TV Research suggests that the penetration of HD-ready televisions is high enough that operators may be able consider switching off some standard-definition channels in the near future in some countries.

There are several possible reasons why this may not be a good idea, though. While the report considers some of these, there are others that may be less obvious:

• HD-ready doesn’t mean people are watching HD channels. My own TV is HD-ready, but I don’t have an HD set-top box from my pay TV provider. There’s nothing technical stopping me from getting one, but for me the benefits are outweighed by the costs (which don’t have to be financial)

• A number of households may watch HD programmes, but only record SD programmes. There are a lot of standard-definition PVR set-top boxes already deployed, which people may not want to replace. Cost is part of that, but so is the loss of any recordings they want to keep: this is primarily what’s stopping me from upgrading

• A household having one HD-ready TV doesn’t mean that they don’t have other TVs or set-top boxes that are only SD-capable

80% penetration of HD-ready TVs by 2016, and less than 40% of people actively watching

HD by the same date, still leaves a lot of people who don’t watch HD. These are only predicted averages, and some pay TV providers may have substantially higher penetration rates, but switching off SD channels may still disappoint many viewers.

We’ve seen how long the conversion from analogue to digital has taken in a number of countries. While the move from SD to HD is not quite so radical, there will still be a great deal of public education needed and a great deal of equipment to replace. Following so rapidly on the heels of the move to digital, how many people will want to replace their equipment again?

SD switch-off for digital TVs may seem like a good idea, but it’s still a long way from being a reality.

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