BBC puts viewers in the picture, dismisses BBC HD complaints

September 10th, 2010 24 Comments By Paul Smith

Bitterwallet BBC HD BBC puts viewers in the picture, dismisses BBC HD complaintsHD TV may be the future, but it’s a future that broadcasters expect us to pay more for, through hardware and subscriptions – so shouldn’t it be the best possible service it can be?

Many viewers certainly thought so, and believed the BBC should be leading the way. When the corporation was granted the license to broadcast a HD service, it stated “BBC HD should deliver a very high quality technical service to viewers by adhering to, or seeking to exceed, industry standards for picture resolution”.

That hasn’t happened as far as some viewers were concerned – or at least it did happen, but only to a point. In August 2009, the BBC upgraded the encoders it uses for HD transmission, and the transmission bit rate dropped from 16Mbps to 9.7 Mbps. This caused several issues in picture quality, including digital artefacts to appear in particular scenes (“mix/fade” scenes) which took the BBC nearly a full year to fix, after substantial lobbying from viewers.

There was a greater issue, however, according to those campaigning for the BBC to restore its HD channel to the original quality; the picture quality was still inferior to what it had been, and the corporation was no longer fulfilling its mission of “adhering to, or seeking to exceed, industry standards for picture resolution” – not when the European standard increased from 14Mbps to 16 Mbps. So the complaint was taken to the BBC Trust, and Bitterwallet has received a copy of the reply.

The Trust concluded decided that it was an “an over-interpretation” to believe that the license statement should mean the “BBC HD technical picture quality must exceed any other broadcast transmissions”. The Trust continually reiterates their point that several factors can affect pictures quality, not just the quality of the of original transmission, and that:

“The wording of the BBC HD service licence was appropriate and should not be interpreted as implying that the BBC will always provide the highest technical quality regardless of other factors.

“BBC HD should deliver a very high quality technical service to viewers, by adhering to, or seeking to exceed, industry standards for picture resolution whilst also complying with the other requirements set out in the Service Licence.”

But isn’t there something amiss? How can the BBC claim to be adhering to industry standards, when its HD channel is being broadcast well below those set by the European Broadcasting Union? Are viewers with high-end equipment really getting all the bang for their buck they deserve? The Trust’s report ignores the issue, but the BBC has already told license-fee payers it is ignoring the standards with good reason. In a blog post by a technologist at the BBC, he essentially states the standards were out-dated compared to what is achievable by rapid advances in technology.

The debate is unlikely to end there; as HD becomes more popular (the BBC Trust itself estimates it will be in 22% of TV households by 2012) and as technology demands more of its content,  there’ll no doubt be further issues raised about HD in the future.

Comments (24) Jump to most recent comment
  1. Posted by bushbrother September 10, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I thought it was just me who saw a loss in quality, never looked into it, now it makes sense … wankers. BBC Trust is as useful as a chocolate teapot, blatantly in bed with BBC bosses anyway.

  2. Posted by TopBloke September 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Stands to reason . The BBC are meant to technically inovate, it is part of the licence agreement and why they recieve the T.V licence money you have little choice but to pay . Unfortunalty they have been happy over recent years to let other channels do it for them and then stand on their shoulders to try and claim the glory . The last thing they played a part in inovating was nicam digital sound in the 80′s and even that involved them standing on top of other companys development. When i was growing up i was always told that the BBC’s programs were the best in the world but now i look back the only people saying that were the BBC !!!. I’m not surprised by this ‘ our sound and picture are the best, but shhhhhh please don’t compare us to other broadcasters’ attitude.

  3. Posted by PaulH September 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Bastards!

  4. Posted by ButterMan September 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    F1 in HD please… Fuck “Bill Oddie’s History of the Ketchup Bottle” and all that other shite.

  5. Posted by darkspark September 10, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Very few programmes on BBC HD are actually HD. On a good freeview TV with picture smoothing, sometimes that cn look better than HD.

  6. Posted by Mark H September 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    My opinion is that the encoder upgrade did not negatively affect picture quality. This was bore out by this:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/06/picture_quality_on_bbc_hd_a_vi_2.html

    With the result being:

    ‘In brief, our viewers’ group (and the wider audience group) thought the new encoder performed better with the EBU material but the old encoder performed better with the BBC material (Lady GaGa). ‘

    Which I thought had brought an end to all of this amateur broadcast quality analysis?

  7. Posted by Chunkygeek September 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    @Butterman, The F1 isn’t broadcast in HD by anyone because the Formula One Administration doesn’t supply the “World Feed” in HD. I believe this isnt’ due for review until before the 2012 season.

  8. Posted by wombat September 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    @Mark H

    The link you point to still says there was a drop in picture quality coinciding with the change of encoder and bit rate and also “not being able to see the same encoder run at different bit-rates was a big disappointment to us and we don’t understand Andy’s reluctance to do a side-by-side comparison of the new encoder with old and new bit-rates. As a consequence, we can only speculate on the effect of bit-rate on the HD channel’s PQ”

    It hardly brings to and end “all of this amateur broadcast quality analysis”.

    Thanks for pointing us to that blog link as the “Hich-hikers guide to bamboozling the fee paying public” linked to in the article by Paul Smith had nearly convinced me the BBC had a case.

  9. Posted by wombat September 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    @Butterman, as Chunkygeek says F1 isn’t broadcast in HD because it isn’t supplied in HD; as Mark H’s link tells us poorly produced HD programs would show poor PQ and I suspect there are particular production challenges when to comes to filming F1 cars…

  10. Posted by Graeme September 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    considering how hard it is to get HD footage accepted by the BBC it’s no wonder they don’t have much content. Their standards are strict to the point of impossible for indie productions to even get a look in

  11. @darkspark

    ALL programmes on BBC HD are in HD. That’s why it’s not a simulcast of any SD channel… unlike Sky 1 HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD…

  12. Posted by Mark H September 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    @ wombat

    If you read the full thing rather than my snippet you’ll see that any drop in quality was negligible whereas the increase in quality for other types of programming was substantial.

    The argument mainly seems to concern numbers – i.e. how can a smaller number of bits possibly offer the same or better picture quality. Read the full report and you’ll see that it can.

  13. Posted by Smiff September 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    blah blah blah, honestly, who cares? as Stephen Fry recently pointed out, we should be worried about what’s happened to the content on BBC1 and 2.

  14. Posted by Aelynn September 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I wonder when BBC HD will actually offer subtitles… As far as I have seen, only Sky1HD does provide subtitles in HD (well, most of the time). It must be a really complicated thing to do.

  15. Posted by Spankypants September 10, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    The realy reason F1 isn’t in HD is becasue it will cost lots of money and Bernie Ecclestone is a tight-fisted cunt.#

    #probably

  16. Posted by hippy1001 September 10, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    from 7 foot away which my 32″ full hd telly is from my couch i dont notice a difference between 480,720 or 1080 resolution.
    It all looks the same to me, id rather have good quality programs than good quality picture.

    Im sure if you had a full HD projector giving a picture on a 100″ screen you would see a little pixelation, but who cares, digital signals give that pixilation at times anyway, depending on how good ya reception is.

    If you want to see the best picture possible, buy the blu-ray of it for £50 down at hmv!

  17. Your maybe TOO far away hippy1001.

    Check this Sony viewing distance page – where they recommend an optimal 1.3m (4.26feet) for a 32″ screen … http://www.sony.co.uk/hub/bravia-lcd-televisions/4/1

  18. Posted by James September 14, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    @Aelynn

    BBC HD does offer subtitles on most of its programming. At least, it does on Freesat, I can’t comment on what the situation is on Sky or Freeview.

  19. Posted by HD_fan428 September 23, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Mark H wrote:

    “‘In brief, our viewers’ group (and the wider audience group) thought the new encoder performed better with the EBU material but the old encoder performed better with the BBC material (Lady GaGa). ‘

    Which I thought had brought an end to all of this amateur broadcast quality analysis?”

    It would be good if you could do us the courtesy of reading the whole thing before you jump to such conclusions. You seem to have missed for instance this key paragraph:

    “It would be all too easy erroneously to conclude from the limited range of materials tested that most material, including material that is ‘critical but not unduly so’, is similar with the new encoder, and that therefore everything is within the expected performance range. This would explain for instance why the mix/fade issue was identified only after the new encoder was put into service. It also completely underplays how distracting the problems are when they do appear. The artefacts, although transient in nature, are far more pervasive and frequent than the BBC would care to admit. It is on this basis that we feel that Andy’s assertion that ”on the majority of material the new encoder is as good as or better than the old” does not represent the overall position adequately. We believe this is another key factor in the perceptions of reduced PQ since August [2009]. Ultimately, improvements to, or replacement of, the new encoder may well help to bring about the PQ we all want.”

    Mark H also wrote:

    “If you read the full thing rather than my snippet you’ll see that any drop in quality was negligible whereas the increase in quality for other types of programming was substantial.”

    Please point to where this is said since, as one of the authors of the blog, I can say it’s the exact opposite of what it was intended to convey, as noted in the quote above.

    FWIW I think on the whole things have got a lot better since VBR was introduced, along with some encoder improvements that have meant better performance at lower bitrates for which the BBC should be applauded–but none of this applies to the period in question.

  20. This is the worse reception I have ever seen. Suddenly tonight most of the channels I got are now gone. What is left SUCKS !!! These that are left are cutting in and out. I get a couple of religious channels that I never watch, a few weather channels, and a couple of cartoon channels. I am elderly, have a very limited income, and can’t affort cable. I have never seen a world as crooked and evil as the one today. Nobody cares about anybody but themselves.

  21. Posted by Tony January 14, 2011 at 9:26 am

    http://www.classicalsource.com/home.php

    More commentary on BBC dumbing down quality

  22. Great post. Continue to keep more interesting publications. Been following your blog for 3 days now and I should say I am beginning to much like your post. I want to know how can I subscribeto your blog?

  23. Posted by simon southgate January 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I have seen full Hd and it is amazing. I have seen BBC Hd and question how they can claim to have an hd service. I have seen the bit rate of a BBC signal fall as low as 4.2 MBit that less than a good dvd! Compare NHK World rate of 10 Mbit and you can see the difference although that is not really a full Hd transmission. The low bit rates will be more apparent to those who have a very large screen tv, the type of tv that Hd was supposed to cater for. I was thinking of buying a one but on second thoughts I will stick with my old Sony vega even though it does take up half the sitting room

  24. Posted by Mrs Alder February 2, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    I bought a new television to be able to watch the few programmes I like. Even now I am having problems with reception ONLY ON BBC CHANNELS, itv and the digital channels are fine.
    I pay my licence fee and cannot watch BBCI for the only programme I like to watch namely Call the Midwife – sadly the poor reception, pixalating and cutting out mean that I cannot watch it on TV.
    Fortunately I have a computer and watch the programme on that – why am I paying for a BBC licence when I can’t watch a programme?
    I spent money I can ill afford for a TV I wouldn’t have bought because of digitisation, if I need a new aerial why don’t they advise that? There is no way I can afford to have that done, so if I had known beforehand I would have not bought a new television and cancelled my licence.
    Why are all the other channels fine?

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