BBC puts viewers in the picture, dismisses BBC HD complaints
HD 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.