HD TV set to become the new standard

Australia’s free-to-air television stations may soon be allowed to broadcast their primary channel in high definition (HD) which means more high quality free-to-air sport.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has introduced a bill amendment to lift the current restrictions. The previous bill was introduced in 1992 to ensure the large number of analog TVs could still display the primary channels – Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC and SBS – in standard definition (SD) in the early days of the digital switchover.

The popularity of recent sporting events shown in HD on the secondary channels, such as the Ashes (on GEM HD) and sporting events on SBS HD, indicate that HD sport is a ratings success. Officially called the ‘Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Primary Television Broadcasting Service) Bill 2015′, the legislation would allow TV networks to broadcast whatever they like in HD.

While the measures to keep SD broadcasting were justified during the switchover from analog to digital TV, Australians’ rapid uptake of HD TVs meant that the current legislation forced networks to deliver SD content when the overwhelming majority of TVs could comfortably show HD.

For nearly a decade all TVs sold in Australia have had HD digital tuners, which can display both SD and HD signals, and surveys of consumer behaviour show that most consumersreplace their primary TV every three years or so.

What does it mean for you?

If you own a flat panel TV bought in the last few years and are a sports fan, you will have noticed how blurry the players appear when shown in SD, particularly as the camera pulls back to a wider shot of the field. TVs attempt to upscale the image for SD images by adding pixels to help fill in the gaps. Upscaling works OK if the subject is still and a fairly uniform colour; but for fast-motion sequences such as sport, or action movies, the effect is next to useless. HD gives you more image information and as a result, the sports action is clearer and more enjoyable to watch.

Once it’s introduced, you will suddenly be watching many sporting events, news programs and new shows in HD on the primary channel. The amendment should pass into law with little opposition shortly before the finals series for the major football codes of Australian Rules and Rugby League gets underway in September. However, some of the networks are saying that it may take a little while before we get to enjoy HD sport on the main channels, even when the laws come into effect. Rest assured that the networks will get HD to your TVs as soon as possible, as they know there’s potential for a serious ratings spike – not to mention increased ad revenue.

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