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High Definition and the future of viewing

Disk and broadcast systems battle it out

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Further background: What is HDTV?

There is no universal agreement what constitutes high definition and a lot of dispute about which image format is ‘true HD’ as opposed to just tolerated. Broadcasters in the US are evenly split between 720p (720 horizontal lines progressive scan) and 1080i (1,080 horizontal lines interlaced scan) distribution formats. While 1080p is increasingly accepted as a near-universal HD production format, here too there is dispute about whether capture should be at 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60 frames per second or even some subset of it (such as 59.57Hz). Moreover, there are today only a handful of displays capable of showing 1080p at any frame rate. The situation for televisions is further complicated by the fact that most flat-panel displays are based on PC and graphic monitor resolution, such as VGA, rather than on established television format resolutions, such as PAL or NTSC.

In September 2004, the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) came out in favour of 1,920x720p at 50 Hz as a broadcasting format in an announcement from EBU’s BTQE committee of public broadcasters. The statement was later withdrawn, or rather qualified, that it was a ‘work in progress’ and that the EBU had not endorsed the recommendation. While EBU thus leans towards progressive as a ‘natural preference’, there are still many in Europe that gravitate towards 1080i as the ‘Common Image Format’ as supported by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union). Europe is thus no more in agreement on HDTV broadcast formats than the US or the rest of the world.

In a forthcoming Screen Digest report on the prospects for HDTV in Europe we consider a television or display to be an HDTV set if it has a minimum resolution of 720 horizontal lines capable of being displayed progressively (ie, 720p) or XGA resolution, which is its nearest computer graphics equivalent. Sets that have a native resolution of, for example, W-VGA or are capable of 480p display are not HDTV sets1.

We have also included two other provisions. The first is that HDTV sets ought to have suitable connectivity—ie, digital DVI or HDMI sockets, to be able to connect to digital devices (set-top boxes, next generation DVD players, etc). We do not consider component input practical for HDTV viewing and there are no sets in Europe with integrated tuners for HDTV signal reception.

Secondly, the sets must be a minimum of 20-inch as sets below this are rarely the primary viewing sets in any television households. This eliminates dual-use PC monitors in work or study areas that would otherwise have to be counted as HDTV sets on account of their native resolution.

1An exception is made for plasma screens with a resolution of 1,024x1,024, which fall into the grey zone as half field refreshment means that they have an effective resolution of 1,024x514. These are still included, though it is worth noting that they are being phased out as a plasma television source material.

Copyright © 2004, Screen Digest

Screen Digest the Newsletter is the international media business's leading news & market research journal. It has been published for more than 30 years and is read in over 40 countries. Subscription details here. It is published by Screen Digest, a research company which produces a rapidly growing number of major business reports on media markets.

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