Ask LH: What Happened To The Free-To-Air HD Channels?

Dear Lifehacker, A few years ago most of the free-to-air TV channels had HD equivalents. Why, with the prevalence of large HD-capable TVs, don’t these HD channels exist anymore? Thanks, Definition Diva

Dear DD,

The answer in a very basic sense comes down to money. When digital first launched there were a number of digital HD channels out there, using the spectrum that had been assigned to each network, although even then the pickings were relatively sparse if you wanted actual HD content.

The issue is that the networks instead flipped over to using the HD spectrum to launch additional channels such as GEM and 7Mate. Presumably the logic is that there’s more money in the ads around old episodes of Hogan’s Heroes than there are in sports, where viewers typically don’t want to be interrupted. SBS HD remains the sole provider mirroring content, if its range of programming appeals to you. The additional digital channels are on HD spectrum, but that’s not their selling point at the moment.

Sport is where it hits particularly hard. I can remember back when digital TV was only being trialled watching an experimental cricket broadcast where each channel was in fact a different camera, so you could mix your own cricket coverage as you saw fit. Sadly, we never got that, and the way that sports broadcasting rights are currently arranged it seems like we’ll be stuck in an SD world for a while yet.

There is some light on the horizon, though, as when analogue broadcasts are formally terminated, the networks gain that spectrum to use, and could well use it to broadcast HD sport. There’s also the possibility that new HD video options will emerge via the NBN, but that’s some time away for many Australians. In the meantime, the Australian lesson seems to be this: if you want HD Sport, you can get it — but you’ll have to pay for it.


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