Ask LH: Why Aren’t Our Main Channels HD Yet?

Hey Lifehacker, When will Australian free-to-air channels start using their HD channels as their main channel? I am really sick of watching major sporting events on the main networks channels on SD when they are showing Seinfeld (for example) on the HD channel. It just does not make sense. Any insights? Thanks, Define This

Dear DT,

Each free-to-air (FTA) network is allocated a frequency and a limited amount of bandwidth which has been used to launch additional digital channels such as GEM and 7Mate. The upshot of this is that there is insufficient spectrum to broadcast all channels in HD. Until the government decides to allocate more of the digital spectrum to the FTA networks this situation is unlikely to change.

Under current legislation, Australia’s FTA networks are required to show a minimum of 1040 hours of high definition content per year. However, they are free to spread this content across multiple channels at a minimum resolution of 720p. This means you’ll often see HD content pop up on non-HD channels at a quality that’s less than impressive.

In addition to this, various sporting associations have their own broadcasting agreements in place with networks. These agreements do not always contain stipulations for high definition, which means the network can broadcast its coverage in whatever resolution it sees fit.

Until there’s a restack and channels can start simulcasting in HD and SD, we doubt the situation will improve much. Even though all TV is now digital and the spectrum could be used more efficiently, no networks have announced plans for an HD-only channel beyond the existing SBS option.

From the networks’ perspective, the higher bandwidth demands simply don’t translate to more viewers or larger profits. For example, last year actually saw Formula 1 coverage move in the opposite direction — it went from high-definition on One to standard-def on Ten. Despite this, the ratings increased.

In short, the people who are fanatical about HD content probably aren’t watching much free-to-air TV anyway. By the time our networks move to a full HD channel lineup, the rest of the world will probably be enjoying 4K broadcasts as standard.


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