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

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Free up spectrum by getting rid of: Spree TV (channel 10), TV4ME (Channel 7), Fresh Ideas TV (Channel 7), Extra (Channel 9) and Extra 2 (Channel 9).

    • or you could get rid of community television completely, freeing up a miniscule amount of spectrum, and the auction it off to the highest bidder.

      Oh wait.

    • Why would they remove a channel that does nothing but make them money, to upgrade one that costs them money? As usual, it’s all about the money.

  • By the time our networks move to a full HD channel lineup, the rest of the world will probably be enjoying 4K broadcasts as standardSo sad, but so true..! Give ’em about ten years to upgrade to the next Codec first.. 🙂

  • 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 actually increased.

    This is because analogue TV had not yet been switched off, and not everyone had access to the digital channels such as One. So of course the ratings increased when they switched back to Ten.

    Now that analogue TV is gone though, we know that everyone who is watching TV is now watching digital channels. There’s no reason why they can’t move it back to One and broadcast it in HD now…or even broadcast in HD on Ten. They just haven’t.

    Oddly enough though, they broadcast the QUALIFYING on the Saturday for each race in HD on One, and then broadcast the race on the Sunday in SD on Ten. It makes no sense.

    • Some older set-top boxes only handle SD digital channels, and they’re still in use – I came across one on saturday. They wont be skewing the results anywhere near as much as analogue TV did, but it’s probably a few percent of users.

    • It’s also why I started streaming the races…. They can’t even get normal TV right… what hope is there for on demand and streaming services

    • analogue was switched of here ages ago. can no longer pick up signals without a digital set top box.

      • What I meant was, at the time of Ten’s decision to switch the F1 coverage from One HD back to Ten, analogue TV was still a thing. It wasn’t switched off here in Sydney until the end of last year. But now everyone’s on digital TV, so there’s not really much reason to keep broadcasting it on the SD Ten channel. They could switch it back to the One HD channel now and it would have little to no impact on ratings.

  • We know that old habits die hard for the people that don’t know any better, so they’ve got no idea that HD channels exist and they’re too scared to change over from 7, 9 and 10 to watch anything. What I want to know is: when the networks restructure their channels, can they simply make those main channels HD or will they need to run loads of advertisements to tell people that 7 is moving to 73, for example, so that it’s HD?

  • I wonder how many poeple are still using a sd tv with a set top box?
    I heard if they moved away from mpeg2 to MPEG4 they could have room for all channels bar the shopping ones to be in hd

  • Its sadly a similar deal with DAB. I found at times DAB 92kbps sounded inferior to analogue radio prodcasts

    • This was a deliberate choice to highlight how the HD landscape hasn’t changed in the past four years.

      Nah. I can’t back that up.

  • I’d prefer HD but 7 showd the Rugby League World Cup last year solely in HD. They were inundated with complaints from people saying they can’t watch HD. And even more from people that complained they couldn’t record HD – and as matches were on at 3:00am, recording was often needed. All those people wanted it moved to their main channel. The Foxtel Facebook page had thousands of people complaining they couldn’t watch or record it on Foxtel, as Foxtel didn’t have 7mate (obviously weren’t HD customers) – and Foxtel blamed 7 for that (interestingly 7 has said Foxtel is free to take 7mate for their SD customers, but Foxtel won’t do it)

    7 planned to show Wimbledon this year in HD – but again were inundated with complaints, so 7 moved it to 7Two.

    7 show the AFL in HD in Brisbane (and I think Sydney as well), but in other states there are too many complaints when they move it off their main channel.

    And the main rival to the 9/Fox bid for the NRL was 10/One – All matches available on fta. The NRL said one reason they didn’t win, was because too many games would be on One each week (4 was the plan) and not enough people would be able to watch (although I’m sure more could than the 30% that have Fox Sports at home)

    Until the majority of the popualtion want HD, the networks won’t risk moving their main programs

  • I remember the good old days of the primary channel being simulcast on the HD channel. The new release movies / big drama shows & sport in HD!

    I seriously think they went backwards after allowing the TV companies to not have to simulcast.

    • haha i was reading through all these comments thinking, surely somebody has to remember that we did have HD on all those channels, until they quietly retired them in favour of the infomercial channels! Ive been saying this to people for years, maybe it was because people didn’t know what HD was back then!

  • And then you have them touting Freeview+ as the next big thing, when they haven’t caught up on the previous thousand ‘next big things’, such as H.264, HD and working EPGs

  • I always thought it was about advertising dollars.
    Taking the F1 on Ten or One as an example.
    Whoever pays to advertise on Ten probably doesn’t get airtime on One for the same money.
    They want there high cost Ten ad to be on the channel that’s attracting all the viewers.
    Ten puts the high volume late night viewer F1 race on Ten to keep the advertisers happy.

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