Low def TV is taking over the world


In my living room I have a nice 50” high definition (HD) plasma screen linked up to a Sky+ HD box.

I can tell you now, you have not experienced the true force of The Antiques Road Show until you have seen it on the BBC HD channel.

But over the last couple of years, whilst the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sky and so on have been working hard to persuade us that HD is the future and that we should ditch our old analogue TVs, a minor revolution has taken place.

Low definition broadcasting is the future and more importantly, it is here today.

Don’t believe me? Read on:

Not that long ago, if there was a breaking news story in some far flung corner of the planet, you normally got the reporter speaking back to the studio via telephone. On the screen you would see a picture of the reporter but or course no video. Now this was understandable because to broadcast TV quality footage from the field takes some serious, expensive and often quite large kit. You need computers, power, satellite dishes, cameras and so on. You would never expect this kit to be exactly where it is needed when the story breaks and even here in the west, when a story breaks, it can take an hour or 2 for the outside broadcast trucks to reach the scene.

But when the war on Iraq first broke out some of the broadcasters started using video phones to get the story back to the studio and even though your typical video phone can only do a few frames per second and is very low quality it is still better than an audio only phone call from a reporter.

And so it started. Somebody suddenly realised that the viewer would rather have a low quality video feed than no video feed at all.

At the same time, the world is now hooked on YouTube and the new generation of video cameras are now designed to download straight onto your home PC and not your TV. Indeed a lot of the initial footage you see on the news these days from a breaking story tends to be taken from a mobile phone. Sure the quality may be poor but so what? The OB trucks are still an hour away and these days the viewer wants and expects to know what is going on now and not in 2 hours time when the broadcast news crews get there.

We now expect to watch our video on a 4” x 3” box on a computer screen rather than a 50” plasma. We expect to be able to email that video to our friends or post it on Facebook. We expect to be able to view it on our iPod on the train in the morning.

And then of course we have the likes of BBC iPlayer. The BBC have spent a long time developing the technology to deliver high quality video over the internet. But at the same time, expectations have dropped. We now find the quality that iPlayer gives us (and lets be fair, it is very good) is more than enough for watching Spooks on our Laptops. The end user is the same but suddenly the screen he chooses to view the content on is 17” not 50” and that has a big impact on the source quality requirement.

Now I don’t for one minute believe that Hollywood is going to start producing their next blockbuster in a 320×240 MP4 format but for a lot of applications, low def is good and is in the hands of everybody. Will I get rid of my 50” plasma. No! I could never go back to watching Eastenders on a 21” screen but one thing is for sure, more and more of the videos I watch are on the computer screen and not the big screen and I this trend is only going to continue.

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