As Europe Embraces HD It Eyes 1080p Transmission

European broadcasters at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) earlier this month made it clear that after nearly a decade of waiting for the right moment to move into HD, the time is now.

HD not only had a heavy presence on the exhibition floor with HD cameras, transmission, graphics and recording gear becoming the norm but also off the show floor in educational sessions.

Fritz Pleitgen, DG of German public broadcaster WDR and also incoming president of the European Broadcasting Union, took his on-stage opportunity during the exhibition’s keynote panel on HD to plug the “new” format but also caution against brash moves.

“I can tell you I have become an [HD] addict,” he said. “However, as the director general of a public broadcaster I am very anxious about the cost. There's no doubt the interest across Europe is considerable, especially for sport, drama and documentary production. But it all means extra investment, on bandwidth and transmission, on equipment and production, and even for the consumer. Not all broadcasters, with limited amounts of cash, can fund this exercise.”

Sweden's SVT Sissela Andren, SVT's project coordinator, added that SVT believes free over-the-air HDTV is important “One day it will be the established standard,” she said of HD. “However, there's a huge amount of work to be done on true standardization. Europe has inherited much from the U.S., from Japan and even Australia. Now it's time to supply feedback to the industry for our own needs and requirements.”

Financial challenges have some of Eastern Europe's public broadcasters talking of seeking Brussel's help to finance the transition. Other nations, like Poland, say they are some way off from even considering HDTV.

Even without HD transmission the move to HD is taking place in the production market. Marc Valentin, Grass Valley president, says that European broadcasters and content creators will spend 2.8 billion Euros spent in next three years for HD EFP acquisition and production.

Attendees at IBC also had a chance to see the difference in 720p, 1080i and 1080p images up close. David Wood, head of new media in the EBU’s technical department, said the tests proved to the EBU that 720p at 50 frames per second was the best current format (the other consideration was 1080i at 25 fps, especially when coupled with MPEG-4 AVC compression. Up next? Moving to 1080p HD transmission, something the EBU believes can be done at 4.5 Mbps with MPEG-4 compression. “The demos have the maximum transparency to allow fair and just conclusions to be drawn, but initial results suggest that even with next generation displays, 720p delivery will always give better picture quality than 1080i,” said Wood. “The fundamental reason is that there is no interlace to progressive scan conversion to be done in the display.”