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February 11, 2010

BBC HDTV criticised for poor quality

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by Rapid TV News

Website: Rapid TV News

The BBC Trust is now involved in the complaints about the declining quality of the BBC’s HDTV signal.

Hundreds of viewers have officially complained, many arguing that the BBC’s images are failing in their core remit to “adhering to, or seeking to exceed, industry standards for picture resolution”.

In December Andy Quested, the BBC’s HD Principle Technologist, went on line in a formal BBC blog about HDTV with a series of answers to viewer complaints, and which failed to address many of the grumbles.

The BBC’s head of HD, Danielle Nagler, has admitted that the BBC’s HD output is now only 9.7 Mb/s, significantly down on its initial 19 Mb/s broadcasts, and this – say the BBC’s critics – is at least part of the reason why images are softer and lack the ‘Wow’ factor of true HD.

BSkyB uses up to 19 Mb/s per multiplex for its top quality HD coverage (and generally operates its sports HD within a range of 15-17 Mb/s).

A formal complaint by Paul Eaton, who has been gathering data on HDTV, to the BBC Trust alleges that Ms Nagler accepts that the BBC’s “mediocre picture quality is acceptable” and “in accordance with the BBC Trust’s remit for the HD channel”.

Ms Nagler did herself few favours by foolishly admitting on the BBC programme Points of View that: “There’s no evidence that reducing the bitrate has an impact on picture quality or that there is an absolute relationship between bitrate and picture quality.”

She has since retreated from the debate, saying “I feel that it is now time to draw a line under my further contribution to the debate here.” Emma Scott, the managing director of BBC-backed Freesat, has called it a “a bit of a geek issue” and thus implied it is unimportant to the BBC.

The BBC Trust’s remit for its HDTV service states: “BBC HD should deliver a very high quality technical service to viewers, by adhering to, or seeking to exceed, industry standards for picture resolution.”

Mr Eaton, in his formal complaint to the BBC Trust, says that BBC high-def transmissions are some 20% below those recommended as the HD minimum by the European Broadcasting Union, and as such should not be described as HD.

Eaton includes in his submission contributions from many informed viewers who question the reasons and excuses given by the BBC for their output. Additionally he points out that the BBC’s pixel output – at least one method of calculating quality – is 25% below ‘Full HD’ (at 1.55m pixels per screen, compared with more than 2.07m pixels on ‘full 1920 x 1080’ HD.

In fact, says Eaton, the BBC’s British HD bitrate output is the lowest in Europe, lower even than the much-criticised Channel 4 HD, and lower even than the BBC’s own BBC HD Europe feed (at 16 Mb/s in full HD at 1920 x 1080). Eurosport HD comes out best in Eaton’s submission.

Eaton’s formal complaint to the BBC Trust ought to have been answered within an obligatory 20 working days of its Dec 30 submission. The BBC Trust is promising an answer “soon”.

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1 Comment »
  1. It is disgraceful that the BBC, which has always sought to set the highest technical standards in brodcasting, is now transmitting inferior HD quality on what should be their flagship channel.
    I hope they will recognise their mistake and rectify this as soon as possible. The viewing public are not as stupid or as technically illiterate as they appear to think.

    Comment by Brian — February 12, 2010 @ 10:09 am

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