/ Technology

Is high-definition TV finally coming of age?

Sony HD TV

Remember when you bought your HDTV? Bet you were dazzled by its size, blinded by its brightness, and promised ‘glorious’ high definition. But, with a lack of decent content, you’re just watching bigger and often blurrier TV.

Despite this week’s launch of BBC One HD, which ups the total of free-to-air HD channels to four, only the most deep-pocketed can enjoy a decent selection of HD channels.

Why? To get Sky+HD you must hand over more than £600 a year, and you can’t watch what you want when you want, or even guarantee what’s on will interest you. It’s a high price to pay.

On Freeview HD, meanwhile, the terrestrial HD channels put out a meagre menagerie of high-definition programming. Occasional highs, such as Champions League and high profile dramas, are mixed in with nonsense like Eggheads and The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Not until 2012, when the digital switchover is completed, will we see anything remotely approaching comprehensive. At present what’s on offer is little more than a token gesture.

Internet TV to the rescue?

Unlike Sky and competing services, where you pay a flat rate and hope there’s something worth watching, IPTV services (that’s TV over the internet to you and me) like Apple TV lets you pay only for what you want, when you want it. No monthly subscriptions, just high-definition on-demand. Its selection of TV programmes are still rather limited, but its library of films is comprehensive.

There’s further competition on the horizon, too. Patrick Steen has already enthused about YouView’s potential to save the TV licence here on Which? Convo, but its potential to re-ignite the HD revolution is equally strong. Without the limitations of the UK’s TV network, YouView will be free to offer as much HD content as it likes and all of it on-demand.

Also coming soon is Google TV, which launched in the US recently. If and when it arrives on our shores it could herald another leap into wider, richer content as it promises to ‘make the web a channel’.

However, despite much fanfare, it’s had a lukewarm reception so far and offers little original programming itself, merely the means to access it in a slightly different way.

Stuck in the broadband slow lane

IPTV has a similar roadblock as traditional TV, however. To stream HD video you need a fast internet connection, and too few of us have that pleasure.

Virgin has the fastest network, and BT plans to roll out high-speed services next year, but due to the need for “competition” BT will lay many of its lines alongside Virgin’s. It’s a ridiculous waste of money that ensures the majority will remain in the broadband slow lane.

There’s more high-definition choice for the lucky few, then, but it’s hardly ‘access for all’. Roll on 2012.


We splashed out on a HD TV – against my better judgement but the other half insisted it was necessary (When is a TV ever ‘necessary’ but that is another topic!). What a waste of time! We are also silly enough to have SKY HD+, another waste of money!
Every evening is diligently spent going up, down and all around the TV viewing guide.
The options boil down to re-runs of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ which you almost know every word of, repeats of repeats of ‘Come Dine With Me’ etc etc……………….
Our ‘broadband’ is capped at half a Meg as we are too far from the exchange to receive anything faster – and you all think you have poor speeds? – so any online video, TV etc is totally out of the question!

Phil says:
6 November 2010

There is a problem with HD in that the broadcasters feel they must spoil it by sticking a logo on the screen to permanently remind you you’re watching an HD broadcast. That surely runs counter to the whole concept of HD,

Anyway, as Danny says what people really want is an improvement in programme quality not picture quality.

Mike Hahn says:
9 November 2010

I really do agree very strongly about the inclusion of silly onscreen logos (like HD). More and more channels seem to do this. I seem to recall that sometimes the BBC News Channel has about six logos and tickers. It looks as if, eventualy, the programme content may be confined to a tiny remianing window.
This needs to stop.

I have normal analogue, digital and Freesat TV with HD programming viewed through a 37inch plasma screen. There is a massive improvement in picture quality going from analogue to digital but the difference going from digital to HD is tiny and only noticeable in HD nature programmes and sport, certainly not worth paying extra for. The digital transmitter in my area is weak so programme breakup is regular but Freesat is as good as Sky albeit with fewer film and sport channels.

Paul Thomas says:
9 November 2010

I switched to a HDTV nearly 3 years ago as a replacement for a CRT TV. Typically the same size of Sony TV is around half the price I paid at the time and image quality has also improved. HD programmes weren’t around at the time but of course we were all stunned by the pictures in store ( which were all HD !!) and expected an improvement – but not of course HD quality. Yes the screen was bigger and brighter and the size of the TV significantly smaller. It wasn’t until HD programmes were available and then blu ray that the TV came to life. All at significant cost. To get a range of HD programmes does however require a £10 monthly Sky subscription.Even then not all programmes broadcast are HD of course so this is around 40% of my monthly subscrition just for HD???. Then there’s blu ray. A whopping premium for blu ray compared to DVD – double or more – but that is changing. So, in all it’s the price you pay for getting in on new technology early. Prices will come down ( except Sky which always go up) and technology moves forward . Next it’s 3D and having seen Sony and Panasonic it’s brilliant. Then what happens to the LCD/LED TV’s we’ve all just changed to ?. And what about the 3D glasses costing £100+ per pair ???? Do we really want to invest again in technology thay will quickly move on….plus of course pay Sky even more for the privelege.

The difference between Digital and HD pictures is marginal. Given what is available on HD, free to air it’s currently not worth the hassle. I have Freeview and Freesat but only 3 HD channels available to me plus about 100 other channels of absolute rubbish. These bits of technology plus the hard drive, blue ray and the surround system cost me a fortune and already they’re out of date. I hardly ever use them and it’s just another collection of odd bits under the TV. Back to books I think!

Dave says:
9 November 2010

I have a Panasonic 42″ Plasma TV coupled to a SKY HD box, and I must admit I struggle to notice a huge difference in picture quality. Yes the picture is good in HD but the normal digital picture is good too. I also think some HD broadcasts are better than others, for instance I find sport on the BBC or Sky is far superior in picture quality to ITV when using their HD services. Oddly enough the sound seems much sharper on the HD channels, is it supposed to?

As for 3D, had a look at it in the shops and find it artificial and odd so that’s not for me at present.

mike byrne says:
9 November 2010

I love the picture quality particularly on sports programmes.
BUT I and many others of my age group ( A TOUCH GERIATRIC!!) find the SOUND has deteriorated .There appears to be too much back ground noise which spoils the audio output AND the very annoying bit is that the words we dont catch usually are always very important to the solution of the subject . I agree with the remarks above for heavens sake take the channel logo off the screen it drives me barmy!!. Have just noticed DAVE above has exactly the opposite opinion as me to sound repro. Can I borrow his hearing aid ( Sorry Dave). If I get a reply could you please speak up!!

Have had HD television via satellite for a year or so. I failed to see any difference between it and SD until I spent £50 on a HDMI cable. That appeared to improve things for some very odd reason as most people say it is pointless spending more than a few pounds on a piece of wire. I seldom bother now to switch from terrestrial to HD as the difference is not worth the trouble. Maybe a change from my 100hz 32″ tv receiver would help , but I don’t know !

mo gaston says:
9 November 2010

i bought a 47″ hd tv in oct 2008, along with sky basic, i then bought a blu ray system in oct 2009, along with sky hd + to see what all the fuss was about,well i was really astounded at the sheer magnifigance of the david attenborough programs & blu ray films are terrific. i have spent the last year shaking my head in disbeliefe at the quality of hd/blu ray, BUT after saying that sky is not worth the money to recieve all this. if your on a tight budget forget about it, unfortunatly i have to as i will be the last to get freeview

As well as finding the channel logos really annoying, I also find it incongruous that with all the money invested by the broadcasters and viewers to get widescreen TV that they still place the on-screen ticker tape bands and side information banners (such as with F1 and horse racing) right over the important bits of the picture. Do they still live in the 4:3 era?

Why won’t they stick them along the bottom or edges out of the way of the action?

And which moron thought of the idea of splitting the closing screens into a geometrically distorted view so that they can advertise the next program (also geometrically distorted) and talk over the top of the closing music?

Immediately following the program, they (the BBC is the biggest offender) then show another preview for a later program followed by the announcer telling us what’s on next and later in the evening again. Are they complete morons?

Upggraded to SKY+HD thinking I probably was’nt getting the best out of my Panasonic 37″ plasma(Which Best Buy) bought in january 2008.Although not 1080i,excellent viewing enjoyed particularly via Freeview & Sky,albeit occasional “picture bleeding” from18months old,no extended warranty,so live with it for now.Perhaps should investigate potential for repair and at what cost.TV cost approx £800 when new,could’nt believe currys was easily the cheapest at the time,normally avoid them.
Can’t see any difference between normal & HD, maybe latest technology better, but unconvinced.

I’m a Home Cinema fan and my experience over the years is that to get the best out of a HD Tv is that it must be set up correctly. The settings out of the box usually give you over saturated and high contrast pictures which doesn’t do the pictures any favours but sells tellys! I would add that HD is best viewed on a HD tv that reproduces 1080p pictures which current models tend to but older ones don’t. If you are keen to learn a bit more about setting up your tv correctly look here:http://www.thx.com/consumer/home-entertainment/home-theater/thx-optimizer/
The test card can be found on a few DVD’s notably Star Wars Attack of the Clones.

Isn’t it ironic that we all spend more and more money on buying the latest hardware in order to receive ever more banal and predictable programmes.
42in Panasonic plasma (chosen largely because of its Which? 5 stars for sound quality) with a freesat pvr from Humax gives excellent HD pictures but in truth they are only about 10% better than SD.