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Seetha Kumar Seetha Kumar | 08:59 UK time, Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Update 2008-05-12: Seetha replies to comments in this post.

I am the Head of High Definition TV for the BBC, and this is the first of what I hope will be an occasional series of blog posts.

logo_bbc_hd.pngEver since the service was launched, first as a trial and then as a fledgling channel on 1st December 2007, my team and I have been getting feedback from emails, letters and occasionally blogs and other internet discussions. The feedback from them has been helpful. (Of course, it occasionally helps that I am a glass-half-full kind of person!)

From the start, BBC HD's schedule and its programme hours were hot topics. Why are some programmes in HD and why are others not? Why is one programme simulcast when others are timeshifted?

There was an example in April in the Digital Spy Forums. Bfg20 said he would not have known that The Invisibles was a HD programme if HDfan had not alerted fellow bloggers. Yet, Hdfan is unsure why it is not being shown at the same time as BBC ONE.

The reason is that BBC HD is a showcase channel and we aim to show the best of the HD programmes from across ONE, TWO, THREE and FOUR. Heroes is being simulcast with BBCs TWO and THREE and we want to ensure an uninterrupted run, so we chose to broadcast The Invisibles at a different time.

We only show programmes which have been originally made in high definition and do not "up convert" whole programmes on BBC HD (i.e., we don't change programmes that were not originally made in HD into HD formats). It was a tough decision at the time, especially when the programme titles at our disposal was quite limited. But in two years, we have gradually built up our hours of programming and are slowly increasing our scheduled hours. We have four hours every weekday, with longer hours over the weekend and extended hours for live events. In September, we hope to show five hours of programming every day.

We need to get much better at communicating our schedules. Our website is now updated and our schedules will be published regularly. We're looking at the possibility of an email alert service for our schedule.

One of the exciting aspects of working on a new growing service - and one with a long future - is getting the foundations right. Sometimes, the pace of growth is slow, and the steps we take can only be baby ones. Our Principal Technologist Andy Quested has written an action-packed blog post about starting a HDTV service from scratch, which will be published tomorrow on the BBC Internet Blog.

By any standards, the HD world has been event-rich over the last two years. With Freesat today and Freeview in the future, the next phase promises to be just as busy. Incidentally, I'd like to squash the mounting speculation in some blogs: BBC HD will not be exclusive to Freesat. We are and will remain platform-neutral.

Our aim is for BBC HD to be a fantastic high-quality service and for you who watch it to absolutely love it. We know that you want many more programmes and we would love to have many more hours of programming than we have now. However, to get you a full schedule of nine hours will take a little bit more time.

There is a lot of great stuff coming up. For the first ever time, there is the Olympics in HD; the Eurovision Song Contest; Wild China; the Chelsea Flower Show; Euro 200; Tiger Spy in the Jungle; Natural World; Radio 1's Big Weekend; Expedition Guyana; Glastonbury' Who Do You Think You Are?; Ching's Chinese Kitchen; Francesco's Mediterranean Voyage; Ray Mears Goes Wild; Secrets of the Forbidden City; Gardener's World and The Proms - apart from, of course, old favourites such as Torchwood, Silent Witness and Hotel Babylon.

If you'd like to ask me any questions about the service, please do and I'll do my best to answer them.

Seetha Kumar is Head of HDTV, BBC Vision.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I really wish the BBC would stop deciding on behalf of its users which shows they want to see in HD. It's the same with the selection of shows promoted to the homepage of iPlayer.

    What about shows like Doctors? This is an afternoon programme, so simulcasting it in HD would be no problem.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am glad to hear that BBC HD is to be platform neutral. ITV HD is using freesat as an encryption platform to prevent people with Sky or FTA boxes viewing ITV HD. This seems to me to be against the spirit of Freesat as a FTA platform.

  • Comment number 3.

    So something that was meant to open the satellite market up is now going to divide it by making HD consumers pick between the two.

  • Comment number 4.

    I have been very disappointed with BBC HD service. Many series such as Dr Who, Waking the Dead and many football maches whould benefit greatly by HD. It is also disappointing that the football matches are not transmitted with surround sound as Sky is doing.

    I don't like not having a simulcast of BBC 1 as I have to continuously check to see if the program is available in HD. It gets even more difficult with programs like The Invisibles which is broadcast at a different time in HD. Simulcasing also gives the benifit of improved picture quality of upscaled SD programes.

    I am aslo concerned that the BBC only has one HD channel. This is not enough for the Olympics or Wimbledon. The Olympics could probably do with at least 5 HD channels to give good coverage. Please can we have proper continuity coverage of Wimbledon this year.

    I think the BBC could easily justify seperate sports channels instead of using interactive and channel hoping.

    Please can you confirm that F1 will be transmitted in HD.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think one of the biggest problems with awareness of programming on BBC HD is that your own listings magazine Radio Times fails to list a daily schedule.

    The Radio Times listings layout needs some attention in my opinion as you can read daily listings for Film 4 in no less than 3 areas each day - on the 'at a glance' column, the entertainment page and again on the movies listings - pure madness.

    The BBC can shout all they like about the quality and diversity of HD material they show but unless viewers know they are on it's pretty pointless.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks for the insight into the thinking behind the BBC HD channel. I write a blog (www.vmhd.blogspot.com) which comments on the HD programming available on the Virgin Media platform, and it's good to see that the BBC is giving its HD offering a higher profile now.
    It's very disappointing that so much of the BBC's best output in 2008 has not been shot in HD - Life In Cold Blood being a good example of something that was reported in the national press as being shot in HD but it turned out to be SD (albeit still stunning).
    The constant repeats are tiring (Later in particular) but Heroes, Damages and Mad Men are great.
    I'm disappointed that we're not getting this weekend's Indiana Jones film in HD as Raiders looked great - any chance of a few more films on the schedule? Holes was great.
    I think BBC HD has improved steadily since the channel became "official" - please keep up the good work, and I look forward to a summer of new HD programming on BBC HD.

  • Comment number 7.

    I understand you have a license to run upto 9hrs a day and you also mention this in your piece. I am aware that the current lot is 4hrs a day weekdays with longer at weekends - particularly Sunday. Although thankful that you are clear that by september you hope to get upto 5hrs a day this is painfully slow progress and very disappointing. It seems obvious from years and years of experience the beeb has of running BBC2 with sports and other miscellaneous events in the summer that it only takes one of these to "dent" the schedule. You either end up with hacked off sports fans or hacked off "normal" schedule viewers. I just can't see how you can run a proper channel with all this stuff on 4hrs a day. The same argument applies with films. To my mind it should still be labelled a test channel.

    Onto the content. The Rugby had great picture quality. The FA Cup football semi final was substantially below par, don't know what went wrong there. I'd do anything has been incredibly poor picture for a HD broadcast. Indiana Jones was about the biggest jump in quality I've ever seen and was a great idea to show it. The other thing I would say is that I watch quite a few progs on BBC1 like Question Time where you wouldn't expect great picture quality but production techniques seem to have been raised and the picture quality is much better even if it isn't in HD. This is very welcome.

    I think the comments about advertising of BBC HD and access to listings in radio times and other sources are very strong points that should be taken on board.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi just wondering will top gear ever make it on to BBC HD and my other queston is F1 going to be shown in HD like trevorjharris said.

    Thanks

  • Comment number 9.

    I imagine part of the problem of content is down to individual programme makers, rather than the BBC centrally.

    For example, to pick one show already mentioned, Russell T Davies has said that it was HIS decision not to film Doctor Who in HD for budgetary reasons ... he felt the additional funds needed for the HD equipment, HD quality CGI etc would detract from what makes DW what it is, i.e. new and interesting places, characters and monsters every episode.

    DW's only truly regular set is the TARDIS, and they spend literally only a few minutes per episode in there.

    On the other hand, he decided that they would film Torchwood in HD because those considerations were not likely to damage the show ... much of the show being filmed in the same place every episode, with The Hub itself used much more extensively than the TARDIS.

    I doubt very much that the BBC High Command decides what will and will not be HD and, as outlined in this blog, anything not native HD will not be shown on the channel.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for the info contained in your blog. I've been viewing BBCHD for over a year now and have been very impressed by the improved picture quality,
    You say "We need to get much better at communicating our schedules"
    but your BBCHD website now only shows listings for 2 days instead of a full week as before.

    Is this a temporary glitch? I hope so as the web site has been my only way of finding out what is going to be on and I, like many viewers I expect, like to plan my viewing a week at a time.

  • Comment number 11.

    I just wish on BBC One continuity links there was an HD logo similar to the Subtitles one, so when a programme is in HD you know to turn over to channel 143!

  • Comment number 12.

    The BBC effort with HD has been very half hearted. When digital TV was launched or shortly after the BBC expanded from just two channels to include BBC Knowledge, BBC Choice and BBC News 24 as well as other new digital services. HD broadcasting launched nearly two years ago but BBC HD is still only managing a single channel with usually only four or five hours content a day. Instead of driving the HD revolution the BBC is dragging along behind. Where's the ambition for HD in the BBC? Instead of the present situation a plan to symulcast BBC1 and BBC2 plus a third channel showing HD timeshifts from all BBC channels plus additional HD sport should have been put to the BBC Trust.

    I'd love to add HD to my 42" 1080p plasma but it'll be hard to justify spending £400 or £500 on a decent Freesat HD DTR and dish install for half a channel of BBC content and the bits and pieces from ITV HD and Channel 4 HD (when it goes clear).

    With nearly 90% of the country already accessing digital TV via the various platforms available the claim that Freesat is justified because only around three quarters of households can currently get Freeview isn't justified. It would have stood when Freesat was first announced nearly four years ago but with it delayed by three years the only justification left is the millions of households with HD Ready sets and no HD channels. If freesat is going to be a success it'll be because of quality HD content in quantity. The BBC should be taking the lead in this to secure a viable free HD platform and encouraging ITV and Channel 4 to play a bigger part.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for the information.
    I use www.radiotimes.com for BBC HD listings.
    Please remember for me HD includes Dolby 5.1 Surround sound. Please provide it when you can and make the extra effort to provide it for sports programmes.
    It seems to me that BBC HD can provide excellent quality video and sound, but for live programmes it takes considerable effort and resources to produce the best quality. Something you are not always able to provide. The problems may well be throughout the chain (On site installation, equipment used, mixing suites, and transmission to sky uplink...).
    My guess is that a lot of resources were deployed during the trial, such that we were exposed to the very best, with some experimentation. I think bit-rate drop may cause problems and hope you can revert to the maximum available. Do not be fooled into thinking that higher compression is an answer until the newer technology is available -then look at the compression artefacts.
    Thanks again (please kick ITV for their HD only on FreeSat decision).

  • Comment number 14.

    Any idea on a date for Eastenders and Casualty going HD Seetha?

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with many of the comments raised particularly the point about HD on Freeset.

    Freesats unique selling point is the fact that it offers HD programming with no subscription. The number of people owning HD sets is increasing daily and will only keep growing. Surely the BBC (and the other major broadcasters) must realise that rapidly offering a decent number of HD channels on Freesat is not a "nice to have" but an absolute necessity if the platform is to succeed?

    While I understand the rationale behind only scheduling true-HD programmes on BBC HD, in order to really promote the uptake of HD (and, therefore, Freesat) a full side-by-side BBC One HD and BBC Two HD with some content inevitably upscaled can't come soon enough in my opinion. By all means keep BBC HD as a 100% true-HD channel for the purists but you need to be pushing HD now, not in 2 or 3 years time.

  • Comment number 16.

    I must say I was extremly let down by the BBC last night in relation to HD coverage of the Eurovision song contest.

    First of all the audio was being sent in MONO for at least 30mins, then it switched to 5.1 for a few secs and then back down to 2.0 and to then top it off the picture quality changed so much we had to revert to BBC One - It appeared the BBC were upscaling the serivce on HD after an hour in.

    The help line to complain was engaged for at least 20min, and when it was answered I was advised to watch BBC One for a fault free viewing experience.

    BBC you let me down

  • Comment number 17.

    to andy quested.come on andy put this reduced bit rate to rest once and for all, answer the question honestly and stop behaving like a politician!!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Dear intoxicating2008

    Thank you for your comment - I didn't watch YCNY on Saturday night but I will check the recording on our archive as soon as possible. The archive records the multiplex transport stream so is exactly the same as the transmitted programme - faults and all!

    There are no comments in either the switching centre or transmission suite logs about problems with the programme. The studio sound team are not in at the moment but I will speak to them as soon as I can.

    One thing that puzzles me is the lack of other comments - nothing on Digital Spy who are never afraid to tell me if we are wrong

    Andy

  • Comment number 19.

    @ Andy

    You're replying to a post dated May '08, about the Eurovision Song Contest!!

    There were no problems with picture or 5.1 sound with YCNY.

    It was just an awful programme!!

  • Comment number 20.

    Derek500

    That'll teach me to try new technology and try to use a mobile device to repond! Have the text size sorted out now so the headers are visable.


    Andy

  • Comment number 21.

    I would like to comment about the episode of "Hunter" which was shown on BBC HD last night which was excellent and I was looking forward to the second episode, but cannot find it on next week's programmes. Surely, you are going to show episode 2?

  • Comment number 22.

    fabbluebirds, episode 2 of "Hunter" is not currently scheduled to be repeated on BBC HD, it does seem odd that they would show episode 1 and not schedule episode 2. Although bear in mind that the schedules are only published 7-10 days in advance. If it is going to be repeated it will show up on its page at /programmes:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hdpy1

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi,

    I've recently written in a forum the following:

    "Just wondering, we are all blaming the Fortec boxes for crashing, when maybe it's all down to the broadcast companies. As someone mentioned BBCI joining BBCHD. My box has only this week (23/03) started crashing when trying to view BBCHD. It use to crash on Luxe TV HD. However, there doesn't seem to be any problems there. I think the HD broadcasters are still in an experimental stage, which is the reason for so many FW updates."

    Is this correct? Shouldn't the broadcasters work more closely with manufacturers of any type of digital receiving equipment?

    Thanks

 

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