BBC HD Picture Quality: some myths laid to rest
Over the course of the last week, the debate about BBC HD picture quality which has been running since August has entered a new phase. The Head of Technology for BBC HD, Andy Quested, has serialised an extended review of his response to all the areas that have been covered over the course of the many posts on this subject, and included in that epic some insights into the results of the technical tests that have been carried out to assess picture quality. Looking at your comments I can see that there are still areas on which our views differ.
As I have said previously our BBC HD service is optimised to deliver to typical viewing set ups - it is not designed to be perfect at very close quarters, or on a 90" projection screen for example. No HD channel as a general rule will offer the same quality as bluray, any more than standard definition television offers the same quality as DVDs. The work that of course has taken place behind the scenes to assess whether - aside from our technical view - the majority of viewers watching in normal situations in their living rooms are happy with the picture quality on the channel has shown that as a group, they are.
In broadening the range of programmes we make in HD, and increasing the number of hours of programming made available, it is inevitable that there will be greater variation in styles. Standard definition television - at least from the BBC - does not offer a consistent "look", nor would we want it to. HD from the BBC does deliver in a range of styles - and that is not always the bright, crisp look which for some is synonymous with HD. There are a number of programmes that we make where that kind of appearance would feel very odd indeed. Different types of cameras used in different ways, with different techniques in post production, will deliver different outcomes. That is a key part of the migration of HD from the (albeit beautiful) margins of television to the mainstream. And it is in my view critical that as HD takes hold across television production there is scope for directors and producers to experiment. The challenge for those of us overseeing that progression is to take a view on the outcome of those experiments, to embrace those that deliver advances and to kill off those that don't. It is worth saying that there is a strict process of technical review for every programme delivered to the BBC (in SD or in HD), and that not every HD programme passes those tests, or proceeds to HD broadcast.
There has been a very thorough process of engagement by the BBC with these issues - both via the blog and through other routes. But that engagement in the debates around picture quality cannot automatically deliver agreement. There are programmes which some feel look disappointing, and others which are generally felt to look great. There have been no changes to the bitrate (of 9.7mbps) over this period. As we have indicated, there are some concerns that we have about picture handling in very specific circumstances by the new encoders. These are being addressed and will be fixed through software releases over the coming weeks.
But let me lay some myths to rest:
These are actions that we would have taken in any case because to produce an HD service which looks the same as an SD service would clearly be a waste of time The reduction in bitrate is not specifically related to Freeview HD - and to us it is absolutely critical that HD in general, and the BBC's HD service in particular, is available to everyone in the UK who wishes to watch it, whether that is through a subscription or a non-subscription route, or indeed on demand through BBC iPlayer.
The BBC is not launching BBC One HD early next year on Freeview - as one newspaper report has suggested. We are, of course, offering BBC HD (our existing service) through Freeview HD which will become available to consumers early next year in parts of the UK, and we will of course continue to look at how we can strengthen and expand the range of content which the BBC makes available in HD, recognising that you and others in our audience have indicated to us already that you would like to receive a BBC One HD service from us.
There will be no "closing down" of this debate, any more than there has been to date. At times for administrative purposes it makes sense to concentrate discussion on a particular topic within a single thread. I don't think there is anyone reading this blog who could legitimately claim that they have been unable to find somewhere within the BBC to make their views clear. Although our views may differ at times, I know that we do share a passion for HD as simply a fantastic way of bringing television pictures to life.
I feel that it is now time to draw a line under my further contribution here to the debate here. I'll be focusing on - and blogging about as appropriate - other issues relating to the development of BBC HD. And I will of course be keeping picture quality along every part of the HD production and broadcast chain under surveillance.
Danielle Nagler is Head of BBC HD, BBC Vision