Sunday 20 Apr 2014
This November, viewers who have HD, either via Freesat, Freeview, Sky or Virgin, will be able to tune in to the new, dedicated BBC One HD channel, which will simulcast with BBC One. Like its standard definition counterpart, BBC One HD will broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, showing some of the channel's best-loved programmes, including Strictly Come Dancing, Holby City, The One Show, The Apprentice, The Weakest Link, QI and, by the end of the year, EastEnders, which has recently started filming in HD.
Here, Danielle Nagler, the Head of BBC HD and 3D, talks to Programme Information's Jane Dudley about the launch of BBC One HD and explains why high definition is here to stay.
"We've known for a long time that what people really want to watch in HD are the programmes that they really love and enjoy in standard definition. BBC One is the UK's most popular television channel and, therefore, we want to make sure that we bring it to viewers in the best possible quality. BBC One HD has come out of that thinking and we're really delighted that, as of 3 November, everyone who has an HD television and an HD connection will be able to watch not just the existing BBC HD channel, which brings together the best of the BBC's programmes from across our channels, but also a simulcast of BBC One in high definition, too."
The BBC HD channel currently reaches between two and three million people a week, with figures even higher during big events such as this summer's World Cup, and it will continue to be the home of many HD favourites including Top Gear, Wimbledon and golf coverage. BBC HD was voted Channel of the Year by Freesat viewers last year and has also won TRIC awards for HD Programme of the Year for coverage of the Beijing Olympics (2008) and for the natural history series Life (2009).
BBC One HD will be available – from Wednesday 3 November – on Freesat channel 108, Freeview channel 50, Sky channel 143 and Virgin Media channel 108.
BBC HD will be available – from Wednesday 3 November – on Freesat channel 109, Freeview channel 54, Sky channel 169 and Virgin Media channel 187.
"Being available on all platforms is very important to us," says Danielle. "The reason we have HD channels and have worked hard to make sure we make and broadcast more new programmes than anyone else in the UK, probably anyone else in the world, is because we believe that HD is simply the next generation of great quality television, and we start from the belief that every licence-fee payer in the UK has the right to access really great television free at the point of use."
The BBC is making great strides in driving the uptake of HD across the UK, right down to helping producers across the television industry make the transition to HD equipment. "We're sharing our learning about what works and what doesn't work to provide producers with advice about how they make the move to HD so that the industry as a whole has support from the BBC. Many producers have already made it but many of the smaller companies still need to and it can be challenging.
"Production companies, camera people and others who are involved in the production of television have been working in standard definition for a very long time. For experienced technicians HD is not a massive change – there are similar kinds of cameras and a similar kind of process, and it's certainly not as tricky as 3D – but it requires a slightly different approach and a clear understanding of how the slightly different tools work and what you're going to get at the end.
"I think one of the things that's really exciting that we're starting to see is the way that some directors and producers are starting to use what HD can do to create things that you just couldn't do in standard definition – things like grubby fingerprints on some glass in a scene to convey a sense of it being slightly seedy. In standard definition you can't see that; the cameras are not sufficiently detailed to show you that as a viewer. It's small elements like that which make us believe that HD can really help to bring television alive in a different way."
It's also those elements that the BBC is keen to make the most of as the BBC One HD launch approaches. Says Danielle: "I think, increasingly, HD is becoming a new normal way of watching television and most people spend a lot of their time watching regular programmes, whether it's Strictly Come Dancing, EastEnders, Waterloo Road or Doctor Who. And so what we're working quite hard on is thinking about how HD can best enhance those kinds of programmes. How can it make the thrills more exciting, whether it's Top Gear careering around a bend or the monsters in Doctor Who? How can they make the real even more real, so that when you're sitting in your living room you genuinely feel as if you're transported to the places that a series like Life goes to? Or how can it make you feel that what you're seeing in the Solar System is really coming at you into your living room?
"It's kind of obvious if it's a concert or a sporting event but, actually, I think what HD does when it works really well is it helps to dissolve your television screen and make the scene come more alive."
And it's not just producers and technicians who need to familiarise themselves with what HD can do – presenters need to be aware that every flaw will show when their faces are beamed across the nation in HD. Thankfully, says Danielle, no presenters have objected – yet. "I think presenters are remarkably relaxed about it, given that HD is not always tremendously kind. I think there are programmes like, say, Cranford, which are about showing you the wrinkles and the age of the faces, where HD can positively enhance the look. But I've had no feedback from presenters who have said, 'I won't do that show because it's in HD'. I'm sure there is some nervousness but I'm told there have been no issues."
The skill of the make-up artist is also invaluable and, says Danielle, they are also learning new techniques. "Make-up artists have said to me that they tend to use airbrushing rather than a regular brush if they are applying foundation for HD because, obviously, you won't then see any finger marks. If you look at someone like Cheryl Cole on Children In Need Rocks The Albert Hall last year she doesn't look any less beautiful in HD than she does in SD. HD will show flaws but it's not as unkind as you might think, and television directors, lighting experts and make-up artists build their professional lives out of making those who appear on television look good.
"It's sometimes more of an issue for props and effects within a programme, so for example in moving Holby City to HD they had to look quite carefully at the kind of blood they used because HD shows colours slightly differently and the blood they had been using looked rather brown and not red!
"For BBC programmes in particular, obviously, we're quite careful about brands and brand names. In standard definition, you know that if something is out of shot and at the back, in the background, you're not going to see any of the writing on it. But in HD, depending on how the scene is shot, you may be able to see every detail at the back of the screen, and that means you may have to think differently about what you put in there, where you use an artificial prop rather than something that's real and where you allow branding to stay on as it might be legible to viewers."
Since the BBC HD channel first launched in 2007, the cost of buying HD-ready televisions has come down dramatically. So, too, has the cost of making the programmes. "Five years ago it was definitely more expensive to make HD television," says Danielle. "The cameras were new, there was a limited range, people didn't really know what they were doing, they needed a bit more time to make a programme and all those things add in cost. Now, depending on the kind of programme you're making, if it is more expensive [than standard definition], it is only marginally more expensive, by which I mean considerably less than five per cent. Often there is no difference. HD is the default format for international sales and therefore the biggest challenges in terms of cost are around things like outside broadcasts."
While events like Wimbledon have been in HD for some time, the outside broadcast that's likely to be the biggest the BBC has ever known is the 2012 Olympics in London. "I think it will be the point at which the majority of the population will have HD," says Danielle. "While HD was available for the last Olympics, I think by 2012 the majority of people will actually watch most of the television coverage (that they watch on television sets as opposed to online), in HD. And that, I think, will be transforming."
Note to editors: At the launch of BBC One HD, some of the programmes will not be in HD.
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