BBC cuts HDTV bit-rate
Chris Forrester

Now we know why the BBC’s HDTV images are suffering. Ordinary viewers have been complaining about the BBC’s picture quality, and there’s little doubt amongst the industry’s ‘golden eyes’ that the bit-rate spigot is being tightened.

The topic managed to get itself raised on the BBC’s viewer forum ‘Points of View’ show recently, where it was admitted the quality aspect was now a “red hot” subject in terms of viewer complaints. Viewer Robin Boyce grumbled that the picture used to be “stunning, but nowadays it is all too often little better than standard TV”. Another viewer complained that the bit-rate had been reduced by 40% leading to programmes that look like they’re being broadcast in standard def.

Danielle Nagler, the recently-appointed head of BBC HD, admitted that the BBC had reduced the HD channel’s bit rate. She claimed that there was no evidence that a reduction in bit-rate reduced the picture quality! She said the BBC was still in a period of looking at what HD can offer, and that there was no “single look” for HD. She said that “some viewers would prefer a particularly crisp look for everything on HD” but that this was not a road the BBC would ever go down.

One theory is that the Freesat bit-rate is being squeezed so that the ‘quality’ aspect will not be noticed when the BBC launches its terrestrial HD channel on Freeview.

Ms Nagler does not have a technical or engineering background. Appointed to the HD job in July 2008, she had previously worked as head of Mark Thomson’s (the BBC’s DG) office. Prior to this she worked on the BBC’s Charter Renewal project.