BBC admits HDTV is being squeezed
Chris Forrester

The BBC's Roly Keating, formally the Controller of BBC 2 but now the broadcaster's head of archive content, has confirmed that the BBC has cut back its HDTV transmission bit-rate by almost 40%.

Typical transmission bit rates have tumbled from 16-19Mb/s to an average 9.7Mb/s, with the BBC saying it has done this as a result of new compression encoding equipment that had been installed. Last week a senior Ericsson/Tandberg official said he was aware of the industry concerns, and had himself noticed what he described as the lack of ‘Wow factor' that now seemed to affect the BBC's HDTV transmissions. "But Tandberg kit is not involved," said our source.

An application by a concerned viewer Mr Paul G Eaton to the BBC to have assorted BBC correspondence concerning HDTV released under the UK's Freedom of Information Act has had only a limited success.

The head of the BBC's HD efforts, Danielle Nagler, who is on record (see Rapid TV News Nov 12) as saying that there was no evidence that a reduction in bit-rate reduced the picture quality, has had her position supported by Mr Keating saying "no-one cares more deeply about maintaining, and improving the quality of service on our HD channel" than her and her team. She has promised that the BBC's Head of HD Technology (and highly regarded HD-guru) Andy Quested, would be making a disclosure on the amount of HD testing done.

Nevertheless, Keating also confirmed that the new compression equipment had resulted in unacceptable artifacts. "On occasion, a change in technology may have unpredicted results: it's clear for instance that the August switch from the old-generation coders to the new set caused a number of visible problems on air. Swift action was taken to acknowledge these problems, and to address them," he said in a note to Mr Eaton.