Nagler: 'Draw a line under BBC HD debate'

BBC HD head Danielle Nagler has said that she now wants to "draw a line" under recent debate about picture quality on the channel.

After the BBC introduced new encoders on August 5, the bitrate on BBC HD dropped from 16Mbs to 9.7Mbs, a reduction of nearly 40%. Viewers subsequently reported various problems with picture quality and sound on the channel.

In response, BBC principal technologist Andy Quested has issued a series of technical breakdowns on key areas affecting the channel - including the audio issues, a history of HD encoders, current EBU recommendations, the BBC's HD testing processes and how programming styles can affect picture quality - in an effort to assuage the widespread concerns.

However, Nagler acknowledged that fresh comments on the BBC Internet Blog have shown that "there are still areas on which our views differ". She stressed that BBC HD is optimised to deliver a good viewing experience to typical household set-ups and so it is "not designed to be perfect at very close quarters or on a 90" projection screen".

She claimed that no currently-available HD channel actually delivers the same picture quality as a Blu-ray disc, "any more than standard definition television offers the same quality as DVDs".

Echoing Quested's comments, Nagler said that BBC HD will always support a range of production styles, including ones that are not the "bright, crisp look which for some is synonymous with HD". She welcomed all efforts towards HD experimentation by production teams, but also stressed how important it is for the BBC to "embrace those that deliver advances and to kill off those that don't".

"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," she explained.

"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."

Nagler said that it would be a "waste of time" for the BBC to produce a HD channel which looks the same as an SD service. She also dismissed suggestions that the bitrate reduction on BBC HD is due to the launch of Freeview HD, or that the corporation plans to launch BBC One HD on digital terrestrial television in early 2010 - although she did acknowledge viewer appetite to receive the channel at some point in the future.

As BBC HD will be launched on Freeview HD next year, Nagler said that the corporation is focused on strengthening and expanding the range of content available for viewers. She therefore now wants to "draw a line" under debate about the channel's picture quality.

"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," she concluded.

"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 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."