Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Tuesday, 9 May 2006 16:22 UK

Will HDTV win over viewers?

Kevin Young
BBC News entertainment reporter

The BBC is to screen Planet Earth, Bleak House and the World Cup in high definition television (HDTV) as it begins a trial of the new broadcasting format.

Pandas, as filmed by the BBC's Planet Earth
The nature series Planet Earth is among the BBC's first HD shows
I am a heavy television viewer and like my gadgets. It is not long since I bought a new LCD TV set and it fits quite nicely in the corner of my small living room.

Now the latest piece of must-have kit has come along, and HDTV promises far more detailed pictures and sharper action.

But I am reluctant to find at least 500 for another set so quickly or almost the same again for a receiver.

HDTV is being touted as the future of broadcasting - but will it capture the imagination of the casual television viewer as well as the tech-savvy early adopters?

For those wanting to be there at the start of HDTV, the cost is the biggest obstacle.

A new HD-ready television is needed, along with a separate, customised set-top box to receive the satellite or cable signals.

England footballers during a match against Portugal
The World Cup is being pushed as a major reason to upgrade to HD
About 500 currently seems to be the entry level for HD-ready sets. But many shops are using advertising campaigns to push televisions priced at more than twice this sum.

The receiver costs another 300-400 and there may be a monthly subscription to watch anything more than free-to-air channels such as BBC One and ITV1.

In addition to the financial outlay, it seems that a large living room will be an advantage to fit in a screen that will show HDTV at its best.

Most HD-ready models start at 26" (66cm). But the more wall space you can devote to a plasma screen, the more likely it is that you will see drops of sweat on footballers' faces or every last shard of glass during an explosion on 24.

In order to sit back and watch a big plasma screen without damaging my eyes, I would have to knock down two walls and put my sofa in my neighbour's flat.

Jana Bennett, the BBC's Director of Television
Big screen and big sound are the way the television market is going
Jana Bennett
BBC director of television
But as well as all that, I actually think my TV's picture, with a digital satellite box hooked up to it, looks fine as it is.

Perhaps I need to see standard and high definition sets side-by-side to appreciate the difference - but I feel no great need to change.

The BBC is being cautious about its year-long trial of HDTV transmissions, emphasising that it is a learning experience.

Director of television Jana Bennett has faith in what she describes as "the desire for a big-screen experience" and says there is already a demand for HD sets.

"Without HD being broadcastable they're selling very fast, so that tells us something," she says.

"I think it's a part of a trend towards a more cinematic [experience].

"Flat screens are a lot to do with it because they don't take up so much space, but I think big screen and big sound are the way the television market is going, and really why the DVD market is so successful."

Gillian Anderson, one of the stars of Bleak House
The BBC will screen Bleak House in high definition at the end of May
And there are answers to many of the issues that might prove a barrier to owning HDTV.

Financial wisdom suggests the price of any electrical item will fall as soon as it enters mass production and appeals to a broader market.

People become used to new formats, so in the same way that sales of widescreen televisions have grown exponentially, HDTV is likely to become the norm at some point.

The number of HD programmes will increase over time - the BBC is expecting to offer two to three hours of primetime output per day by July.

And such sharp on-screen detail will appeal to owners of computer game consoles and film fans wanting to make the most of their DVDs.

Clearly, HDTV is in its infancy, with viewers and broadcasters alike waiting to see how it looks and works.

It is a format of the future and will need to be seen to be fully appreciated - but I will not be rushing to buy it quite yet.

SEE ALSO
BBC steps up high definition plan
09 May 06 |  Entertainment
Q&A: High-Definition TV
09 May 06 |  Entertainment
Sky sets date for HDTV broadcasts
04 May 06 |  Entertainment
World Cup TV trial seeks viewers
06 Apr 06 |  Entertainment
Sky HD on track for May roll-out
24 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
BBC to screen World Cup in HDTV
23 Mar 06 |  Entertainment

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