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Why do less than one in five people with an HD set watch in HD?

Research has shown that after over a decade of high definition television (HDTV) broadcasts, only 17% of people watch high definition TV channels. This is when three-quarters of UK homes has an HDTV as their main TV set. Why is this?

Did you pay good money for a TV and then never use it at it's best?  Photograph: unknown
Did you pay good money for a TV and then never use it at it's best? Photograph: unknown
published on UK Free TV

I have given some thought and I’ve come up with four main reasons:

  • Not everyone has a HD receiver;
  • It’s hard to find the channels in the programme guide;
  • Not all shows look that much better in HD
  • Eyesight is less good at the age where people watch lots of television

What do you think?


Reason 1: Not everyone has an HD receiver.

UK TV first started receiving Sky HD broadcasts in May 2006, Freesat HD in 2008 and finally Freeview HD in 2010.   The digital switchover brought free HD to all homes in the UK by the end of October 2012.

However, for several years, HD television sets had the words “HD ready” on them.   This means that the sets required an additional set-top box to get Freeview HD.  Or, they could use a Sky+ HD subscription box or Freesat HD receiver. 

That’s why in 2017, 77% of homes have an HD “ready” TV set as their main screen [1], but only 82% of those sets can watch a live HD service. [3]


Reason 2: It is a pain to find HD content as they are far away in the EPG

For the people who have the equipment to be able to watch in HD, it can still be very difficult to find the channels broadcast in HD.

Basically, this means you can’t surf the channel guide without making a very special effort to use the HD channels.    

The logical place to find an HD channel would be as in place replacement, but only the HD satellite services do these simple swaps.  So, the upshot is that even with the satellite swaps STILL only a third of BBC Two viewers watch in HD!  

This diagram illustrates the logic of HD channel numbers by showing their numeric distance to move from normal, standard definition (SD) to HD. 


How do we know this is an issue for lots of viewers?

However, what is very interesting is that the share of viewers using the HD services for viewing the main free-to-air, public service channels (which get 51% of total viewing) is [5]:

Why are the figures so low?    It’s because on all Freeview sets, the HD channel numbers are not swapped with the single figures everyone knows, so you must know to add 100, 96, 97, 3 or even minus 124 to get the same PSB channel in HD.

It’s a little better on Sky HD and Freesat HD where you get in-place HD swaps for Channel 5 and in England BBC Two HD, outside England BBC One HD and STV or UTV.    And you don’t need to hunt for the other HD BBC channels: CBBC, CBeebies and the news channel.


Will this problem ever be fixed?

Perhaps in hindsight it should have been the law for HD channels to be swapped into the EPG in the right place and for the broadcasters to provide regional news and adverts in HD for everyone? 

There are good technical and money reasons for this: the regional news on BBC One costs a fortune to provide but there’s no budget to broadcast them all in HD on satellite; Channel 4 and ITV are paid for by advertisers who paid for the regionalization of adverts.

This situation may improve when Freeview eventually becomes a “HD first” service, which might be in 2022 perhaps? 

So, making the total for HD viewing for these “big five” grow from 12% 2014 to 17% in 2016.    If you draw a line, it would make current final changeover date to all-HD …  2099.


Reason 2b: And your TV salesman isn’t going to explain this to you…

Understandably, TV sellers want to show their merchandise at its very best. And the best way to do this is by showing specially made, extremely high-quality videos.  Not by showing reruns of East Enders.  That means you don’t get to see how to set up HD channels when you get the TV home. And it would be a very dedicated salesman who had the time to show you.

Have a visit to your local TV store and you’ll see this in practice.   This week I checked out my local Curry’s PC World.  Curry’s was using their old favourite of blockbuster 3D animated movies, which always look good on any screen.


Reason 3: Not all shows look that much better in HD

If you have a relatively new TV, you probably won’t be too bothered about finding those HD channels. Your favourite shows will look just great even on the normal channels.

There are TV programme genres that do really benefit from being watched in HD, especially nature documentaries and live stadium sport.  But a lot of what people watch is news, soap operas and quiz shows. While these shows will look better in HD, the difference isn’t that great on modern TV sets.


Reason 3b: Shows made before 2009 were never made in HD

And you’re probably still watching a lot of reruns that were never made in HD anyway.

TV channels that show archive programmes (Drama, E4, Dave, ITV 3) or US imports (Pick, 5 USA) are incredibly popular among UK viewers. And these shows won’t have been produced in HD if they were made before 2009.  



Reason 4: Eyesight is less good at the age where people watch lots of television

Forgive me for pointing this out, but for many of us we just can’t see the benefit of HD television. If, like me, you’re getting near middle aged, you’ll know all too well that eyesight declines with age.   This is shown here on this chart.



And, its mostly people over 65 who watch a great deal of broadcast TV. Younger viewers prefer to use streaming services (Netflix, YouTube, etc.). And this trend is growing. [4]


Isn’t it ironic that the people who are watching the most broadcast TV get the least benefit from HD?






[3] page 79




[5] page 78

Help with High Definition?
Whenever i watch moving sport especially football I experience much poorer pictu1
In this section
Freeview removes com8 channels 1
20 Freeview HD TV channels to close March/June 2019 in Cornwall2
Channel 4 abandons Freesat HD in TWO DAYS3
Five tips for when you are buying a new TV to watch Freeview or Freesat4
All five public service channels now free to air!5
Will we ever have Freeview Ultra HD or Freesat Ultra HD?6

Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Edward Fowler
5:05 PM

Hi Brian, I have a new TV but I don't watch HD for the simple reason I have to pay for it from Sky. I have everything from Sky,telephone broadband and TV and pay 95 a month. My wife watch telly a lot we are in our eighties. I think the law should make HD free for all. Regards.Ted.

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Edward Fowler's 1 post GB flag

5:58 PM

Edward Fowler: There are numerous HD channels available for free with a Sky HD box (BBC1 HD, BBC2 HD, BBC4 HD, BBC News HD, CBBC HD, CBeebies HD, ITV HD, Channel 4 HD, Channel 5 HD, S4C HD, NHK World HD, RT HD, CNN HD being some of the main ones) even if you don't have a subscription. HD versions of pay channels that you receive as part of your Sky subscription are never going to be free as most of these channels wouldn't exist if they were not part of Sky's subscription packages.

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StevensOnln1's 3,639 posts GB flag
Thursday, 19 October 2017
R Murchie

11:31 AM

MikeB: I set my Samsung TV to default to my Humax box because:
a. I watch recorded programmes when it suits me in HD in better quality than BBC iPlayer, All4, etc
b. The Humax changes channels more quickly than the Samsung
C. The Humax information panel is much clearer than the murky offering from Samsung.
Otherwise I'm happy with the Samsung which pops up a little 'Watch in HD' banner if it is showing an alternative SD programme, is after the local news.

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R Murchie's 24 posts GB flag
Tim Caswell
7:31 PM

Simple! BBC1"HD" is still "switch to SD" for all regional News programs so, for example, if you watch BBC Breakfast in HD it entails swapping to the SD regional channel for the news or face a blank screen for 10 minutes i.e. switching to SD 6 times and back! No-one in their right mind would ever consider this so SD for the whole programme is the only sensible option.
I think it is absolutely shameful that this is acceptable given that ITV etc have easily accomplished this.

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Tim Caswell's 2 posts GB flag

11:46 PM

Tim Caswell: Actually, we do flick over to SD for the regional news (OK, not all that regional for us), and then switch it back to HD. Why watch everything is SD when you can watch 95% in HD, just because you need to switch between channels occasionally?

Its not 'shameful' that BBC local news can't be on HD, its simply down to capacity.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Sunday, 22 October 2017
Bill Kocher

9:12 AM

Yes I do the same and switch channels on BBC news in the morning. Can I also point out the local news is on for about 4, sometime only 3 minutes every half hour. Not 10! I do this using Freeview on my Samsung pressing the program buttons just one up and one down as I have set them next to each othe in Favourites. I do have a Virgin box, but there is no way to move the channels so I could swap easily. I live in a block flats were we can't have a sattelite dish, so no Freesat. We are also pensioners, but hardly ever watch live tv. We use iPlayer, Netflix snd Amazon, or record on the Virgin box.

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Bill Kocher's 47 posts GB flag
Bill's: mapB's Freeview map terrainB's terrain plot wavesB's frequency data B's Freeview Detailed Coverage
Monday, 23 October 2017
Glenn Causer
6:12 PM

ITV still does not broadcast in 5.1 surround sound

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Glenn Causer's 14 posts GB flag
Thursday, 26 October 2017
10:45 AM

As a side note it's also interesting (and sad) that most new TV series are only made commercially available on DVD (SD) and not Blu-ray (BD), even though they were produced and broadcast in HD.

I guess most people just don't care about the video quality which hurts the few people (like me) that do, because there isn't enough market to publish on Blu-ray.

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Finn's 5 posts GB flag

10:11 PM

Finn: Most New TV programmes do have blu ray releases (just look at the number of BBC releases) , its just that the SD release tends to be cheaper, and since a lot of people still havn't upgraded to blu ray, SD is what they buy. I've long argued its insane, and I suspect force of habit is as much a factor as anything.

BTW - check out your local branch of CEX for blu rays - I've had some pretty good deals from them, and I'm waiting for Wold Hall to appear at a good price.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
10:52 PM

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you MikeB.

AFAIK the following titles have been/will be released on DVD only, a mix of UK and international productions:

Safe House Season 2
Valkyrien Season 1
Ray Donovan Season 4
The Americans Season 4
Black Lake Season 1
Our Girl Season 3 (The Nepal Tour)
The Last Post Season 1
Strike Season 1+2
Montalbano (all 11 seasons)
This Is Us Season 1
Call The Midwife (all seasons, they seem to be available on BD A, not on BD B/region free)
The Halcyon Season 1
Silent Witness (all 20 seasons)

This is just a small sample of recent productions only made available on DVD. At least, I haven't been able to find them on BD on Amazon UK/LoveFilm By Post.

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Finn's 5 posts GB flag
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