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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

Saturday, 28 October 2017

10:59 PM

Finn: You make an excellent point - I checked out, and yes, its only the first season of The Americans on Blu Ray. And so on...

Its very strange, but the relative lack of TV Blu Ray releases might be for two reasons.

1) Since you can stream a box set, perhaps its more cost effective/profitable to simply have a streaming HD version only - the West Wing has a DVD box set (bought it, watched it, watched it again, watched it...), but you can stream an HD version.

But the more likely is:

2) The circular argument is that most people still buy DVD's, rather than blu-rays, so the commercial logic is therefore to release a DVD version (which is cheaper), but the blu ray is for 'special', or at least sets that you know will sell. But since of course you can't buy a Blu Ray version, you end up buying the DVD version, thus ensuring they will carry on bringing out DVD versions....

At some point this will change, if only because watching a DVD on a 4K screen is an underwhelming experience, but its not going to be easy to change people.

As Father Dougal McGuire would say, 'its mad!'

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Monday, 4 December 2017
Willie Bone

10:07 AM

'Why do less than one in five people with an HD set watch in HD?'
The short answer is some people cannot perceive it, irrespective of academic ability or how good their sight is!
Some people are deceived that UK DAB radio is in good quality sound, but yet others perceive DAB as nothing more than a mid fidelity system and have since moved platforms to get their acoustic pleasing fix, either by streaming online radio or plugging satellite radio (on tv) into a hifi system for selected services!
Back to HD, it is a perception issue shared with widescreen transmission, some people are actually blind to picture enhancements!

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Willie Bone's 58 posts GB flag

2:52 PM

Willie Bone: I'm having this argument on another forum, where someone is asking for proof that Blu Ray looks better than DVD!

I still get asked it in store, and its very easy to show the difference between BBC1 and BBC1 HD. The ones that dont see it are generally older grumpy blokes who have got a dappy notion in their heads, and no matter what proof you show them, will refuse to admit to it. They can see it, but just dont, if you catch my drift.

As for DAB vs analogue - who cares? People are signing up for digital, be it DAB, streaming via the net, Deezer, Spolify, etc. The only people who worry about the difference are not buying new stuff generally anyway. The market decides, and they seem to like more channels, whatever the supposed difference in quality is.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Sunday, 14 January 2018
Mr. R Baylis
10:58 PM

Whilst I agree that a lot of time warp TV channels show old programmes that weren't made in HD there's a huge amount of current content and movies on the main channels that benefit from HD, especially on a large screen. I'm 60 and I can assure you I always notice the difference between SD and the equivalent HD channel. The same with a DVD vs a Blu-ray. How can anyone not notice?
It's not an age related eyesight issue. Just people not caring and prepared to accept a sub standard image.
It's the same when I walk into someone's house and they have their TV set to stretch the picture to fill the screen regardless of the source. Old 4:3 shows look appalling like this; circles are ovals, people look fat, etc. Why put up with that?

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Mr. R Baylis's 7 posts GB flag
Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Brian Wright

10:26 AM

Mike B.
At some point this will change, if only because watching a DVD on a 4K screen is an underwhelming experience, but its not going to be easy to change people.
The other nail in the coffin for watching HD freeview TV is viewing on a 4K Oled tv(or LCD) come to that. What a disappointment this is at the moment because of the necessary Upscaling . Without any possibility of Freeview TV upgrading to 4k in the next few years its a pity. Having looked into upgrading my Panasonic Plasma TV for an Oled UHD TV I am very disappointed with the poor rendition of flesh tones even in the live broadcasts when compared to an HD only screen panel.
The early HD. 1080 Oled screens were only available in HD but were quite exhilarating to view Freeview Broadcasts but they were quickly dropped from production for the next technology, 4K UHD. The displayed Freeview pictures were certainly much better than when viewed on a 4K UHD panel. Having to heavily process the Freeview HD transmissions by using up scaling does nothing to impress me. I'm afraid that having to get the Oled UHD viewing experience by only viewing Blue Ray content is not good for most viewers.

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Brian Wright's 77 posts US flag

2:05 PM

Brian Wright: I'm surprised your OLED isn't giving you a good picture in HD - upscaling and processing on a decent 4K is normally pretty good, and and OLED is generally very good.

Certainly all the OLED's we have where I work are generally on HD feeds (because its what I expect customers to actually watch most of the time), and they are all very good indeed (although the Panasonic is my favourite, and OLED is indeed the nearest to plasma for skin tone and black levels).

Dont forget that the difference between broadcast HD and blu ray is between 1080i and 1080p - I've seen 4k sets using both LED and OLED on both, and the difference isn't huge between either source.

LG did make their first OLEDs in HD and 4K, but since they were relatively expensive and the market was moving towards 4K anyway, although they were cheaper, the HD panels were not as popular - people tended to want the lot at that price. However, we did have one customer who bought the OLED in HD, saying that he didn't need the 4K, but did want the picture quality. thats fairly pragmatic, but the market has moved to pretty much everything being 4K, and content is building.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Tuesday, 6 February 2018
Trevor Harris

12:54 PM

Broadcast TV generally uses very low bit rates which reduces the picture quality. The BBC is one of the worst offenders. Blu-ray uses much higher bit rates for vision and sound.

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Trevor Harris's 367 posts GB flag

10:01 PM

Trevor Harris: Really?
I checked the bitrates -…tes/ - the BBC seems little different from anybody else, at around 3.2mb - BBC iPlayer Help - General information about HD (High Definition)

Some people on the net argue that Freeview HD is slightly better than Sky in that regard, but even if its true, does it really matter?

Yes, Blu Ray is better (and a bit better than streaming http://www.expertreviews.…ty), but I can't see the average person being totally disappointed at the difference between a film on Freeview HD, Amazon Prime and Blu ray - I was very impressed with the HD versions of 2001 and LA Confidential the BBC showed last year, which would have used the blu ray versions, but broadcast in 1080i.

The problem isn't that people are disappointed with Freeview HD, its that they really havn't got used to watching in HD at all.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Wednesday, 14 February 2018

10:59 AM

Where we are in Cheltenham, for ITV, we are in the West. On Freeview, it is 3/103 for SD/HD but HD is Central rather than West. For Freesat the same is 103/111 with West on both SD and HD.

I emailed Freesat suggesting that to make it simpler for viewers, why not 103 for the West HD version. The reply was a flat NO and the implication being, what did the viewer know about these things. I understand for Channel 4 that the advertising regions may be different but 104 SD is excluded from out channel list as is 103 and 108 plus BBC Two SD.

Both Freeview and Freesat don't help on our devices as the order or the designated channel numbers cannot be changed. As a consequence, it is no wonder so many viewers watch in SD.

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DaveCheltenham's 35 posts GB flag

12:24 PM

DaveCheltenham: It isn't down to Freesat whether ITV put their HD channel on 103, this is decided by the broadcaster. Presumably ITV have decided to keep their HD version on the same channel number across England rather than swapping in regions where the same version is available in HD and SD. On our Humax Freesat box, selecting to watch or set a recording on ITV SD on 103 produces a prompt asking if we want to watch/record in HD or SD (the same applies on BBC 1 SD & BBC 2 SD although doesn't seem to be available for Channel 4).

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StevensOnln1's 3,647 posts GB flag
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