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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, 14 February 2018

4:12 PM

StevensOnln1: You don't mention BBC Four.

On Freesat, the services that have HD simulcast linkage descriptors are:

BBC Four
BBC Two Eng

Unfortunately, the transponder specified in the linkage descriptors for BBC Four and CBeebies is nearly always wrong.

This is from yesterdays Freesat EPG:

BBC Four, Wed 14 Feb 19:00 - 19:30 : Beyond 100 Days
The latest national and international news, exploring the day's events from a global perspective. Also in HD. [S] Followed by weather.

Linkage: 2.2050.8931 = not_found, event_simulcast, target_listed, target_event_id = A32C

Refers to 2050 so doesn't work. This is 2050:

10847.00 V 23000 2/3 DVB-S2 8PSK 0.25 28.2E
TSID = 2050 ONID = 2
SID service_name
6940 BBC Two HD
6941 BBC One HD
6943 BBC One NI HD
6945 6945
6952 CBBC HD
6960 BBC Two HD
6961 BBC One HD
6963 BBC One NI HD
6972 CBBC HD

What it should be is 2061:

11023.25 H 23000 2/3 DVB-S2 8PSK 0.25 28.2E
TSID = 2061 ONID = 2
SID service_name
8901 BBC One ScotHD
8911 BBC One Wal HD
8931 BBC Four HD
8932 CBeebies HD
8951 BBC Four HD
8952 CBeebies HD

Here's one that, unusually, does work:

BBC Four, Wed 14 Feb 19:30 - 20:00 : Bolsover Castle with Lucy Worsley: Secret Knowledge
Lucy Worsley tells the story of Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire Built in the 17th century, it became the pleasure palace of playboy Cavalier William Cavendish Also in HD [S]

Linkage: 2.2061.8931 = BBC Four HD, event_simulcast, target_listed, target_event_id = A5FA

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js's 826 posts GB flag

5:05 PM

js: I don't think I've ever tried to set a recording from BBC Four SD during the time we've had Freesat, as BBC Four HD has always appeared on the first page of the EPG. I've found HD simulcast linking to be a very handy feature, which was never offered on our Sky+HD boxes when we used to subscribe to Sky (cancelled around 3 years ago in favour of Freesat and Now TV passes for a handful of programs from Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Fox etc and Sky Sports F1 coverage for grands prix not shown live on Channel 4).

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StevensOnln1's 3,601 posts GB flag

5:37 PM

StevensOnln1: Well, I just grabbed the Freesat EPG and guess what...

The one that was working:

BBC Four, Wed 14 Feb 19:30 - 20:00 : Bolsover Castle with Lucy Worsley: Secret Knowledge
Lucy Worsley tells the story of Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire Built in the 17th century, it became the pleasure palace of playboy Cavalier William Cavendish Also in HD [S]

Linkage: 2.2050.8931 = not_found, event_simulcast, target_listed, target_event_id = A5FA

No linkages on BBC Four work until this:

BBC Four, Mon 19 Feb 19:00 - 19:30 : Beyond 100 Days
The latest national and international news, exploring the day's events from a global perspective. Also in HD. [S] Followed by weather.

Linkage: 2.2061.8931 = BBC Four HD, event_simulcast, target_listed, target_event_id = A70C

No linkages on CBeebies work until this:

CBeebies, Fri 16 Feb 14:55 - 15:15 : Show Me Show Me
15/26. Cellos and Hugs: Children's show. Chris and Pui say 'hello, cello' and listen to its gliding and plucking sounds with Teddington. Also in HD. [S]

Linkage: 2.2061.8932 = CBeebies HD, event_simulcast, target_listed, target_event_id = A587

I posted on here about this years ago and it's still not fixed.

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js's 826 posts GB flag
Thursday, 22 February 2018
9:19 AM

Reason 5:

Women who don't have anything to do with the setup and installtion of PVRs and TVs don't care a jot about my experience. I'll come in sometimes and find my wife watching an SD channel when there is an HD one available. It irks me because it is obvious to me even at my age, and also I know that the TV and the PVR will prompt to watch the HD channel when there is one....simply by pressing OK. She just ignores that. My friend's wife is exactly the same.

Reason 6:

The great HD con. Force everyone to go digital, encourage them to ditch their CRTs in favour of newer HD flat screen teles (not even 'full HD' at the time), and bang on about HD is incredible....but then don't broadcast very much in HD... and charge a premium for the privilege of watching HD channels on other pay services. A big con if there was ever one. Okay, I'm glad CRTs have all but gone but only because of the space saving...but I have to say that picture quality wasn't ever an issue on CRTs in my experience, and now SD on HD TVs is rubbish compared to broadcasts on CRT I beg to differ about SD not being too bad on good, modern 'FULL HD' TVs. I think SD often looks worse than on CRT...and not all channels are equal either.

HD is superior of course, and I'll choose that any day, but with broadcasters getting away with creating a two tier service by making SD free and HD premium it's killing it.

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Simon's 3 posts GB flag

11:14 AM

Another reason is that many programme listings in newpapers and magazines do not give the HD channel number, just the SD one. Hence many people do not know that an HD version is available without hunting for it. Many people can't be bothered to do that hunting.

It should be that listings show the HD number, where available, as a first preference with the SD channel number after. That may well encourage more to watch in HD.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag

4:37 PM

Simon: How is HD a con? The reason for the continuing use of SD is fairly simple - most TV's still have SD tuners, no matter if they are flat screens or not. Once there is critical mass, then HD will be the new default.

HD panels, like lots of technology, came in advice of the content available to show it off properly. But since all 5 main terriestial channels are in HD from any transmitter, its not as if their is no HD available.

Of course SD on an HD set isn't fantastic - any more than watching a programme made for a 405 line set wasn't quite as good on a 625 line set, and so on. In fact the history of TV is ones of constant attempts to increase screen resolution and quality, within the bandwidth available.

SD programmes tend to look fine on an SD screen - because they are in SD!.....But you cannot ever watch HD on an SD panel, so there you are.

At some point, T2 tuner will be standard, and SD will vanish, or at least wont be the default. And then people will complain how its looks on an 4K panel....

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Sunday, 25 February 2018
andy d
11:53 PM

I have a friend in his early 70's who does not even know what channel numbers relate to what stations on his EPG, without bringing up his Guide, so it is not surprising lots of people don't watch in HD, they're simply too tech phobic to get to grips with learning the channel numbers. It's not difficult but they were basically happy when there were just 4 channels, and haven't really moved on from those days. The same people struggle with mobile phone menus, and just tech in general, it's all wasted on them.

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andy d's 7 posts GB flag
Monday, 26 February 2018
9:18 AM

It certainly doesn't make it easier for the viewers that regional news are still only available in SD, that the channel numbers are inconsistent across providers and the fact that you on most TVs and PVRs cannot renumber the channels you actually want.

It continues to amaze me that many people are happy to cablecut free TV available in 1080i for catchup services in horrible quality - what looks like heavily compressed 480p (All 4, ITV Hub and My5). Only BBC has a decent catchup service video quality with ~2.2Mbps HD 720p and has even been working on providing UHD, 10 years ahead of the competition. Once again, people allow convenience to win over quality (like with MP3 64-/128-bit), even though content is only available for 30 days. I don't understand it.

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Finn's 5 posts GB flag

10:59 AM

Finn: Iplayer is usually at 1080i (the Blue Planet II in 4K that was streamable was simply stunning), 5 seems surprisingly reasonable, as is All4 (720P?, looking at it). I dont use ITV much, but yeah, it does look pretty poor. I might check later, since I'm curious now.

Of course for lots of people its down to bandwidth - some customers yesterday reckoned they could just about do SD streaming, and one thought they could get 0.5mb - so no Netflix there!

I can't quite understand the logic of people not using HD because the regional programmes are current in SD - they on for a total of about 50min a day, with the biggest block at 6.30-7pm. For BBC1, it even tells you which SD channel its on, etc. Its a bit like people not using their oven, because sometimes they might need to clean it!

The biggest single block to HD being standard is the same as I've always said - people just get used to pressing 1, 2, 4 or 4. If to that you add inertia, and the fact that a fair number of sets/boxes still just have SD tuners, then SD remains the default. Time and demographics will sort that out.

As for MP3 - perfection is the enemy of the good enough! Convenience will nearly always win over quality. Frankly, people actually stick with a less convenient solution to a problem, if thats what they have got used to, even though it might be cheaper or no more expensive. Thats the only way I can explain why DVD sales continue to be so strong, even though Blu-Ray has been out for a decade.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
11:12 AM

I disagree with your comments about BBC iPlayer and All 4 Andy.

To the best of my knowledge, the best current quality you can get with BBC iPlayer is 720p 50fps (apart from the UHD trial in Jan 2018). On which devices do you think they provide 1080i and why would an Internet streaming service use 1080i (which is normally used for flow TV broadcasting) instead of 1080p?

And if I try to watch All 4 it's definitely not 720p, it's horribly blurry, edges are jagged and scenes with eg moving tree leafs and/or the sea are terribly pixelated. I've contacted Channel 4 a few times and they have confirmed that they don't have any current plans of supporting 720p.

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Finn's 5 posts GB flag
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