menuMENU    UK Free TV logo TV



Click to see updates

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

Sunday, 13 January 2019
5:09 PM

We never watch in HD, for reason 3 but mainly because of terrible lip synch which is not curable with the available adjustment.

link to this comment
Banacek's 1 post GB flag
Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Bill Kocher

7:14 AM

Can I just point out all people over 65 do not all fall in to those catagories. My wife and I are in our early 70s. Most of what we watch is either recorded or streamed. Despite being on small pensions, we still subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and NowTV., as most of what's on main channels is crap. Only TV we watch as it happens are BBC Breakfast and Pointless in the evening.
As we now have a 49 4K tv, so watch everything we can in highest possible def we can. Some progs on Netflix and Prime are in 4K. SD is awful. Watch SD on a small TV and it's OK. I have set our Samsung Freeview channel list up so we can watch news in HD and just flick back one station to see SE today in what I refer to as blur-o-vision.
Also find it annoying that only iPlayer has an HD option. All4 and ITV hub just SD, so make sure we record these channels. Also so we can skip the ads! We watch Walter Presents progs on 4, which mean you can record first episode in HD, but Channel 4 then expects you to see the rest in SD as they only stream the other episodes. So programmes need to be good to keep us watching.

link to this comment
Bill Kocher's 47 posts GB flag

5:29 PM

Bill Kocher: I am delighted that your using your set to the full! And yes, watching streaming on SD is a pain, and pretty awful on a 4K set.

You are not entirely typical, but like a lot of things, it takes time. Old habits die hard. BTW - take a look at Iplayers archive - a lot of great stuff, box sets, and some things in 4K.

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Monday, 25 February 2019
barry lumley
8:49 PM

hd is not watched as cannot get local news comes from granda tv

link to this comment
barry lumley's 2 posts GB flag
barry lumley
8:52 PM

hd tv not watched as come from Granada tv and not anglia.

link to this comment
barry lumley's 2 posts GB flag
Saturday, 2 March 2019
11:10 AM

We see so many comments about OAP being dull-witted when it comes to tech stuff and these comments are usually made by the young. They forget that it is people who are now OAPs who invented the tech stuff!!! I am 72 years old and insist the HD channel is selected where HD is available. However I watch very little TV as 99% of the programmes are not worth watching - it's rubbish and it's often left on just as a background noise whilst doing other things like housework or cooking. As for streaming, it is brilliant for films, but again, I find it very rare to find one that holds my attention and interest.

link to this comment
Zrzavy's 1 post GB flag
Thursday, 7 March 2019
Roger Viles
7:49 PM

I am over 70 but do watch in HD if available. Many of the best quality programmes (not reality or game shows) are on BBC4 which from June will not be broadcast down here (Plymouth: Caradon Hill).
All to pander to more mobile phone users!
Will the BBC be reducing my licence fee to reflect the reduction in service?

link to this comment
Roger Viles's 5 posts GB flag
Brian Butterworth

9:20 PM

Roger Viles: I'm just compiling an article that I hope will answer the question of what will happen to Freeview HD missing services.

I'm sorry to say that for the moment, the BBC Four service on Freeview is on an "interim" service that was only ever meant to least until the start of 2020.

It should be possible to BBC FOUR HD/CBeebies HD to be restored to Freeview soon. It mainly depends on when the old non-Freeview boxes and TVs have been replaced.

link to this comment
Brian Butterworth's 38,902 posts GB flag

11:38 PM

Harry Viles:

There will not be any reduction in the cost of your TV Licence as it is to allow you to receive any avalable TV services as they are broadcast or via the BBC iPlayer, see
TV Licensing
The licence permits you to operate a TV set or similar receiver for those broadcasts. There are many occasions when the programmes being transmitted change, cease or are replaced. There is a summary that states: You must have a TV Licence if you: watch or record programmes on a TV, computer or other device as they're broadcast. download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer live, catch up or on demand.

link to this comment
MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
Friday, 8 March 2019
Roger Viles
3:59 PM

I was of course not seriously expecting any reduction in the licence cost, and nor is my name Harry!

link to this comment
Roger Viles's 5 posts GB flag
Select more comments

Your comment please
Please post a question, answer or commentUK Free TV is here to help people. If you are rude or disrespectful all of your posts will be deleted and you will be banned.

Privacy policy: UK Free Privacy policy.