The French are planning to provide high-definition channels on digital terrestrial television from as early as 2008. They have concluded that it will be possible to fit three high-definition channels on a single multiplex which is currently unoccupied. It raises the question of how soon high-definition could be made available on digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom.
The French broadcasting regulator, the CSA or Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, has concluded following a public consultation that high definition will be the standard television of tomorrow. It believes that the rapid adoption of digital terrestrial television and high-definition television sets suggest that high-definition should be rapidly introduced on one multiplex.
Tenders will be invited for two channels. Another will be reserved for public service broadcasting. Meanwhile the introduction of high-definition services on other multiplexes will be suspended.
The availability of high-definition services is seen as a priority, although other new services envisaged include personal mobile television and local television channels.
There is still some debate as to whether 720p or 1080i formats should be used. It is envisaged that an average data rate of 7-8Mbps would be required. The majority of respondents to the consultation did not regard interactivity as a priority in comparison to improvements in picture and sound quality.
While the French appear keen to introduce high-definition on digital terrestrial television, there is no official timetable for such services in Britain.
A technical trial has been conducted in the London area but there is an apparent shortage of spectrum for national channels in high definition, at least as the multiplexes are currently constituted.
BSkyB has meanwhile proposed to introduce a pay-television platform on digital terrestrial television using MPEG-4 compression to broadcast four subscription channels in place of the three channels it currently provides.
Ofcom, the communications regulator in the United Kingdom, has adopted a more laissez-faire approach than its French counterpart. It favours an auction of the spectrum to be made available by the end of analogue television transmissions, arguing that the market should determine the re-allocation of the resulting digital dividend.