People rarely complain about the resolution of television, although perhaps they should. The communications regulator in the United Kingdom says that in the last three years it has received no complaints about the picture or sound of standard definition television. As a result it is proposing to relax some of its technical standards.
In a consultation on Broadcast TV Technical Codes, Ofcom says complaints relating to the transmitted subjective picture and sound quality grades of the main standard definition public service channels on digital terrestrial television have been extremely rare in recent years. It reveals: “in fact no complaints on this subject have been received in the last three years”.
This is partly as a result of the move of television and production and distribution to the digital domain, although the regulator notes that digital pictures do not always achieve high quality.
Ofcom suggests that since commercial public service broadcasters that are operating simulcast high definition services are currently achieving generally good picture quality there is no longer any need to specify minimum picture grade requirements for standard definition.
The majority of standard definition channels on digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom are not even transmitted at the full resolution. 75 channels are encoded at ¾ horizontal resolution at 540×576 pixels and only 20 are encoded at 720×576 pixels. Most pictures are also interlaced, showing only alternate lines every other field. The colour information is also typically subsampled at half the horizontal and vertical resolution.
So the resolution of standard definition television is actually very low. Yet it seems nobody really complains about the resolution of television. Why should they? Most people do not really know how good television could be. They are generally more concerned about what they are watching, which is not to say they do not care about how it looks or sounds.
Even high-definition television, at 1920×1080 pixels is only 2 megapixels per frame. Even then, the pictures are generally interlaced and colour subsampled, with only 220 levels of brightness.
Ultra-high definition promises far better pictures, with higher spatial resolution of high-definition and the potential for wider colour gamut and high dynamic range and possibly higher frame rates.
For those proposing improvements in picture quality, it is telling that many people do not appear to care about the miserable quality of standard definition television, at least not enough to complain to the regulator. Then again, it takes a fairly miserable person to complain about such things, when there are so many other things about which one could complain.
Contrast the apparent acceptance of the technical quality of television with number of complaints that Ofcom reports for telephone, broadband and pay-television services. The latest quarterly industry average for landlines is 15 complaints per 100,000 customers, or double that in the case of TalkTalk. There was an average of 19 complaints per 100,000 broadband customers. Pay television attracted an average of just 4 complaints per 100,000 customers. Sky and Virgin Media generally produced the lowest number of complains across all these services. Sky produced just 1 official complaint per 100,000 pay-television customers, which works out at around 100 complaints a week.
Ofcom has a laissez faire approach to regulation. It is proposing deregulation of picture quality and resolution requirements, which it says is consistent with its principle of regulating only where necessary.
The regulator says broadcasters are best placed to make their own judgements about picture quality, although it expects them to be mindful of audience expectations of the quality of their services.
The reality is that standard definition television is already obsolete. Viewers are migrating to high definition and will eventually move to ultra high definition. Just because they do not feel motivated to complain about the quality of pictures does not mean they are good enough or that they do not care.
The consultation on Broadcast TV Technical Codes is available on the Ofcom web site.