Why Don't Australia's TV Channels Broadcast In HD?

Finally, someone's asking the big questions. Ed Husic, Federal Member for Chifley and Australia Tax fighter, has spoken in Parliament on the fact that Australia's main free-to-air TV stations still don't broadcast in HD.

Digital TV static image via Shutterstock

He even opens with a sneaky Game Of Thrones reference, noting that winter is coming... and that means the 2015 NRL season is about to kick off. Husic is a big fan of the Parramatta Eels, as well as the Sydney Kings and the mighty Western Sydney Wanderers, and likes watching them live and in person, but not everyone in Australia has that privilege. "Live sport is one of the great experiences you can have, but not everyone can get to a game, and they do prefer to watch on TV."

"Why are we being so poorly done by? There is a requirement that the primary channel be in standard definition in this country, and under the anti-siphoning laws you have to show a lot of these big events straight away on that primary channel — and that has an impact on what people can watch."

That combination leads, inevitably, to a situation where every major event in Australia — particularly sports like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, NRL and AFL grand finals, the FIFA World Cup — has to be shown primarily in SD. Some channels stand out, though — because SBS has a HD simulcast channel, you can watch some event broadcasts in HD if you so desire. But SBS is an anomaly, since competitor Ten sometimes doesn't show the F1 in HD on ONE, and having a simulcast channel just for HD is a waste of spectrum — if we're committed enough to the future to have switched off analog, we should be committed enough to switch from SD to HD.

The argument behind the primary free-to-air TV channels being in standard definition uses the reasoning that some people might not be capable of purchasing a high definition TV, and would therefore be discriminative. The data, though, doesn't back that up. Husic says that in nearly every state and territory capital around the country, where 89 per cent of the population lives, over 90 per cent of homes have a high definition TV. The vast majority of the population wouldn't be adversely affected, and would actually benefit. "It's the equivalent of putting E10 fuel in your car when 98 octane is freely available."

It makes sense that the major free-to-air TV channels have to be inclusive of as many viewers as possible, and that means catering to the lowest common denominator. But that doesn't necessarily mean excessively catering to outdated technologies — that's one of the reasons we switched off analog TV over a year ago.

Peak industry group Free TV Australia has actually lobbied Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the topic, and has been asked to make a submission on the topic by the end of March. Its members, the country's major free-to-air TV broadcasters, want HD on their primary channels. Channels already have HD spectrum, but waste it on multi-channels because legislation just hasn't caught up.

We've bemoaned the fact before that major sporting events are not shown in HD due to the frustrating combination of anti-siphoning laws and outdated legislation. Both components require some rethinking; the primary channel SD requirement is ripe for an update to reflect the number of HD TVs around, and anti-siphoning could do with a bit of a re-jig too. Take out the ability for channels to purchase broadcast rights and not show an event live (or at all), for one thing.

Husic's message to Turnbull is clear: "I certainly think the public would appreciate that we're able to change the law, cut the red tape, and make sure our sports are in high definition glory. It's the least you can expect in this day and age. The bulk of the public, and those that don't have subscriber TV, should be entitled to see something that in this day and age in other parts of the world are freely available."

You can watch Husic's speech to the House Of Representatives below:

Looks like Turnbull is keen, too:

[YouTube]


Comments

    I don't understand the assertion that they don't broadcast in HD because people don't have HD TV's. I assume that by 'HD' they are talking about 1080 line resolution, and 'SD' refers to 720 line. I know there are plenty of TV's around that are SD, these simply scale the HD content to suit their display resolution. As far as I can see, it's a completely invalid argument. Am I wrong?

    Last edited 27/02/15 10:02 am

      Nothing to do with HD TV's, it's to do with HD set top boxes. The govt, in their wisdom, paid about $500 per pensioner to install an SD STB. These will not decode HD channels at all.

        That was a shortsighted move. Why would you establish a broadcast standard and distribute devices that do not meet that standard. Government shenanigans!

          Because it met the minimum requirements for the time and would mean that fixing it would be someone else's problem ... so government shenanigans.

          Because they wanted oldies to vote for them, so they gave them free money. As usual.

        Sorry dknigs, but you are wrong on this point. All the STBs were HD capable and H.264 (ie MPEG-4 capable). So not shortsighted at all rustyspanner.

        Here's some links indicating the gov supplied STBs were HD:
        http://www.coomalie.nt.gov.au/index.php/component/docman/doc_download/290-household-assistance-scheme-factsheet
        http://www.goodgearguide.com.au/article/385921/government_308_8m_digital_tv_package_explained/?pp=2

        I had my pensioner STB installed in June 2013. It's HD.

      The fact of the matter is that non-HD TVs -- that is, anything with a vertical resolution below 720 lines -- almost certainly won't be able to take a HD broadcast signal and downscale to suit. But there aren't really too many of those around any more, basically -- that's the argument -- so we may as well broadcast in HD.

      And that HD would probably be 720p30 -- not Full HD 1080p -- because plenty of people jumped on the HD TV bandwagon before Full HD became ubiquitous.

        Plus there is the small matter of foxtel simply not being happy with that.

        Also most international content is broadcast natively at 720p - otherwise we'd see a lot more 1080p TV shows appearing on piracy sites, but we just don't.

        The vast majority of SD TVs are incapable of decoding any form of DVB-T signal, regardless of whether it's HD or SD. Virtually all SD TVs rely on a set top box to receive digital TV, and set top boxes have always been available that are capable of decoding a HD DVB-T signal to composite SD.

        The reason HD wasn't a mandated standard wasn't that SD TVs would be incapable of displaying the result (because in any event they would likely require a set top box), but that a HD decoder was considerably more expensive at the time the legislation was introduced. I certainly buying a tuner for my aging SD TV in 2004 and going with an SD model because it was a quarter of the price.

      Yes, you are. Most TVs and STBs, anything more than a few years old, aren't that smart. Scaling requires some processing power which they simply wouldn't have. The other issue is format - HD broadcasts full frames, SD uses interlaced frames (every second line of pixels, sent at twice the frame rate so that you get one set of odd lines and one set of even lines per frame). And, for the record, HD in Australia refers to 1920x1080, although where I work we usually use 1440x1080 with anamorphic (stretched) pixels. Current widescreen SD broadcasts are 720x576 and use extremely anamorphic pixels (the square pixel equivalent is 1024x576).

        HD broadcasts can also be interlaced. From memory, one or two of the secondary channels were broadcast in 1080i at some point.

          Not a case of can, they actually *are* here. Heck even some broadcasts in the US alternate between 720p or 1080i.

          CRT TVs are not even made anymore (from what I can tell) so I fail to see why interlaced footage even needs to exist anymore.

            Well, a 1080i field (i.e. every second line) is ~ 1.04 megapixels, and a 720p frame is 0.92 megapixels. If you have the bandwidth to broadcast 720p but not 1080p, it is likely that you can handle 1080i at a similar quality (ignoring the degradation caused by interlacing).

            Interlacing has always been a method of increasing resolution without increasing bandwidth requirements, and isn't necessarily linked to CRTs.

      Yes. you are completely wrong.

      HD refers to 720p resolution. SD refers to 576i resolution.
      SD TVs and set top boxes cannot downscale HD. They simply cannot even see the HD channels.

      No, by HD they mean both 1080i *and* 720p, SD is 576i. Technically, in Australia, 576p is also classified as HD but no one is using that anymore so the point is moot.

    Because they're greedy and would rather have extra shopping channels than retransmit their primary channel on a second HD channel. Yea, the govt needs to catch up and allow primary channels to be HD, but seriously why the crap do we now have 32 channels, a good 1/3 of which are trying to sell me a nutribullet?

      If these crap channels enable free to air to keep on having big event sports, then they can sell me as many nutri-bullets as they want!

        Good point actually. I don't have to like them, but it may end up with giving me something I do want.

    In Australia 720 is typically referred to as HD and 1080 as Full HD. SD in this case refers to 480-576 which hasn't been in the mainstream market for around a decade.

    The big issue I have, is even if they go to 1080, it's almost always interlaced and more importantly, compressed to hell. Increasing the resolution doesn't help if you just introduce a massive amount of compression artifacts/noise.

      Absolutely correct! I'd rather watch uncompressed SD than compressed HD any day.

        So I take it then that you have analog tapes sent directly to your home?

        As it stands even SD content is also compressed via MPEG2. The problem is the same codec is also used for the HD channels which causes problems as its not suited for such resolutions.

        This is why there is a push also to H264/MPEG4 or newer so that more detail is kept (some is lost but not to the extent of MPEG2) but the data requirements are lower.

        And seriously champ, in this day and age if you want to see anything uncompressed you have to see your footage live at the venue as just about everything has some form of compress to keep data bandwidth down.

          MPEG2 is about as good at compressing HD video as SD. The problem is that the stations don't have enough spectrum to transmit e.g. a 1080p broadcast at a reasonable quality when compressed with MPEG2.

          H.264 would solve that, but it would also benefit SD broadcasts in the same way. For instance, instead of switching to HD, H.264 could also let them double the number of SD channels they can fit into their existing spectrum.

          Of course, if they keep on delaying H.264 broadcasts, it might make sense to simply skip it and go for H.265.

          Analogue tapes look awful. Seriously, I still have a few clips on my showreel that came from tape and they look so much worse than the pristine digital stuff and compressing everything makes them even worse.

          Who do you think is pushing for H.264/MPEG4? Certainly nobody where I work (Channel 9). Broadcast is such a conservative industry, they don't want to change anything when what they have now is working for them. And these days they are all so strapped for cash that they absolutely won't do it if it's going to cost them money.

          In fact, if anything, we have all become so used to heavily compressed web content that the networks have realised they can get away with throwing any old thing onto the TV and 99% of viewers won't even notice, let alone care. e.g. I find Foxtel almost unwatchable but nobody else even notices the banding and blocking until I point it out to them. Of course, it's one of those things that can't be unseen so nobody appreciates me doing it.

            Who do you think is pushing for H.264/MPEG4? Certainly nobody where I work (Channel 9)

            That's one channel. And it is by no means a reflection of the industry as a whole.

            And if you really were working for Channel 9, you'd have a social network of your own by now and know who is pushing for the shift as an economising measure.

            That being said, it puts your claim to doubt. How can you claim to work for Channel 9 yet actually put to the question to 'me' on who's pushing for MPEG4?

            In fact, if anything, we have all become so used to heavily compressed web content that the networks have realised they can get away with throwing any old thing onto the TV and 99% of viewers won't even notice

            You're not fooling anyone pretending that 99% don't know the difference.

            I find Foxtel almost unwatchable but nobody else even notices the banding and blocking

            I've noticed it. Especially when I migrated from DVD to BluRay. Like how I noticed the difference when I migrated from Beta/VHS to DVD.

            And it's not just me, others easily see it as well so it's not a case that nobody notices.

            Broadcast is such a conservative industry, ... And these days they are all so strapped for cash

            And they have themselves to blame. That is no justification for not migrating to newer codecs. If those choose to say on MPEG2, then they *deserve* to perish as that format is either obsolete or a hair's length away from that state.

            Last edited 27/02/15 3:23 pm

        Oh, SD is still compressed. It's all a question of how many bits they allocate to each channel.

      The big issue I have, is even if they go to 1080, it's almost always interlaced and more importantly, compressed to hell. Increasing the resolution doesn't help if you just introduce a massive amount of compression artifacts/noise.

      That is because broadcasters are catering to set top boxes that could support resolutions higher than 720i/p but only support the decode of MPEG2-TS formats.

      If they used a proper codec, say H264, the quality would be better and the bandwidth lower by comparison.

        H.264 broadcasts are still encapsulated with MPEG2-TS. It does a fine job, and it much better suited than the "mp4" container you might see for downloads.

        For a television broadcast, you need a container that allows receivers to start decoding the stream from any point, discovering what codecs are in use and displaying the picture as soon as possible. Since it is unidirectional streaming, they can't simply seek to the beginning of the stream to read the metadata.

    If they really want this to work then they need to allow higher bitrates for the HD to look truly HD. I get better HD picture quality when streaming Netflix, Stan and the IPTV HD channels on Fetch TV than what the networks pump out. As for all the shopping channels. they should be kept onto pay TV and not forced onto us FTA viewers.

      It's not a matter of bit rates. Most broadcasters also use MPEG2 for their HD channels. So as well as taking excessive amounts of data, the quality is poor because MPEG2 is not really suited for HD content.

      Netflix, etc, use better codecs hence why the quality is better.

    You have to pick your battles and I get that but it would be nice if they can also look at fixing the discrimination whereby subscribers to the AFL mobile/tablet service can't watch in HD, but if I live anywhere else in the world, I can - oh and I can also watch it through my PC if I want too.

    Here in Australia though, If I want to watch the football I have the following options:
    - paying foxtel $50 per month for a satelite on my roof, and then paying telstra an additional $10 per month for mobile access anywhere.
    - paying telstra/AFL and watching only on phone or tablet (this is the option I've chosen)
    - paying foxtel $50 per month for an internet based foxtel (with sports) service, and then not being able to watch the AFL AT ALL
    - using a VPN and paying the AFL $150 per year to watch AFL as if I'm no longer an Australian citizen.

    So you can watch AFL, and if you are renting a house (or in between houses), not on a PC, and if you want to just watch on your phone, only in poor quality.

    Something is wrong with this picture.

    Last edited 27/02/15 10:39 am

    I Will happily accept the AFL grand Final in 720p over 480. After having foxtel 1080 Footy its hard to go from high def all season to blurry blotches running around the screen for the grand final!

    It does seem silly in this day and age that the main channel isn't HD (and a simulcast does seem wasteful), but the governements policy is driven by access to the lowest common denominator.

    One thing to note though is that if all the subchanels for each broadcaster (each broadcaster only has one digital frequency channel, but the tech allows multiple streams to be multiplexed over the single frequency) were HD, then fewer streams would fit onto the channel. A broadcaster might make the decision to have more channels at a lower quality, as this way they get more content, and more importantly for them, more advertising space to sell.

    Last edited 27/02/15 10:39 am

    I am of the belief that they should not have sold SD-only boxes in the first place.

    I was in a store a few years ago (I wont say what Hardly Normal chain it was part of), and overheard a salesperson selling a set top box to an older couple. They asked if they should get an SD or HD box for their CRT. The salesman replied "You should get SD, your TV won't get any benefit from having an HD box because it is older".

    The whole argument is bogus because all the stations have multiple channels. There is nothing to stop SD on one and HD on another. Just like Lordz89 above I watch AFL games on Foxtel all year in HD and on Grand Final day I get to watch Channel 7 in glorious blurry crap.

    About time, I have been wondering about this since DTV inception. Stupid Government. I'd be happy with 720P standard since as mentioned, the small bandwidth and old MPG2 compression that our intelligent Governmetn mandated means higher compression, more loss and less detail on the 1080i broadcast will look worse than 720P, and nearly all viewers are watchign on sub 50" TVs where 1080P doesn't look any different to 720P unless you stand too close or up the screen size all the way to 100".

    So do it already!!

    Aren't we also supposed to be switching away from an MPEG2 based broadcast towards something like H264 to save on bandwidth at some point in the medium term future?

      Same reason as with the set top boxes. MPEG4/H264, etc require less data and have better quality but are much more complex and are beyond the capabilities of the original STBs.

      But this is what irritates me, some channels actually did use MPEG4 for but have since been replaced with HD shopping channels using MPEG2.

    Did anyone else make the main image larger to see if it was one of those "3D" pictures?

      Didn't have to make it larger. I saw the spaceship before the page had finished loading.

    Reality is that all commercial channels bought the spectrum intended to use as HD broadcast channels - - they even promoted this in the early days - but it comes down to revenue and making $$$ so the commercial free to air channels re-purposed the channels - EG: so instead of channel 74 being used to broadcast HD content it is used to sell stuff ( they pay for airtime... once one commercial broadcaster did it - they all followed to remain competitive in that space.

    If commercial free to air channels had a dedicated HD channel all they could/would do is mirror the content (not have new programming and I expect not able to charge any more as it would be too difficult to have a different set of advertorial content for the same broadcast); And it would be a hard sell to their customers ( advertisers)

    - There was talk of nine and seven having dedicated sport channels , but the cost of buying broadcast rights got ridiculous... ( thanks Foxtel)

    Last edited 27/02/15 11:32 am

    Hang on a sec... a few years ago there were HD versions of all the major stations, running in tandem with the crappy SD ones. I haven't watched TV much since because of the crappy ads and terrible reality TV, so what's happened? Did they turn all their former HD channels into shopping channels?

    And since they all DID used to have HD channels, some of people's explanations about why they can't seem to be a little shaky.

    Last edited 27/02/15 12:16 pm

      so what's happened? Did they turn all their former HD channels into shopping channels?

      Yes, they did. So it's rich that FTA broadcasters want HD channels but even during the Howard years, they DID have HD simulcasts of their main channels and some even had dedicated 3D channels!

    Being an early adopter of FHD TV's, it still annoys the hell out of me that major sporting events as well as TV episodes are not broadcast in FHD or even HD for that matter. I don't watch footy every week but I do watch the Grand Finals of multiple codes when they're on. F1 qualifying is in HD on ONE Saturday night yet is only SD on Ten on the sunday night.

    I decided some time ago to buy all of my content, where available, instead of watching it on crappy FTA. I have almost completely boycotted FTA TV. My wife and I watch enough different TV series' that we generally have enough purchased content to watch most of the time so can wait for upcoming episodes if we have to. We haven't gone to the movies in years and I refuse to go the Foxtel route, so buying our content is relatively cost effective.

    We buy from ITunes AU ( and watch it after it airs in Aus but in HD without commercials ) or iTunes US. Our Blu-Ray collection of Movies and TV Series' has also been growing. We DO have our favorite shows and 'must' watch them ASAP, but quite often we binge watch multiple episodes of the same season consecutively.

    Last edited 27/02/15 1:02 pm

    You do realise that there are multiple "channels" per frequency? i.e. in Melbourne, LCN #7 (Channels 7 Digital, 7 Digital 1, 7 two, 7 mate, 4ME etc.) are all on the same frequency: 177.5Mhz. There is only so much information you can push through at HD before your quality is adversely affected. this is why we can't have all "channels" at 1080.

    All this talk about switching television broadcasts from SD to HD and yet in Tassie we're so behind we still haven't got digital radio. lol

      Tasmania has both television and Radio ?

        Yeah. Up until quite recently we communicated via telegraph.

        Can't wait to get colour television!

    I love how these articles always turn into massive pissing matches between who knows more about SD\HD.

    The Question was not answered in the long drawn out text of quotes. In fact it made it more confusing.
    It can be translated if the writer understands it all and puts it all together, but that seems to lacking here.
    Lots of replies by the wide knowledge base that reads Gizmodo certainly helped by putting it together a more defined answer.

    i have given up on watching much tv at all we so much reality crap on i can't stand the garbage so it's either blurays or computer games for me.I do agree why when the 1 day cricket was on between India England and Australia was the games not involving the aussies shown on Gem but when the aussies played it was on Nine it was much better to watch when it was on Gem in high def.i'm 58 so i guess they don't cater much for older aussies we had the best tv between in MHI from the 60s through to mid 2000s before to much reality rubbish took over.

    With the steady migration towards online sources such as IPTV and SVOD, does it matter what the FTA networks do?

    When SBS broadcast in HD they are referring to 720p as opposed to 1080. So it's broadcast in HD just not Full HD. Channel 7, when broadcasting the AFL are broadcasting in 576p, so it is very low. If AFL was broadcast in 720p it would be a nice change, because at the moment, the store where I work at sells TVs and it's not good for the customers to see the broadcast so poor.

    Broadcasting is an outmoded form of media transmission. An optic fibre cable network should be the backbone of Australia's communications, with spectrum dedicated to mobile connections to the cable network.

    This would replace all existing phone, TV, radio and internet. It would be infinitely more efficient, cost effective and useful for delivering diverse and high quality communications; from high definition video phone calls to movies, music and live events.

    It will never happen because the government and private sector are colluding and corrupt.

    Julia said was jumping the gun there when I suggested this back then when replacing flooded infrastructure,,
    Its funny the author didnt mention this roll out of set top boxes, selling for $20-30 and no antenna in a rental. The set top box does pick up the new HD channels, very nicely and its better than the FOXTEL on my big hd plasma. Foxtel charge extra for a few HD channels...FUBAR.
    My $50 new SD TV I purchased back in 2009 when TVs changed over (shows how the big rip goes on and on and on) displays HD beautifully and the sound is great too. Im about to give foxtel the shove out the door, we should be on HD everything by now. Its embarrasing.

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