If any of you happened to read the Herald Sun article on Monday entitled “Clock ticks for plasmas, LCDs” by Peter Familari and were wondering “what the f%*k?! How can a brand new TV be obsolete in less than 2 months?”, you can now rest easy. The article is a load of rubbish. It’s actually pretty unbelievable just how wrong the story is, even though the underlying issue is well worth looking at. At the moment, our digital TV signals are broadcast and decoded using the MPEG2 standard – the same standard used on DVDs. However, MPEG2 isn’t anywhere near as efficient as MPEG4, and there is an argument within the industry – and it’s already happened in some international markets – to make MPEG4 the standard for digital broadcasts. The problem is that a large portion of current digital TV hardware – including DVRs, TVs and digital set-top boxes – won’t be able to decode the MPEG4 signal.
Freeview – that marketing push for the free-to-air networks that we love so much – has actually done something pretty decent in their standards by saying that any hardware that wants to receive the Freeview badge will need to be capable of receiving MPEG4 signals as well as MPEG2, essentially futureproofing the box for when the TV networks do make the switch to MPEG4.
There’s no timeframe for when that switch might happen though, and the Herald Sun’s report that it will all go down on May 1 (when the first Freeview product will hit shelves) completely misleads consumers with incorrect statements (“that expensive plasma or LCD will be obsolete from May 1”). Essentially it is up to individual broadcasters to decide when to make the switch, but seeing the confusion around the current switch to digital, my gut says it won’t happen for a while.
Freeview have issued a press release this morning refuting the Herald Sun article with the opening line setting the tone:
The Herald Sun newspaper (16 March, 2009) has misled Australians in a report that claimed millions of plasma and LCD televisions would become obsolete from 1 May, 2009 due to changes in the way broadcasters transmit.
But perhaps the most surprising aspect of this entire issue is that even after two days, the Herald Sun still hasn’t changed, modified apologised or retracted the original article, even though they are evidently incorrect.