Ofcom: HDTV Sales Up; Freeview HD Reaches 50% Coverage

Jonathan Sutton

Ofcom, the television media regulator in the United Kingdom, has released a slew of figures which suggests that more UK TV viewers than ever will be tuning in to watch the FIFA World Cup 2010 in crystal-clear high definition (HD offers up to 5 times more detail than standard definition).

Recent Ofcom data revealed that by the end of March 2010, sales of HDTV in the UK surpassed 24 million units, with more purchases likely in the run-up to the World Cup 2010 which takes place in South Africa during June and July this year.

There is also good news in terms of HD content availability — Freeview HD coverage has reached 50% in the UK. This means that viewers in major cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool and Cardiff who own compatible Freeview HD-enabled HDTVs or set-top boxes can now receive selected high-def channels through their roof-top aerial without needing to install a satellite dish or pay any subscription.

Freeview HD remains firmly on track to reach its target of 60% coverage by the end of 2010, and 98.5% by the end of the digital switchover in 2012. This is certainly a far cry from two years ago when it looked impossible for HD content to be broadcast over digital terrestrial television (DTV), with many industry experts claiming that there was simply not enough bandwidth to transmit HD which consumes around 4 times as much spectral resources as SD content.

Fortunately Ofcom’s Spectrum Policy Group managed to devise an elaborate 3-pronged plan to create the extra capacity required to carry HD on DTT. Thanks to the introduction of MPEG-4 compression (which is up to twice as efficient as MPEG-2), the adoption of DVB-T2 transmission standard (which allows for between 30% and 50% increase in capacity), and the reorganisation of existing digital TV multiplexes, UK viewers are now able to enjoy up to five HD channels on the Freeview HD platform.

On the Pay TV front, HD subscription numbers were also on the up. 428,000 customers subscribed to Sky HD satellite service in the first 3 months of the year, bringing overall Sky HD subscriptions to over 2.5 million. Virgin V+ HD cable service added 77,900 customers in the similar period to reach a total of 939,900 subscribers by the end of March 2010.

Source: Ofcom