This month the world's biggest consumer TV goes on sale in New Zealand for $15,000.
In other countries, you could enjoy dozens of channels in high definition on Sharp's 80-inch (203 centimetre) colossus.
But it will be years before 1080i broadcasts are the norm in New Zealand.
Whereas Sky TV trumpeted having eight HD channels devoted to the Olympic Games, the BBC offered three times as many.
Subscribe to Sky TV in Britain and you can choose from 80 HD channels; subscribe to Sky TV in New Zealand and you're limited to 10.
Even in Australia, where pay-TV growth has lagged behind New Zealand, Foxtel offers two-dozen HD channels, including BBC Knowledge, UKTV and Discovery, and even one in 3-D.
It's not only Sky that's drip-feeding HD services in New Zealand. Four years after going HD to cover the Beijing Olympics, TVNZ is still getting up to speed as an HD broadcaster.
But at least both of its major networks now air HD programmes on most nights - whereas MediaWorks, which led the free-to-air industry with such innovations as widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 and HD transmissions on TV3, is no closer to upgrading its standard definition channel, Four (despite top HD properties like The Simpsons, Raising Hope, Grimm, Breaking Bad and American Horror Story).
Even new players in the digital entertainment marketplace aren't exploiting HD to draw customers.
Two years ago TiVo was promising HD downloads but none has eventuated, while the newest cut-the-cord alternative to Sky, Quickflix, has nixed HD streaming for the time being (Apple's New Zealand iTunes store offers 1080p streaming of movies but not United States television shows).
You would think at least HD television manufacturers would be quick to fill the void but only one or two of their smart TV apps can be viewed in HD.
Why the dearth of HD? Reasons range from transmission and bandwidth costs to market forces and licensing rights to consumer preference for multiplatform “low-def snacking”.
Networks argue the extra cost of broadcasting in HD, from new transmission gear to the premium some distributors charge for the HD masters, can't be recovered from advertising.
Yet it's no coincidence that among TV One's highest rating shows this year have been HD reruns of BBC wildlife series it originally screened in SD.
And with Blu-ray going mainstream, Sky's HDi subscriptions up 80 per cent to a new high of almost 368,000, and HD TVs never having been cheaper, nothing dates a network more than SD programming.
While Sky says the ad revenue for its free-to-air channel, Prime, isn't high enough to justify an HD overhaul, it would have made sense on the back of record viewership during the Olympics - 4.5 times higher than for the four weeks preceding the games - and ahead of Prime's first major output deal, with CBS Studios International, delivering it some of the most talked-about series soon to start on US television, including Elementary and Vegas.
Moreover, Prime already has a raft of signature shows that appeal to HD viewers, from Doctor Who and Top Gear to True Blood and tomorrow night's free-to-air premiere Game of Thrones [9.30pm, Wednesday]. Game of Thrones was first seen here on SoHo, the only new HD channel Sky's launched in the past year.
Given the lacklustre free-to-air HD competition, Sky's not under pressure to roll out more HD channels - and if it does, they're more likely to be devoted to movie genres than HD simulcasts of its documentary, news or entertainment channels (UKTV, despite a big hike in New Zealand premieres, is deemed to have too much classic content to sustain an HD schedule).
Now that it's in close to 50 per cent of homes, Sky is more interested in strengthening its pay-TV reach through SD initiatives like its Igloo venture with TVNZ than enhancing HD services for existing subscribers.
The low-cost subscription platform launches this month as an alternative to Freeview on the eve of the West Coast and Hawke's Bay being the first regions to go digital on September 30.
As a halfway house between free-to-air and pay-TV, Igloo seems symptomatic of the pressures facing Kiwi broadcasters.
The authors of a PriceWaterhouseCooper report on New Zealand's entertainment and media outlook say, New Zealand's small population, relatively low standard of living and platform constraints have forced broadcasters “to make tough choices between range and quality of content”.
They also point out there's been “massive consumer interest in low-def ‘snacking' types of content” on platforms like YouTube.
“We expect broadcasters and advertisers to follow consumer behaviour. This is likely to be more focused on the multiscreen experience and the delivery of content wherever and whenever consumers demand.”
They don't expect HD delivery to improve until households can tap into new platforms with more capacity, like ultrafast broadband or pay-TV with higher-speed data transfer.
For instance, Apple has been talking with pay-TV operators around the world, including Foxtel and presumably Sky, about replacing their costly set-top boxes, like MySky+, with a new HD digital device using Apple software. Sky won't comment on whether talks have been held but has said its next set-top box will offer internet streaming.
So, for now, do not adjust your HD set - just your expectations . . .
❏ When not watching HD TV, Philip Wakefield writes about it at screenscribe.tv
- © Fairfax NZ News
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