The HD jigsaw

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Consumers looking for HDTV products are spoilt for choice these days, whether it’s an HD Ready set, an HD set-top box or a Blu-ray Disc recorder.

A wide choice

Matt Evans, JVC’s assistant product manager, says: “The market trends show 1080p adoption is growing, which led to us to increase the number of 1080p models in our range – screen sizes range from 19 to 47 in.”

Steve Lucas, Panasonic’s product specialist, notes that: “All of our Viera TVs are either HD or HD Ready. Plus, our Blu-ray recorders have Freesat tuners.  In fact, Panasonic was the first to bring Freesat TVs to the market and the first to introduce Freesat tuners into its Blu-ray recorders, so Panasonic has been supporting HD from the start.” Panasonic’s DMR-BS850 Blu-ray Disc recorder has a 500GB hard disk drive and twin HD satellite tuner, allowing it to record two programmes simultaneously in HD quality.  The DMR-BS750 Blu-ray recorder offers similar features, but uses a 250GB hard disk drive, while the DMR-XS350 is a high definition DVD recorder that can simultaneously record two HD programmes on its 200GB hard disk drive.

Sony’s Bravia televisions are HD Ready and some of the company’s Blu-ray players offer an HD input. “Our new range of Sony Freesat enabled televisions means customers can both receive and display HD content without the need for an extra tuner box,” says James Forrester, Sony’s category marketing manager. Paul Hobden, marketing director, TV, Philips consumer lifestyle, points out that the majority of TVs in Philips’ range are Full HD models, with only a few smaller screen sizes being HD Ready.

Tommaso Monetto, Sharp’s senior product manager, says: “Sharp launched its Aquos LED range earlier this year. The LE600 is available in 32, 40 and 46in models, with the LE700 spanning the same range with the addition of a 52in model with100Hz technology.”  Humax currently offers two Freesat HD products for the UK market: the Foxsat-HD set-top box and Foxsat-HDR digital TV recorder. The number of Freesat products has grown and now comprises seven Freesat HD digital boxes, five Freesat+ HD digital television recorders and more than twenty Freesat HDTV’s.

HD content

So, there is no shortage of HD products, but the biggest driver for HDTV will be HD content. “There has been extra HD content launched within the pay TV arena, but within the free-to-air market, content has only been available on Freesat and the choice has been more limited,” notes Graham North, Humax’s commercial director. “Having said that,” he adds,” the BBC and ITV HD content provided by Freesat is strong and has high value in the eyes of consumers. I’m sure the HD services will continue to develop, with more content being launched in the future, building a strong HD base.”  JVC’s Evans notes that: “Sky has increased the HD content and now with almost two million HD customers, HD broadcasts are increasing even further, including sports, movies and other popular channels.”

Panasonic’s Lucas thinks the increasing number of Blu-ray titles and HD camcorders have also helped sales of HDTV and HD Ready TVs. Sharp’s Monetto adds that: “Blu-ray film titles have been more readily available and promoted on the rental market, but one of the biggest growth drivers is web-based HD content, such as YouTube HD and DivX HD. With TV sets and Blu-ray players now able to access or display this content, the need to have 1080 sets has grown.”

The role of Freesat

Although pay-TV operators like Sky offer a number of HD channels, many consumers prefer to receive free HD services, and for most, that means Freesat. Freesat sales have reached 750,000 units and some 80% of these have been HD products. The arrival of BBC iPlayer on Freesat HD boxes is bound to attract even more people to this platform. Freesat offers around 70 hours of peak time programming per week, from BBC and ITV HD channels, compared with 30 hours available at launch. So how important has Freesat been in driving HDTV sales?

Panasonic’s Lucas says: “This has been a huge growth driver for our business.”  Humax’s North states that Freesat has been an extremely important driver in the HDTV market. “The take up has been very strong, demonstrating the pent up demand from consumers for high value HD content that they don’t have to pay for,” he notes. North also believes that the boost Freesat has given HD has also been a major factor in helping consumers to understand more about HD services and the experience they can deliver. “There has been sales success of this platform within retail, which has enabled the up-sale from basic digital products to more feature-rich boxes that can deliver HD,” he says.

But Philips’ Hobden would like to see more free HD content available: “There are only two HD channels available on Freesat, so in reality, Sky and Blu-ray have probably been more catalytic in the migration to HD,” he says. Sharp’s Monetto adds: “Freesat certainly has been a selling point, but not one of the main drivers in the HDTV market, because the HD content on offer is still fairly limited. Owners still require a satellite aerial and so its popularity and use have more to do with helping improve TV picture quality for those who live in regions that have poor TV reception.”

Monetto believes that Sky HD has been by far the more popular choice due to the variety of HD content on offer, including sport. “However, during the World Cup (which starts in June 2010) we can expect to see Freesat become more of a driver for the HDTV TV market because it will enable more households to experience the games in HD without the need for a subscription,” he says.

The Freeview issues

The arrival of Freeview HD could change the HDTV landscape. The ability to access free HD content via an aerial is bound to prove appealing to many consumers. Freeview is now in more than 10 million homes and so the potential for consumers to trade up to a Freeview HD box is huge. But so is the potential for consumer confusion, which is why it’s important that consumers need to be educated on their ability to watch Freeview HD. Not only will they need to live in Freeview area, but their local transmitter will need to have been upgraded for Freeview HD. They will also need a new Freeview HD set-top box, digital television recorder or integrated digital TV. And they will need an HD Ready set to see HD-quality pictures.

The Freeview HD signal was switched on at the Crystal Palace transmitter (which covers London) and the Winter Hill transmitter (covering the Granada region, which includes Liverpool and Manchester) on 2 December 2009. The plan is to offer BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five (SC4 in Wales) HD channels, but these will be rolled out over the next 12 months. Likewise, the Freeview HD service will roll out over the next two years, with the aim of reaching 50% of the population by the time of the 2010 World Cup and almost 99% by 2012.

 Existing Freeview set-top boxes, DVD recorders, PVRs and IDTVs will not be able to receive Freeview HD broadcasts – a new generation of Freeview HD equipment compatible with the DVB-T2 standard will be necessary. First off the blocks with plans to offer Freeview HD products is Humax, which aims to launch a Freeview DVB-T2 set-top box in Q1 2010, to be followed by a Freeview HD digital television recorder (with a 500GB hard drive) in the second quarter. “We believe that the increased awareness of HD, and of course availability on the terrestrial platform, will push HD sales to another level,” says Humax’s North, “It will start to become the norm for TV viewing and the consumer will expect to receive more and more services in HD quality.”

North also thinks that: “This leads to a fantastic opportunity for the retailer, as they are able to sell new products that have a higher ticket value. This will also stimulate new TV sales, as consumers upgrade to make the most of the new content.”

The final piece of the jigsaw

Sharp’s Monetto says: “Freeview HD will be yet another driver for the HDTV market, making content more easily available.” Sharp will be launching Freeview HD TVs in large screen sizes from April 2010 – and we can expect other manufacturers to follow suit.  “The World Cup will boost the HDTV market and the uptake of Freeview HD, especially as its free-to-air, as viewers will aim to achieve the best viewing experience possible in terms of picture quality,” says Monetto. As a result, he adds, the impact on sales of 1080p screens as we enter the new decade is bound to be positive. “Going forward, the arrival of Freeview HD is a more compelling reason for the consumer to invest in HD Ready 1080p sets versus just HD Ready than ever before,” says Monetto. Philips’ Hobden sums up the arrival of HDTV on terrestrial TV like this: “Freeview HD will deliver the final piece of the HD jigsaw in ensuring mass market availability of HD content.”

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