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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The uncomparable experience of HDTV and SDTV

THE coming of DaarSat into direct-to-home broadcasting usually referred to as DSTV has opened new vistas of competition and possibilities, at once throwing up a lot of options and debate about technology adoption and acceptability.

For once, DaarSat is introducing services at a time of technology switch when old broadcast technologies will give way to new technologies with quantum impact on the quality of broadcast signals.

For another the organisation decided very ambitiously not cut corners but introduce the very best and give Nigerians a very golden opportunity to receive some of the best broadcast quality signals in the world.

In taking such a very weighty decision DaarSat has made history on the black continent and has become one of the sought after media houses around the world in international broadcast gatherings.

In taking this decision too, DaarSat is using one stone to kill as many birds as possible and ensure the house is in order when the switch over date comes upon the industry.

By way of explanation the International Telecommunications Union, ITU has fixed 2015 as the global broadcast switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting. Various countries of the world are setting their own date for the switch Nigeria not an exception. South Africa has started gradual or dual illumination change from this year while Nigeria which began the switch with direct to home operators early this year, has fixed 2012 for the transition.

The body set up by the government to study the situation and make recommendations has recently sat for one week comprehensively and an announcement is being awaited.

The reason for government action is because this is going to be one of the most momentous developments in broadcast history and countries ought to prepare in order to be in a position to mitigate the cost for their people. Obviously the cost is going to be enormous to broadcasters and their audiences alike; perhaps the reason the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, has always promised that the government of Nigeria would do something to reduce the cost and burden on Nigerians.

Back to DaarSat, the organisation belongs to the Daar Plc family, a major broadcast platform in the country which is in a race with itself to go digital before any other organisation in the country. The transition is being done across all the platforms – Radio, Television and DSTV. The move is also to ensure that Daar is able to pursue its Afro centric vision and represent Africa properly in the global community.

But DaarSat which recently launched services is the primary concern in this material. For a start the organisation is belting out 50 channels including some high definition channels. And for the first time in the history of the country, DaarSat has teamed with some companies in South Korea to manufacture flat high definition TV screens for its operations. Some are coming with integrated decoders, meaning that the screens have decoders embedded in them.

While these various efforts have been lauded but it is in releasing the price structure that people appear to be a little hesitant. This is normal especially when configured against the background that current rates in the market are below what seems to be DaarSat’s premium price.

However, DaarSat is hitting the market with high end digital facilities and some high definition channels. So, from inception the organisation is introducing high definition decoders and other high end receive equipment into the market. Total package is going for thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine naira (N39, 999) for the receive equipment while subscription is five thousand five hundred naira (N5, 500). To most people this price is too much and wouldn’t know why a new player should set such a premium price.

For those conversant with broadcast technology there is no basis for comparism, whether in terms of broadcast quality or cost. High definition is the extreme end of digital technology and enjoys superior advantages over the earlier broadcast standard.

There are different variants of digital television of which High Definition Television, HDTV is king. Look at the statistics. The enhanced definition television, EDTV, which is high end of standard definition television, SDTV, has either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect radio and a resolution of 480 x 640 or 480 x 720 pixels.

But HDTV (720), the first of the three high definition television formats features 720 x 1280 pixel resolution with progressive scanning. The aspect ratio is 16. 9. The format is ideal for programming with lots of movements, such as sporting events. This explains why most of the sporting channels including ESPN, ABC, FOX and HBO among others use HDTV.

The technology is premium and those who buy the equipment do so knowing that they enjoy superior advantages in reception and in terms of TV viewing experience. In terms of picture and sound, it is like comparing the experience in a 1980 Peugeot car to 2008 edition. No basis for comparism. But the price also is premium. In South Africa where an operator is doing a test run, the price enjoys the pole position of over $1, 000. It is also quite relevant to point out that the present pricing of DaarSat does permit the thinking that the total package is being subsidised.

Those who will buy the DaarSat package will be buying the unique experience of high definition television, a technology with commanding control over the future of broadcast and entertainment technologies.

•Tobi, a broadcast expert wrote in from Port Harcourt.

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