Although TVNZ subsidiary BCL plans to test digital terrestrial television (DTT) equipment this month, the Asia-Pacific region lags behind the rest of the world in its adoption of digital TV, according to London-based research company Ovum.
Dr Iain Stevenson, head of Ovum's New Media division and keynote speaker at the TUANZ (Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand) conference this year, says while Asian countries are stymied by political issues, there is slow movement on the adoption of standards in Australia. Meanwhile, the US, UK and Scandinavia will launch DTT services by the end of the year.
Digital TV, which offers improved picture quality and allows broad-casters to optimise bandwidth use for multiple channels, can be delivered via cable, satellite and terrestrial technology. Terrestrial technology uses existing aerials and set-top boxes which convert analogue signals into digital.
Stevenson says countries are choosing either high-definition TV or multiple channels offering -standard-definition TV — at a ratio of about three standard channels to one high-definition channel. In Europe, which uses the DVB (digital video broadcasting) standard, the focus is on multiple channels. In the US, which is following DVB and the US-based ATSC (advanced television systems committee) specifications, the focus is more on high-definition TV.
Ovum believes this is the wrong approach. "We think the consumer is more interested in multiple channels than fewer high-definition channels," says Stevenson.
Another issue at the consumer end is how much they will pay and whether they will have to buy set-top boxes, or whether the broadcaster will subsidise them.
"In the UK the model being put forward by OnDigital [formerly British Digital Broadcasting] is a subscription fee of about £10 a month, plus the customer pays a couple of hundred pounds for a decoder box.
"Set-top boxes vary in price considerably. Technology costs about £400 but will probably be subsidised 50% by the broadcasters. In the UK you will still get the basic channels on digital for free [BBC1, BBC2 and free-to-air commercial channels].
"The big issue there is to get something out for Christmas. Digital broadcasters want to shift tens of hundreds, if not tens of thousands [of viewers], by Christmas."
Interactive services are another benefit of digital TV because the digital signal can contain not only TV signals but packets of data that can carry, among other things, Web pages. The issue for the broadcaster is how to make money and keep the viewer within its "walled garden" of services and payment while still using the Net.