Cost, capacity issues plague HDTV

John C. Tanner
15 Jun 2010

HDTV and 3DTV will be hot items for the satellite and pay-TV sectors in the next few years, but both raise serious cost and capacity challenges for pay-TV players and broadcasters, said industry experts Monday.

AsiaSat CEO Peter Jackson said HDTV was inevitable. "Soon people will be just delivering everything in HD, and then stepping down to SD if the operators on the ground don't have the capacity to deliver it," he told CommunicAsia Show Daily.

However, that lack of capacity on pay-TV systems remains a major barrier to HDTV, he added. "That's a big issue at the moment both for cable and DTH. Most operators haven't got the capacity to do HD."

Jonathan Spinks, CEO of HBO, agrees. "We can offer the channels, but there aren't a lot of operators in Asia that could handle the load," he said.

The capacity issue isn't limited to terrestrial systems. Content providers that rely on satellite for video distribution typically buy backup capacity for purposes of disaster recovery, and HD's bandwidth requirements make that an expensive proposition, Spinks said.

Bob Billeci, SVP of technical operations at Sony Pictures Television Networks, concurred. "Having a backup signal for HD if your transponder or the whole bird goes out really is expensive, and any bandwidth that's not generating any revenue does us no good," he said. "We need alternative models for back-up capacity."

Not everyone thinks HDTV is inevitable either, at least not in all markets.

"HDTV makes more sense in developed markets," says Rudy Tanoesoedibjo, president, director and CEO of Indonesia's MNC Sky Vision. "In developing markets like ours, I'm not confident about the revenue opportunities. In Indonesia, less than 2% of the market have more than one set-top box. Why would they pay more for better quality video?"

The number of HDTV channels has grown 82% in the past year, according to the Satellite Industry Association, although the majority of them serve the Americas. Sports programming is the main driver for HDTV takeup.

As for TV's other hot item - 3DTV - the good news is that 3DTV isn't likely to add to capacity concerns, said Terry Bleakley, VP of commercial operations at MEASAT. He said once the HD signal is there, 3D doesn't require much more bandwidth.

"We're demonstrating a 3DTV feed at CommunicAsia that consumes the same amount of capacity as an HD channel," he said.

Tanoesoedibjo of MNC Sky Vision is more bullish on 3DTV's chances in emerging markets, depending on the price of TV sets.

But that will depend on whether 3DTV requires active glasses rather than a polarized screen, says Soo Yew Weng, sales VP for GlobeCast Asia.

"A 3DTV set comes with one pair of glasses, and additional pairs cost S$250 ($178) each. Imagine trying to outfit your whole family with glasses at that price," he said.

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