The UK regulator’s chief executive Ed Richards said he was not persuaded that TV should be allowed to use the “digital dividend” for high-definition programming. Instead, he spoke of the “golden opportunity” of using more efficient MPEG4 compression and the DVBT2 broadcast standard to squeeze HD channels into the existing Freeview band.
Ofcom is consulting on that plan at the moment. Richards said HD shows could be delivered to Freeview households as soon as the end of 2009, compared to no sooner than 2012 if the regulator waits for the completion of the analogue TV switch-off.
Richards’ views could lead to a clash with the BBC, which favours delivering HD over the internet. The Beeb’s technology chief Ashley Highfield said: “With spectrum capacity severely limited on Freeview at least until 2012, we believe quite strongly that IP is a great route to getting HD out to wider audience.” Ofcom has already raised doubts about such plans.
Under the regulator’s preferred method, consumers would need new kit to take advantage of HD channels, although the current generation of set-top boxes would continue to work for standard broadcasts. Ofcom is consulting with the understanding that terrestrial HD would be free-to-air.