Europe tunes into
High Definition TV

6 Jan 2004

Europe’s first High Definition TV channel is now broadcasting, claiming superior video and audio quality for viewers. The Belgium-based station, Euro1080, transmits programmes by satellite around the continent and plans a selection of output that includes music, sport, shows and cultural events.

The company’s name is a reference to the number of lines on the screen (current standard definition sets display 625 lines). Its signal comes out at 50 images per second, compared with 24 in cinemas and 25 on standard TVs. To watch a HD signal, users need to have a receiver, a dish and HD-compatible display. The image more closely resembles a cinema screen than a traditional TV.

Although HDTV technology is becoming more widely available, there has been very little takeup to date in Europe. Euro1080 is confident, however, that there is a move towards the HDTV standard, based on experiences elsewhere. Figures from the American Consumer Electronics Association estimate that 2.5 million HDTV sets will have been sold in 2003 in the US.

In Japan, six million households watch HDTV, a fact aided by the decision by most major Japanese networks to send their signals in the high-definition format. Broadcasters in Brazil, China and Australia are also transmitting with HD.

Euro1080 hopes that the presence of a HDTV station in the European market will stimulate growth in what has been virgin territory to date. To that end, it has launched two channels. The Main Channel is free-to-air, available in 30 countries, that offers four hours’ programming every day of live and delayed content to households and small venues.

The Event Channel will distribute content to specially equipped theatres and cinemas. These programmes will typically be major events or programmes tailored to a particular region.

Euro1080’s maiden broadcast was the New Year’s concert from Vienna on 1 January. Other highlights planned for the year include the Euro 2004 football tournament, the Athens Olympic Games and the Eurovision Song Contest. The system could also be used for delayed transmission of sold-out concerts.

By Gordon Smith