A Dummy's Guide to HD Channels

By Prachi Srivastava , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing
Last updated : October 23, 2014
The phenomenon of HD launches on Indian television shows no signs of slowing. What exactly is HD and how does it work?

HD TV Channels

Technology, over the years, has bettered the television viewing experience. Be it the evolution from traditional "box TV sets" to plasma, LCD and LED screens or from TVs with inbuilt sound systems to those with external speakers and then to home theatre systems. Now, even the way content is shot and transmitted has changed.

Not too long ago, Movies Now's lead with an HD feed was followed by many channels, across genres. Today, much of hte content is shot keeping in mind HD feeds.

afaqs! looks at a trend that has been growing and growing. HD feeds not only give a better viewing experience, but also helps channels monetise better. With almost 50 HD channels currently running in the country, afaqs! looks at how different it is from an SD channel and what goes behind launching an HD feed.

What is an HD channel?

HD is acronym for 'high-definition'. Here, the picture on the screen is sharper, clearer, has more details and higher resolution. HD feed can be viewed only if the consumer has an "HD" TV, HD-supportive set-top-box, and if the receiving signals (broadcast signals) are in HD. The content is shot, edited and transmitted in HD. There are 49 HD channels in India.

How different is it from an SD channel?

SD - or standard definition - is the normal/standard feed that one gets on TV. It doesn't require a special TV set or other things needed in the case of HD channels. While the resolution of SD is 720 x 576 pixels, that of HD is 1920X1080 pixels. This means, the clarity of the video in HD is almost 5 times better than that of SD.

How many minutes of ads can HD channels air?
The 10+2 (10 minutes of commercials and 2 minutes of promos) ad cap rule applies to HD channels.

What kind of ad rates do these channels command? Are HD channels more conducive for certain categories of advertisers?

HD channels can command a premium as they deliver to niche audiences - people who can afford HD connections are assumed to have more spending power.

HD channels air fewer ads. The reason is that if the viewer is paying a significant price for the channel, he will not like to see as many ads as on SD channels. Ads for categories like automobile, fashion and travel, which look more premium, look better on HD.

Why do some channels keep their content only for HD channels?

HD is important when it comes to viewing movies and sports. For instance, a Transformers or Titanic in Hollywood or a Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara or Anjana Anjani in Bollywood will have a far better visual impact if viewed in HD. It is the same for cricket or football.

In terms of panaromic shots, shots with different colors, multiple cameras and complex graphics look more appealing and delighting on HD platform.

What additional cost does a channel bear to launch an HD channel

It would depend on whether the content is being acquired or produced. A higher satellite bandwidth is required for HD channels and an HD feed requires more investment from the channel.

In addition, the equipment for the shoot is different and more expensive than that used for shooting a normal SD programme. Production costs increase. Even the make-up cost increases. Since HD gives a clearer picture, the details of the skin and hence make-up is more visible on-screen.

The entire post-production workflow is more complex than for SD. Digital cable offers more HD channels compared to DTH as the latter has bandwidth constraints.

Has the sound system to do anything with the HD experience?

Yes. HD channels are usually accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound which gives the viewer - equipped with a home theatre - an immersive experience and helps compliment the richer visuals

In terms of pricing, how different are HD channels from SD?

SD channels range from Rs 4 to Rs 22 a month in terms of their price set by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). The authority doesn't govern prices for HD channels since it does not come under "essential commodities". Companies can decide the price at which they want to sell their HD channels. An estimate would be an upward of Rs 30 to Rs 180, for a month.

Talking about the introduction of HD in India, how old is it? What about other markets?

The first feed of HD, in Europe, began in the 1990s. In the US, it started in 1998. The first full-fledged HD movie channel in India was launched in 2010 by Times Television Network - Movies Now.

On what parameters does a broadcaster make the decision to launch an HD channel?

There are three main parameters: the channel wants to offer a better viewing experience to its consumers; the channel wants to earn more from advertisers as it is possible to charge a premium for HD feed; the channel can afford the extra investment required for an HD feed.

What is the difference between True HD, Upscaled HD and HD Ready channels?

TrueHD or Full-HD is when everything - from shooting, to editing, to sending signals - is done in HD.

In Upscaled HD, an SD feed is converted into HD.

An HD-Ready channel is one that can accept an HD signal, provided it was given by an external device. These TVs do not have in-built HD tuners.

Compared to an SD channel, how much more does a broadcaster pay to get an HD channel carried?

Carriage fees are a matter of negotiations and the popularity of the channel/network but a ball park figure would be around Rs 3 to 4 crore for a HD channel. And for an SD, it would be around Rs 1 to 2 crore

Based on interviews with television experts including Ajay Trigunayat and Nikkhil Shirodkar, VP - Network Operations, 9X Media.

First Published : October 23, 2014
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