HDTV Development: Economic Characterization


Some 20 years have passed since NHK's analog MUSE development; digital HDTV (High Definition television) has now gathered worldwide momentum. The number of countries having 10% or more TV households watching HDTV is still just a handful; some lament that HDTV is a rich man's game. However technological advances have rendered HDTV more affordable than before. HDTV differs from other home electronics as a large HD display is expensive. Mature digital HDTV and IP technologies are showing up in the new digital age but HDTV development remains a complex issue. Economic and other factors are discussed to unveil this hitherto puzzling development.

HDTV Development, Today
HDTV progress is described elsewhere; it is relevant to have a brief look at the current status. Table 1 is based on readily available data eg. from internet; they may need verification. Currently 3 HDTV/ DTT transmission systems exist: ATSC of USA, DVB-T of Europe and ISDB-T of Japan. For production, formats are well established, eg. 1080/50i, 720/50p etc.; modern facilities cater for selectable formats and a low-cost format, HDV, in 1080i or 720p, has emerged. This format, akin to DV in the SDTV world, is performance-limited (8-bit, 4:2:0) but it could help less-endowed broadcasters. Many Asia-Pacific countries are lagging behind; millions of people are still watching B/W television. Could HDTV be brought to them? Probably.

Economics, the Cornerstone
”HDTV? Can't afford it!”This may come from a broadcaster or a taxi driver. Indeed it is to do with two economics-related factors ie. GDP and GDP-per-capita.
Fig. 1 shows the reasoning behind Affordability. To find out how these influence HDTV development, an AI (Affordability Index) is defined as Normalized (GDP * GDP-per-capita), for an economy. Relativity among various economies is derived by using a common denominator ie. that of USA and the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) method. Table 2a (2004 data) suggests that the world may see the fourth HDTV/ DTT transmission standard. Table 2b shows the AI ranking of some major EU countries.

In 2005, GDP in mainland China made a big step forward. Table 2c shows the ranking based on AI; mainland China has moved ahead. The data suggest that (a) a fourth standard will be established by mainland China, (b) ranking order in EU is apparently Germany, UK, France, followed by Italy, Spain, (c) for EU, a wide-coverage technology such as satellites is beneficial (in fact, satellites are prevalent), (d) HDTV development is most intense in economies with an AI of at least 3.8 (2004 data) or 3.9 (2005 data), and (e) the AI ranking for the top economies has not changed a lot over 2004-2005. As for Hong Kong, AI is only 1.7 (2004) and 1.8 (2005), hence synergy with mainland China is an important consideration.

Additional Factors: Accelerating HDTV
Other factors eg. regulatory, pricing, marketing, etc. also impact on HDTV rollout ie. to reach a critical mass of say 10% of total TV household. An equation is postulated as follows:

Propelling Factor (HDF) = M (r,p,m,o) * (GDP * GDP-per-capita),
where GDP is based on the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) method;
(GDP * GDP-per-capita) = Affordability factor, and
M is a function of regulatory/ pricing/ marketing/ other factors.

For 0 = (HDTV sets-per-capita %) increases with HDF, hence a relative M could be deduced from HDTV sets-per-capita % divided by AI. South Korea appears to have the highest relative M.
On breaking down function M,
HDF = (Ar * Ap * Am * Ao) * (GDP * GDP-per-capita)
The strategic factors (A's) are hard to quantify as they involve human decisions, but optional means could be deployed to foster HD development, eg.

Ar - mandating early rollout/ early cessation of analog TV, built-in digital tuners in TV sets, HD on-air quota, spectrum allotments, licensing regime, standardization;

Ap - subsidies by governments/ operators, assisting viewers eg on HDTV STB;

Am - promotional/ marketing campaigns, to promote viewers' awareness;

Ao - adopting technology to leapfrog into HD (eg. Canada and South Korea, using ATSC, have achieved fast rollouts), adopting HDV/ low-cost EFP production, e-cinemas/ communal/ public viewing.

Interestingly, the first equation resembles that for circular motion in mechanics (F = m.v.v/r, where m, v and r are mass, velocity and radius respectively). GDP is calculated on per annum (time) basis hence akin to velocity. The challenge is to increase M to propel HDTV into orbit, so to speak.

HDTV development is intriguing, being influenced by economic and subjective, eg regulatory/ pricing/ marketing, factors. Digital HDTV and IPTV technologies are flourishing; broadcasters need to meet the new challenges. An equation plus an AI index have been introduced to enhance the understanding of HDTV development.

1. Planning and Development in the New Digital Age:
Acknowledgement : ABU Technical Review, Nov. - Dec. 2005; this paper won the first commended article award, ABU, 2006.

2. Paper with ref.

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