Are broadcast television channels doomed to failure

Opinion Club

The Champions League final will be broadcast with ultra-high definition for the first time. The technology is of no use to the audience. And the broadcasters scared them with HD.

According to press releases from last week, the next technical revolution in television is imminent. In a few months, weeks, even days, we will no longer be satisfied with high-resolution HD television, but rather we want ultra-high-resolution, with 3840 × 2160 pixels (hence called UHD, Ultra-HD or 4K) - four times more pixels than for HD:

* The German pay broadcaster Sky will broadcast the Champions League final on Saturday in Ultra HD - even if only in a dozen pubs.

* On Friday you can watch the new “Sense8” series in Ultra HD at the Netflix streaming video library, as well as the in-house productions “House of Cards” and “Marco Polo” as well as a number of third-party productions.

* The American film studio Fox wants to produce all content in 4K in the future and offer it in this resolution on Bluray.

* The sale of UHD televisions has more than quadrupled compared to the previous year, whereas the sales of conventional HD TVs are falling, reports the industry observer DisplaySearch.

That sounds promising, after all, it is a billion-dollar market for both manufacturers and content producers. But press releases should never be trusted beyond the edge of the sheet of paper or the monitor on which they are read. It's not necessarily wrong, but that doesn't mean it's right. Because technology actually has no future at the moment. Mainly for two reasons: the HD disaster and the human eye.

The HD disaster. Around every second household in Germany is now equipped with an HD television, that is just under 18 million (TV monitor, Astra). But was the purchase worth it for you? The public broadcasters now also broadcast their programs in HD, but with a resolution of 1280 × 720 (720p), so they are far from exhausting the technical possibilities.

The private broadcasters hardly do it better. It is true that they send in a higher (if not maximum) resolution. At the same time, however, they limit access to it. You have created your own format called HD +, which does not do anything more, but firstly restricts the rights of use for viewers (limited recordings, no fast-forward for advertising, etc.) and secondly costs: 60 euros (satellite) to 120 euros ( Cable) per year. Incidentally, the pay-TV provider Sky charges an additional 120 euros a year if you want to watch its channels in HD, in addition to the monthly fee.

The number of users, however, is clear: 1.6 million are currently paying for HD +. The consortium celebrates this in a press release as a "further milestone". However, if you study older press releases, this is quickly put into perspective: by the end of 2013 it was almost 1.5 million. The number of all users, including those with free trial subscriptions, has hardly increased; it has been around three since then Millions. This means that there are virtually no new HD subscribers, many use the trial period and then cancel. At the same time, many programs look awful, especially the small broadcasters rely on canned goods, the lower resolution of which is then upscaled mathematically, but practically does not look better. And for that you should pay up to 120 euros a year, in addition to the broadcast fee of 210 euros and, for example, the cable fees. The private sector has thus spoiled high-definition television for the Germans, they associate it with higher costs without any real additional profit.

So before everyone succumbs to the UHD hype, they should first establish HD. That means producing more content in real HD (instead of just extrapolating) and broadcasting it. And that would mean finally seeing the paid HD + as a failure and discontinuing it. Only when HD becomes a success does UHD even have a chance.

The human eye. UHD televisions look great in technology markets - no wonder, as they not only show specially produced videos instead of the normal, far less impressive television signal. They are also often placed there in such a way that you only keep a few centimeters away from them. Sure, the picture looks great there. But who watches television like that at home?

Even with the old televisions, the average seat spacing was at least 2.5 meters. The larger flat screens and larger apartments have increased this distance even further. But for the human eye to be able to perceive a difference between HD and UHD, you would have to sit a maximum of one meter away with a 48-inch device (the average size). To be able to see it at 2.5 meters, it would have to measure 100 inches diagonally. Who has the space and the money for it? Perhaps that is why only eleven million UHD TVs were sold in the entire past year. Worldwide. With more than 300 million televisions sold.

By the way: The next television revolution is imminent, at least that's what a press release said: It's called 8K UHD - the devices will then have a resolution of 7680 × 4320 pixels.

Falk Heunemann, Author in Berlin, writes the OC media column “On a click” every Thursday.