HDTV – the new 3G?

Scoble says: ‘It’s all about HDTV‘. He’s referring to the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray war, XBox360 vs PS3, ‘dark fibre,’ network (non-)neutrality, and so on.

Something just struck me: a few years ago, the mobile phone industry in Europe was all about 3G networks, about how – by now, note – we’d all be viewing video clips on our mobile phones. That is, we’d all be streaming the World Cup (England vs. Portugal across my desk on the PC as I type here…) to our mobile handsets.

That didn’t happen. 3G is technically quite interesting, but in the end we didn’t want it. Or at least, we remain ‘unconvinced by the value proposition.’ That is: it’s hopelessly expensive and we’re about as likely to cough up for it as we are to auction our own grandmothers. The latter, note, would in most situation be more useful, too.

Is HDTV the same thing all over again?

Oh, sure, you can point to all manner of supposed HDTV success stories, and to some extent HD is inevitable – there’s enough of a move to high-def production within the TV industry that, just as with 16:9 widescreen, you’re going to get it whether you like it or not.

But one could counter with the growing popularity of YouTube, RocketBoom, and the like. Far from demanding ever-higher picture quality, are we in fact increasingly comfortable with lower production values?

If that’s the case, then anyone betting the farm on HD is going to be mightily surprised – and will look mightily stupid – in 5 years’ time. Just like the people who coughed up billions for 3G licenses.


  1. I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot recently. It’s always been true that content is king – that’s why You’ve Been Framed can show lots of low quality clips of grannies falling into water. But crucially, everything that people are prepared to watch at low quality is SHORT. As I understand it, the mobile companies are pushing very short clips for 3G – bite sized comedy as it were.
    Like many people, I never watch movies on planes – the quality gets on my nerves. That’s why DVD took off so fast. And why cinema still exists.
    I think the delivery systems will go the same way as the split in programming – that is, there’ll be high end, HD stuff, very expensive to make (probably all co-production). And there’ll be very low end stuff – cheap as chips and probably highly niche – anyone for the Hi Fi channel? (I’d watch anything about aviation, whatever the quality.)
    It’s the mid-range stuff that’ll disappear – what the broidcasters call shoulder-peak. And as a consequence, so will the mid range of technical standards – ie ordinary 16:9. It doesn’t cost the broadcasters any more to shoot in high def (well a negligable amount for the cameras); it’s inevitable.

  2. I think there is a substantial difference between HDTV and 3G, primarily that 3G promised more, whereas HDTV promises better.
    The problem for 3G was that the extra features weren’t really what consumers wanted, and when it came to the most important feature – voice calls – there was no substantial improvement over a standard 2G phone, which for many people are already more than adequate. In fact, given the initial larger form factors, coupled with reduced talk times, and smaller coverage areas, there was arguably a substantial penalty for adopting a 3G phone.
    HDTV on the other hand essentially offers you what you have now, but with improved quality. It’s not promising more, simply better, which is a disarmingly beguiling message and one which will probably achieve some success in my opinion. Equally important, there’s little penalty for adopting it.
    Of course, the problem with the adoption of HDTV sets doesn’t lie with sales of high definition sets. Those are already fast on their way to becoming the norm, as a quick stroll around the AV department of any department or electrical store will reveal. Rather it lies with actually getting a high definition signal, because, let’s face it, the vast majority of consumers are going to be using their shiny new HDTV capable sets to watch standard definition pictures for a number of years to come. I’d be interested in seeing some polling data testing how many people believe that their HDTV sets are already showing HDTV pictures even when viewing low def broadcasts. I suspect the results would be illuminating. In fact, that’s probably the greatest similarity between HDTV and 3G – that people will purchase this shiny new technology only for the shiny new capabilities to lie unused.
    It’s a strange sort of situation. Consumers are owning high definition sets in increasing numbers, and producers are producing high definition content, but never the twain shall meet for the time being. I can’t help but wonder if video of ip is the magic bullet here. I’m partial to the theory we’re on the cusp a major consumer electronics war, as manufacturers vie for the space underneath the tv and the HDMI connection that connects with it, and set top boxes become computers and vice versa. I still view the Mac Mini as the first of many broadsides to come, and it’s one of the few explanations that makes sense to me of Sony’s absurdly high specification for the PS3. But really, this leads to another debate altogether involving the abolition of the tradition broadcast model which I’m certain Jonathan has already given considerably more thought to than I.
    Anyway, my take on HDTV: High definition broadcasts aren’t as important as the wide spread adoption of high definition tv sets and the interesting things that will connect to them over the next few years. And by interesting things I’m specifically excluding HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Ugh.

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