By Matthew Henry

SYDNEY: Digital TV manufacturers have played down the detrimental effects of the proposal to axe the annual 1,040 hour quota for high definition digital TV (HDTV), which would allow commercial TV stations to drop their HD broadcasts some time after 2010.

The move could pose a threat to HDTV sales if networks were to stop broadcasting HD content, but consumer electronics manufacturers including Sony, Philips, Samsung and LG Electronics are confident HD broadcasting will continue past the switchover into full digital broadcasting.

“Worldwide, it is recognised that HD is the future of digital TV,” said Sony Australia deputy managing director, Carl Rose.

“There is a global move towards HD production and broadcasting, supported by the increasing array of HD consumer equipment. Australia will be no different, and Sony expects that consumers will increasingly demand HD content for their range of HD platforms. Well before the end of the HD content quota in six years time, HD will be firmly established throughout Australia.”

However, Philips Consumer Electronics Australia general manager, Matthew Moran, believes scrapping the HD mandate could still have some impact on HDTV sales.

“The removal of the HD quotas is not positive for sales of high-end TVs, but I expect further offerings from Pay TV operators with access to HD content from overseas such as English Premier league football, will pick up the slack here,” said Moran.

Samsung marketing manager – AV, Michael Apte, believes there will continue to be HD content to encourage consumers to buy HDTVs.

“As it stands, the free to air networks are generally broadcasting well in excess of the 1,040 hours required under current legislation. Our information is that they are broadcasting as much HD content as possible, and we anticipate this figure will grow over time, rather than reduce,” said Apte.

Manufacturers are united in predicting a general pick up in sales of digital TV equipment such as digital set top boxes and digital integrated TVs if the government relaxes the current restrictions on multi-channeling.

“With Australians expected to have access to several new-age digital channels, the media reform package will provide greater diversity and content and encourage an acceleration in the voluntary uptake of digital services by Australian consumers,” said LG category manager – AV, Darren Goble.

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan has proposed that the current requirement that networks only broadcast a simulcast of their standard definition content on their HD channel be removed as early as January 2007. This would give networks the ability to run different programs on their HD and SD channels, in effect creating a multi-channel.

The legislation will be considered by parliament early next year, and if passed commercial free-to-air networks will be allowed to start one new multi-channel in 2009, unrestricted multi-channeling allowed after switchover.