It seems somewhat ironic that within just days of making the big announcement about the upcoming free High Definition TV service from the BBC and ITV, I should find two pieces of evidence indicating that the BBC are either totally incompetent or just plain clueless when it comes to being realistic about the importance of content for High Definition (HD) video.
Online internet sites offer upload/download of 720p high def video already, and the number of these video hosting sites is growing, seemingly almost daily. But in the meantime the BBC seem determined to just ignore the demand for HD and create barriers to entry.
The newly launched (and rather excellent) Reel Show TV features the main High Definition guy at the BBC reviewing the new Sony PMW-EX1 camera (it's in part 3 or 4 of the first edition if you want to check out the video). The man from the Beeb talks about how impressed he is with the new Sony camera, but somehow neglects to point out the most important things about it, leaving the seemingly more knowledgeable interviewer to step in and do it for him. Nevertheless the BBC rep says the camera gets an 11 out of 10 on their scale of evaluation (based on using a 'benchmark' Sony Z1 camera) and then goes on to say that the output from this '11 out of 10' camera is not allowable for their High Definition service! WTF?!! This is a camera that received a ringing endorsement from the Hollywood film professionals who make up the membership of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) who professed themselves blown away at a cinema screening of a film made using the camera. But it's not good enough for the BBC's artefact-ridden, heavily compressed HD service!
The reason, apparently, is that the camera only outputs HD at 35Mb/sec where the BBC have arbitrarily decided they won't accept anything less than 50Mb/sec. The man from the Beeb declares that this is to keep standards high, whilst admitting that the picture quality, even at the 'lowly' 35Mb/sec is outstanding and that he couldn't see any differences in picture quality. Sometimes I think the world really has gone mad with the idiotic bureaucrats having completely taken over the asylum.
Further evidence that the BBC is letting incompetents make the key decisions on HD comes from an interview with prize chump Russel T Davies (aka 'Billy Bunter'). Davies explains that Doctor Who isn't being made in high definition because the increase in budget required to shoot in HD is not worth it. WTF?!! Even the internet's moving to High Definition, and yet the BBC's so-called 'prime' BAFTA award-winning drama series - the one that generates an absolute fortune through merchandising and sales abroad - has decided it's not worth bothering with. This is the same sort of monstrously stupid short-term thinking that caused the BBC back in the late 80's to trash so many of the old Doctor Who video source material, not realising that they'd just thrown away a small fortune in future VHS and DVD sales.
Regular readers will know that I think Russel T Davies makes a lousy 'head writer' for Doctor Who. I'm enjoying the current series far more than any previous one, and that can only be explained by the fact that it's because Davies has not written any of the last 4 or 5 episodes. But to have the 'head writer' now making use of technology decisions that will affect future transmissions, worldwide sales and sell-on Blu-Ray opportunities is utterly ridiculous.
His words MIGHT have some sort of value to them if the appallingly bad Torchwood hadn't switched to high definition right from its first episode. This series doesn't get anything like the viewing figures Who does (despite the non-stop ads), primarily because it not only has unbelievably juvenile writing, but also the worst acting I've seen on a prime time series in a long, long time. It makes Hollyoaks look like an oscar winner! And yet it has the 'budget' for HD, where Doctor Who doesn't!!!! The first series of Torchwood is being released for the THIRD time (talk about flogging a really dead horse!) next month, this time on high definition Blu-Ray disc. Fans of Doctor Who who prefer high definition viewing are wasting their time hoping for something similar. The series isn't shot in high definition and therefore won't appear in high definition.
While we're on the subject of HD, and because even I'm getting sick of my own ranting about the fools, dolts and nincompoops that seem to control nearly every aspect of our lives, it seems best to try and end on a happier note by mentioning the wonderful folks at Digital Juice. These guys show what a company can achieve when it employs people who are genuinely passionate (and not just people who keep telling you how passionate they are - Microsoft take note!) and care about quality. Their customer service is fantastic, their web site contains some of the best 'free training' on video that I've seen, their products are market leaders, and even the packaging shouts 'quality' at you. They've just relaunched their magazine (available as a free PDF download) and, of course, most of their products are produced ready for instant high definition. While the BBC seem happy to pay obscene amounts of money for spinning '6 o'clock news' graphics these guys produce the same sort of stuff for very affordable prices, with strictly limited copies so that you don't run the risk of the whole world and his wife using the same material. I just wish more companies operated the way they do.