HDTV is still only an ickle, ickle baby, and like any newborn it has its own heath panics, inexplicable nervous tics and sudden bouts of projective vomiting. Consumer confusion, inflated prices and limited content are a few of the obstacles stunting its early development. As the technology takes its first awkward, slightly nervous steps, what changes can we expect to see next year?
The good news for us consumers is that of course the prices are going to fall. Early technology always comes attached to exorbitant price tags, but as competition increases, and with LCD and plasma prices continuing to drop, we can expect to pay less.
Another sure thing is that we'll see more HD-dedicated channels launched in the next year -- there's so little true HD content currently available in the UK that it would be a scandal if we didn't. Sky will launch new and better HD programmes, while terrestrial broadcasters such as the BBC will continue to push their trial services showing programmes shot in high-definition simulcast with existing channels.
The formats are still going to be a tad confusing. The arrival of products that support the 1080p standard has only fuelled more uncertainty in a marketplace that's still coming to terms with 720p and 1080i -- especially as first-time buyers could find they've paid over the odds for soon-to-be obsolete equipment. Next-generation DVD players will be able to support 1080p signals, but we don't expect to see any mass 1080p content broadcast in the next year.
I fervently hope that the format war being waged between Blu-ray and HD DVD will be settled in the next 12 months, although it could just get messier. This so-called competition has been holding back the development of high definition. As there's little difference in image quality between the two formats, the choice could come down to storage capacity, but the average consumer only wants to fit a film on a single disc anyway. The question is will Blu-ray's greater support and higher capacity overcome HD DVDs more affordable pricing?
There is also a hope that the high-definition drives used in games consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3 will ignite interest in high-definition video. But, alas, this is a big maybe -- the main interest will come from hardened gamers. It's unlikely that average consumers will be drawn towards high-definition films through these consoles and there's no real relationship between games devices and HDTV programming.
It's a funny thing -- as much as I love HD programming, I reckon that initial take up of high-definition will remain slow. It could be down to confusion and pricing, or simply that HD doesn't offer the massive leap in technology that formats such as CDs and DVDs did before. There don't seem to be enough advantages to tempt the average consumer who has only just gotten used to DVD. -Richard Arrowsmith