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Published on June 12th, 2010 | by Patrick Riley

Get the Picture?

BBC HD Doctor WhoSeveral months ago, the BBC was forced to deal with a mob of furious HD channel viewers from all (British) corners of the internet.  The reason?  A significant reduction in bit rate for the broadcaster’s high-definition stream which preceded an avalanche of complaints concerningpicture quality that the BBC attempted to make up for by using a more efficient encoder.

Understand any of that?  Neither do I; nor do I believe it particularly matters, which is just as well as CNET UK and Paul Eaton, a guest writer for the BBC Internet Blog discussing the issue on the Beeb’s behalf, agree.

The subject of picture quality is a fork in the road.  Half of television’s audience will adorn its battle armour and fight to the death for an ever-so-slightly crisper image, and the other half doesn’t really care, as long as it can make out what’s happening on screen without having to squint.

CNET, Eaton, and this Kasterborous contributor seem to fall somewhere in the middle.  While we recognise that image quality is an important factor in modern, over-the-air, visual entertainment, especially for those who pay extra to receive such a service, sometimes concerning oneself with trivial subjects as bit rates and encoding processes is slightly overcooking it, especially when the <ahem> bigger picture of a programme’s recording process is considered.  CNET puts it best:

“It’s worth noting that we’ve recently seen several programmes on BBC HD whose quality has surpassed that of any HD material we’ve seen broadcast on any other channel, including US imports. Recent episodes of Doctor Who and cop drama Luther have looked like high-budget movies, rather than BBC TV shows.

“This is largely due to the type of camera and lenses used in their production — Doctor Who is shot on a Sony F35 CineAlta, which is aimed at digital cinema — but also to the BBC’s much improved guidelines for producers.”

Yes, the bit rate matters if it’s dropped by one billion percent, but a slight dip for budget-conserving reasons is perfectly acceptable so long as the image quality is made up for with top-notch cameras and cinematographers who know what they’re doing when it comes to focus, brightness, and other basic necessities for our eyes that have been rendered especially important because of high definition.  All this “encoding” bickering really ought to stop.

Whatever happened to enjoying a programme for what it contained, and not for how sharp it looked?

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About the Author

Patrick is a temporal hitchhiker who spends most of his time in the future. His favourite Doctor is the Fourteenth. If you're especially lucky, you might even hear him tweet to all you merry folk in the past @10PatrickRiley.




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