Most people in the US and UK have experienced something of a revolution over the past couple of years in the way they receive and watch television broadcasts. The switch-over from analogue to digital broadcasting has resulted in many people upgrading their existing televisions or purchasing set-top boxes which convert the digital signal so that it can still be processed by older analogue sets. Now that this upgrade process is under-way what will the future hold for TV - will people still watch TV in the same way or does the future promise something different?
Today's Television Technology
High Definition Television or HDTV is a new format of display technology and promises clearer, sharper images in a wide screen format using LCD displays which are larger, flatter and lighter than the traditional cathode-ray tubes that were common in old-style TV's. In most cases, to receive HDTV you need a TV capable of processing the high definition signal as well as a subscription to an HDTV broadcast service. There are several formats of HD both in terms of definition and in the way the signal is loaded onto the screen. At the moment 720p is the common standard although most digital TV's on the market today can easily handle the more advanced 1080p format. Most television is broadcast at 720p with 1080p only available with Blu-ray video players or the latest games consoles. It is hoped that when there is sufficient resources to do so then 1080p will become the common format for TV broadcasts?
Digital video recorders can download and store entire series of television programs and countless movies. Often supplied as part of a premium subscription package these personal video machines are ideal for people with busy lifestyles who often miss episodes of their favourite shows. These devices are also popular with sport fans as they can be used to effectively pause live action so nothing is ever missed. Aside from much greater storage capacity the main advantage with digital video recorders is that are simple to configure and recording multiple shows over a long period of time is a simple one touch operation, thanks to the cleverly designed menu systems.
TV on Demand
It used to be common for people to arrange their lives around scheduled television programming but the advent of TV-on-Demand means this is no longer necessary. It's now technically possible to order movies and TV shows to play when you want them to show so you can get on with your life and catch-up on what you've missed at your own convenience. Rather like a personal digital video recorder, but on a much larger scale - with the actual inventory stored remotely in vast digital libraries. Shows can be downloaded to a conventional TV display, to a personal computer or mobile device. At the moment services are somewhat restricted due to licensing issues and bandwidth requirements but over time it's expected that video on demand will replace many of the broadcast media that we have become accustomed to.
Thought by some to be the future of how people do business, High Definition video conferencing eliminates the need for face to face business meetings. Using the Full HD 1080p broadcast format over a two-way internet connection the service allows you to have 'virtual meetings' at any time and in any location. Advocates of the system claim that the experience is so lifelike that you forget in a minute the other person is not in the same room. At present the bandwidth requirements are somewhat demanding and capacity is a real issue. As more and more Governments commit to upgrading their internet infrastructure though the prospect of having virtual business meetings with colleagues around the world, without leaving the office, is a goal that would have vast rewards both economically and environmentally.
TV in the Future
The future of digital TV and video broadcasting promises much and will affect not only our leisure time but also how we work and interact with colleagues around the world. At the moment it is the infrastructure and not the technology itself which is holding back development. As networks grow and infrastructures are upgraded we will start to see the true potential that today's technologies offer. In terms of watching TV and video the future promises more freedom with the ability to watch high quality TV broadcasts wherever and whenever we want to, and this is the greatest and most welcome change of all.