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Publisher's Letter

Digital TV is being wasted

Anyone who watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on a large-screen high-definition TV set or projector could not fail to have been impressed. Not only was the sweep and pageantry of the ceremony itself a wonderful showcase for Chinese civilisation and culture, the HDTV medium added to the gorgeous spectacle.

In subsequent days, the competition has been inspiring and the HDTV pictures have given wonderful close-ups of the athletes in their all-out efforts. In watching this programming, it is very easy to conclude that HDTV is fantastic technology which everyone can enjoy. This is no doubt great for the Seven network and to a lesser extent, the SBS network which chose to cover certain events in full.

This editorial is written just a few days after the opening ceremony so I don’t know how the Olympic Games will eventually pan out. No doubt it will be a great success for China but there is considerable doubt that any country staging the Olympics in future will decide to spend so much money.

But after the Olympics, what is the future for HDTV programming? From my perspective, it looks pretty barren. Take away sport and there is not much to watch in HDTV. Sure, there is the occasional documentary which takes full advantage of the medium but the rest of network programming is just as good (or bad) as in standard definition. In fact, the extra channels provided by the introduction of digital TV are simply going to waste. In the case of the commercial channels, most of the time the broadcasts are exactly the same or maybe just time-shifted. And in the case of the ABC2 network, the programming is either puerile or a repeat of the previous day’s programs.

If you were to give a mark out of ten for the benefits brought about by digital TV programming, all the networks except SBS would get a failing mark.

Surely, digital TV can be put to better use than that! Even repeats of old movies (presently available in PayTV) would be better than much of the dross that is currently being served up. Why not put it to some real use? How about some educational programming?

Surely there must be thousands of hours of educational programming available for the asking and the range of topics must be very wide. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, for example, if you could see a series on astronomy? Carl Sagan’s Cosmos comes to mind, as does the American series The Astronomers. In fact, I see the possibility of regular programming on astronomy forever. The field is infinite (pun intended). Or what about ballroom dancing (a subject close to my heart)? There is plenty of flashy programming along the lines of "So you think you can dance?" but nothing on actually learning to dance. There is great potential for such broadcasts, especially since the popular TV series and films on dancing have made it so popular.

Or why not, perish the thought, some programming on electronics and a whole range of science-related topics? How about a detailed series on nuclear power? Such a series could not only explain how nuclear power is generated in great detail but would also give a better perspective on the storage of waste products. It could dispel a lot of the ill-informed paranoia that currently exists.

You can see the potential. Digital TV, whether in standard definition or high definition, is a wonderful resource. Currently it is simply being wasted.

Leo Simpson

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