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BBC HD: Beeb publishes critics' advice for improving picture quality

Following criticisms about the image quality of BBC HD, Auntie invited a group of viewers to take part in comparative tests. Their recommendations for improving the picture quality make interesting reading

Last year, we published an article concerning complaints about the picture quality of BBC HD, following a significant reduction in the bit rate. Some viewers have since been invited to the BBC to take part in testing, in an attempt to establish whether these image-quality concerns are legitimate or not. The BBC has now published their feedback in a series of blog posts.

The frank and honest blog posts are available on the BBC's Internet Blog. They raise some interesting points and make some pretty reasonable suggestions. There's also a fair amount of criticism of BBC high-definition expert Andy Quested for not allowing the testers to see a sample with a slightly increased bit rate. This led the testers to assume there would be a noticeable quality increase from a reasonably modest bit-rate hike.

The most interesting suggestions are in the third blog post. It's the opinion of the viewer panel that the BBC should use the best-possible cameras, making it a funding priority, because this is the biggest single quality boost you can give to a production. Educating the production team is crucial too, especially when it comes to focusing, which needs to be dead-on in HD production -- you may notice some imported US programmes often make a right hash of it. It's interesting to see that the panel reached this conclusion, because it proves that bit rate isn't the be-all and end-all of good high-definition TV.

The panel also seemed keen to increase the resolution from 1,440x1,080 to 1,920x1,080 pixels. The lower-resolution system was chosen because it saves bandwidth, but the arguments for continuing to use this resolution seem to be getting less convincing. Will an increased resolution affect the overall quality? We suspect the difference will be quite small and will require people to have their TVs set up properly to spot any real improvement.

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.

Other suggestions seem quite strange, coming from a group of people primarily concerned with the quality of BBC HD. These included buying more US imports and setting up more HD channels for BBC Three and BBC Four. As for the US imports argument, we don't think the BBC really needs to bother, considering that its brief is to entertain British people. And setting up more HD channels seems pointless, given that BBC Three shows mostly totally nonsense, while BBC Four relies very heavily on archive shows.

Overall, it's a credit to the BBC that it's engaging with viewers, and even more impressive that it's putting their criticisms up on its own Web site. We can't see any other broadcasters rushing to be this accountable, but the BBC belongs to the public, so it's only right that we get to scrutinise it. We think the panel made some great points, and we hope the BBC pays attention. That said, we're also convinced that the BBC has already made gigantic leaps forward in terms of HD quality, and improved guidelines make it likely that this quality will continue to increase over time.

What do you think about the picture quality of BBC HD? Let us know in the comments section below, or head over to our Facebook page and tell us what you like and don't like.