Science: Europe's television set blows a pounds 2bn fuse: Thanks to British pressure, the EC has recanted and wide-screen TV is on its way, says Steve Homer

YOU MAY not have noticed, but last week the Government scored a big success. Single-handedly Britain has forced the European Commission to modify grandiose plans for the future of television.

British intransigence during the past 18 months has led the commission and the other EC governments to realise that Europe's approach to high-definition television (HDTV) had become a case of the emperor's new clothes.

Everyone agrees on one point: that the future of television broadcasting lies with HDTV, because it will provide pictures with much better definition and display them on wide screens; indeed, it will bring cinema style television into the home.

British officials are delighted with their 'victory', but for Europe, which has lost any strategic advantage it had in this technology, it is a fiasco that highlights the lack of co-operation between industry and research and development.

The issue turns on the unspectacular but vital business of setting common technological standards to which all Europe's manufacturers can work. When Japan's work on HDTV threatened to become another technological invasion in the mid-Eighties, the European Commission decided to adapt for HDTV a transmission system already being developed for satellite television. There was nothing much wrong with the system, HD- MAC; but it was totally incompatible with the various digital systems being developed all over the world, and there was just no market for it.

The more flexible digital systems offer numerous advantages. For example, a satellite transponder that today carries one television station, could carry four or maybe 10 digital channels with quality similar to today's television. To meet the expected consumer preference for sharper, wide-screen pictures, the satellite operator will be able to choose whether to use that transponder to carry just one or two higher quality HDTV channels.

The United States is furthest ahead, partly because it has adopted a much more open strategy on HDTV standards. Philips of the Netherlands and Thomson of France are key front runners in America. The latter has already won a lucrative contract to supply digital decoders for the 150-channel DirecTV satellite service.

Europe has now officially abandoned HD-MAC, and is concentrating on wide-screen programming (rather than an immediate move to high-clarity pictures). All HDTV systems use screens one-third wider than today's sets.

But the EC's decision has cut the ground from under such countries as France and Holland, whose companies have invested millions in developing what is now out-of-date technology.

In a damning analysis of Europe's technology policy published last month, the European Policy Forum, a cross-party grouping, claims that 'the development of a European HDTV standard cost the EC taxpayer more than ecu 625m (pounds 496m), before the commission finally admitted defeat'. R & D funding decisions have not been well chosen, it says, but the real problem has been 'standard setting'. Not only have companies wasted resources on HD-MAC, they have also avoided researching more competitive products.

Dermot Nolan, of the management consultants Coopers & Lybrand, who estimates that European companies have invested some pounds 2bn in HDTV, believes that the EC should enable standards rather than dictate them. He points out that its 'ordinary definition' satellite television standard, called D2-MAC, was almost completely ignored by the broadcasting industry, whereas a technical digital video standard called MPEG 2, looks likely to underpin digital television worldwide. The difference, he says, is that D2-MAC was imposed by the EC, and MPEG 2 was thrashed out over years by many companies.

HDTV is not just about television. It will influence the future of computer technology, have applications in electronic cinema and will push forward chip design and other electronic sectors. When getting it right was important, Europe got it badly wrong.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past