Doordarshan is setting up a free high-definition (HD) broadcasting system in the four cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, the ministry of information and broadcasting said.
Free terrestrial broadcasting of HD-quality TV channels is likely to be a novelty in a country where nearly 99% of the people watch low-definition (SD or standard definition) channels only.
However, about 20-30% of the households have HD-compatible television sets and a smaller subset of the customers would have full-HD enabled television sets.
Nearly all TVs sold in India are HD-compatible, and an estimated 30% of the TVs sold are full-HD (1080p) enabled.
However, the transmission of HD programs has lagged the adoption of HD TVs due to the high number of channels being broadcast in India.
India currently has about 650 active TV channels. A full-HD channel, such as Movies Now HD, would require about 8-10 times the bandwidth of a standard definition (SD) channel. In other words, TV channel providers such as cable operators and DTH companies would be able to offer only about 35-50 channels instead of the current 300-400 channels if they switched over to HD.
The highest number of HD channels currently on offer is by Airtel Digital, which provides about a dozen 1080i channels.
Doordarshan started an HD channel nearly three years ago, and transmits for 3 hours per day due to the lack of HD content.
Nearly all HD content available in India is either movies or sports, almost all of which is made abroad. Of late, however, Indian general entertainment channels such as Star Plus and Zee TV have started transmitting in HD as well.
The government said it plans to get over the HD content scarcity by setting up its own HD content creation facilities, including outdoor broadcasting (OB) vans.
It is currently setting up HDTV Studios at Delhi and Mumbai , HDTV field production, post production and preview facilities at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai and HDTV OB Vans for Delhi and Mumbai.
They will create content for the HDTV terrestrial transmitters at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
HDTV will not be delivered in the analogue mode as DDs programs are currently transmitted, but in the digital mode. As such, users will need to buy a set top box costing about Rs 2500-3500 simply to watch a single channel from Doordarshan.
DTH and cable operators are selling HD set top boxes for about Rs 4,500.