By David Ellis (partner) and Stephen Bureaux (solicitor)

Originally published in March 2002


Digital Television ("DTV"), which includes High Definition Television ("HDTV") and Standard Definition Television ("SDTV"), is television in which the programmes are produced, encoded, transmitted, received and decoded using digital technology.

China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ("SARFT") announced its intention to halt analogue broadcasting by 2015 in favour of digital television. In connection with this, 8 satellite TV channels will produce and transmit DTV by 2005 and the whole of China is to be covered by DTV broadcasting by 2010.

In the meantime there is a debate over which digital television standards to use. In particular the standard chosen in the PRC is likely to be different from that chosen in Hong Kong.

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The crucial issue facing governments in respect of DTV at this stage is the formulation and adoption of DTV broadcasting standards. So far, the US, Japan and the European Commission have each formulated their own DTV broadcasting standards. Each of these is promoting its standard in the hope that it will be adopted by other countries thus enabling additional revenue through, for example, the licensing of the technologies involved. China has put together a group of experts and a special committee to formulate its own DTV standards. In part, this is to avoid China's manufacturers having to pay to use standards and systems patented in other places.

So far, four research institutions in China have submitted five HDTV transmission standards (HDTV is backward compatible with SDTV) for consideration by the standard making committee. According to SARFT's timetable, the standards committee is due to make a decision by next year on which standard will be used.

The Hong Kong government has indicated its preliminary intention to adopt the European DTV standard, DVB-T. However, China's indication that it will adopt its own, different standard, has brought this plan under renewed criticism from Hong Kong's free-to-air broadcasters on the basis that it will hinder their expansion into the mainland if they are required to use different standards. Preliminary indications from Hong Kong's Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau ("ITBB") secretary, Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, are that the Hong Kong government may reconsider the decision following a study to be carried out later this year.

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