AFN’s high-definition transition delayed

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The American Forces Network has finished installing high-definition television equipment, but it could still be years before the network goes full-HD. (Armando R. Limon/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
The American Forces Network has finished installing high-definition television equipment, but it could still be years before the network goes full-HD. (Armando R. Limon/Stars and Stripes)

AFN’s high-definition transition delayed

by: Matt Millham | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 10, 2014

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The American Forces Network has finished installing high-definition television equipment, but it could still be years before the network goes full-HD.

Meanwhile, AFN’s parent organization, Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, is looking at how it might deliver live streams of the military broadcaster’s content on the Internet.

AFN had originally planned to upgrade its satellite television signal by the end of this month, which would have improved picture quality for the nearly two-thirds of AFN’s viewers who have HD decoders.

But the network is still in the process of contracting for upgraded satellite delivery service, and it’s not known when that service will be in place, George Smith, an AFN spokesman, wrote in an email in response to a Stars and Stripes query.

Although the delay is likely to disappoint overseas viewers who long ago bought pricey HD decoders, it’s a reprieve for those with standard-definition models, which AFN has said it won’t support after it completes the move to HD.

Older SD decoders still account for more than a third of the roughly 80,000 AFN set-top boxes in service worldwide, according to AFN. Citing cost constraints, the network says it has no plans to continue broadcasting in standard definition after the HD transition.

Smith said AFN will announce when the satellite upgrade is completed so that owners of the roughly 29,000 active older decoders have time to get new equipment.

In the meantime, “AFN recommends decoder owners hold on to whatever model they have until a firm transition timeline is established,” Smith said.

AFN had planned to begin broadcasting an upgraded HD signal as early as September 2013, but the network delayed the move in order to give those with older decoders time to get newer models.

After the upgrade, those with HD decoders “will immediately see enhanced video, but won’t see true high definition television until the network completes other changes like converting standard definition movies to HD,” Smith said. “The upgraded satellite delivery service will be like looking into that device at the eye doctor’s and seeing letters come in clearer, but it’s still a few lens clicks away from perfect 20/20 ‘HD’ vision.”

Despite the additional delay, Smith said the HD transition is still on track to be completed sometime between 2015 and 2017.

The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, meanwhile, is exploring ways of bringing AFN to online viewers.

The network’s goal, Smith said, is to provide its overseas audience with listening and viewing experiences similar to those they get in the U.S.

“Americans use DVRs [digital video recorders] and video-on-demand to access TV shows whenever they want to watch,” Smith said, which is why AFRTS has reached out to commercial vendors for information on providing AFN television on the Internet.

AFN already offers numerous web streams of its radio content.

“We are very, very early in the process,” Smith wrote. “No decisions have been made, no funds requested and no programming identified. We’re researching what U.S. broadcast industry ideas might work with AFN’s non-profit, non-commercial military television network.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com
Twitter: @mattmillham