When will DIRECTV stop SD broadcasting?

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest when you’re standing so close to a tree. Our Solid Signal Blog readers are the elite of home theater DIY’ers an we sometimes forget that the rest of the world isn’t just like us. That tends to be the root of the question, “When will DIRECTV stop SD broadcasting?”

DIRECTV’s HD broadcasts have been available since the mid-2000s, and the HD era began in earnest in 2008 when DIRECTV launched 100 national HD channels and vastly expanded local HD coverage. It’s five years later, and many of us have no use whatsoever for SD content.

Remember though, that we’re the cream of the crop. Believe it or not there are close to ten million residential customers with SD-only service and even more with at least one SD receiver. There are also untold numbers of commercial customers with SD service, because HD is still very expensive to put into a large building.

If DIRECTV were to stop SD broadcasting today, they would have to embark on a massive campaign to replace every SD dish, every SD receiver, every SD headend, and they’d likely have to do it for free or risk losing massive numbers of customers. Even if you figure they can make an HD receiver for $50 (or less) then imagine a half-billion-dollar writeoff for that little venture. That’s enough to make anyone stand up and take notice.

Remember too that DIRECTV is still activating new accounts with SD service, mostly for customer who want non-English-language programming and for commercial customers who want a basic solution.

Things will change, though. DIRECTV plans on launching two more satellites in the coming years to add more HD content and replace older satellites that are past their “expiration date.” We have been told at various times that by 2016, DIRECTV will start to cut back on the MPEG-2-based programming used by SD receivers. It won’t be all at once, but we’ll slowly start to see that older technology go away. DIRECTV is in the process of changing its procedures so all new markets will use the MPEG-4 technology, so the problem won’t get any worse. As MPEG-2 begins to fade away, so will all the SD receivers.

It will be a slow process where DIRECTV hopes customers will just move over to the new technology by themselves, but it’s a fair bet that by 2018 — ten years after the last new model of SD receiver was introduced — DIRECTV will be able to move away from SD for good. Of course, that’s about ten years too late for us enthusiasts, but it’s something.