Formula 1 fans will have to wait until 2012 for the championship to be broadcast in High Definition, the sport's commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone has predicted, despite increasing calls for the switch.
A recent Formula 1 fan survey showed that a majority of fans were eager for F1 to be broadcast in HD – but leading figures from the sport have told AUTOSPORT that there are still big hurdles to be faced before coverage can step up from standard definition.
While Ecclestone says camera technology is now ready for his F1 production coverage to be done fully in HD, he thinks there still needs to be more fans at home able to watch it in HD, plus enough broadcasters ready to distribute it, before the move can be made. That is why he thinks it may well take until 2012 for the circumstances to be right for F1 to switch to HD coverage.
"We don't want to broadcast unless people want it," Ecclestone said. "I asked in England, the BBC, about it – how many people can receive it? They said about 20 percent of the viewers who watch F1.
"Then, I want to make sure that what we produce is top quality. Before we start seeing the top-top quality that we want, I would say it will probably be 2012 before we can guarantee it."
Ecclestone says the onus is on the broadcasters to have both the desire to have HD coverage, and be sure that there are enough viewers able to watch it at home to make it worth it.
"I said to the broadcasters, 'Are you going to get more viewers? Will more people watch F1 because it is HD or will less people watch it because it isn't?' They really need to have a check and see who has got the right televisions.
"I don't think the average public realize that it is not the television; they have to have something to receive it as well. It is like producing a color signal when people only have black-and-white sets."
Ecclestone has been working in unison with F1 sponsors LG on evaluating HD coverage of F1, and the electronics giant also thinks that there is still another 18 months before the sport can make the switch.
Andrew Barratt, LG's vice president of marketing and global sponsorship, said that evidence of how the technology still needs improving came in Monaco last year when HD cameras tested there could not cope with the vibrations encountered in trying to film cars through the tunnel, as the recording discs kept skipping frames.
"F1 is probably the most technologically complex sport in the world to shoot," Barratt said. "The environments in which they are shooting make it very complex and very difficult.
"It is not an easy thing to do and perfecting it takes time. We've learned with F1 is that the same cameras that shoot all the other sports in the world get under stress in environments like the Monaco tunnel. It takes a long time to get it right.
"You also have to have figured out every single camera. If it is in HD for a while and then you cut to a car and it is not HD it will be a real letdown for the viewer. Technologically, it is really hard and people don't appreciate how difficult it is. They will figure it out and when they do they will bring it to our house."
Barratt also echoes Ecclestone's view that the main stumbling block is actually whether consumers are ready in big enough numbers to make the HD move economically viable.
"There is an economic model that is required to get it from the track to our house, and all of us have a stake," he said. "It is really easy to say, I would like to have it at home in HD but it is going to cost far more – it is going to cost the broadcaster more and it is going to cost the consumer more.
"When all three of us are ready to get together, then I think it will happen. It is one thing saying you want, but another taking your share of the responsibility to bring it. When we see more people take up HD at home as a basic service, that will be the tipping point. It is on all of us to make it happen – but when it does it will be awesome."
He added: "Bernie said to me the day I met him: 'The day the consumer is truly ready – not saying he is ready – but truly ready, meaning he will pay for it and the broadcasters are ready, I am ready. But I am not going to send down a signal that nobody can digest, because that is just silly.'"
Experiments have taken place at this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix with new 3D cameras – both taking on-track and on-board footage. But although that prompted speculation that F1 could go straight from standard definition from 3D, the technology is still too early in its development phase to even be considered for F1.
"So many people are saying the future is 3D," said Ecclestone. "It is not 3D at all. It is one-and-a-half D."