Apparatus for encoding/decoding a HDTV signal for e.g. terrestrial transmission includes a priority selection processor for parsing compressed video codewords between high and low priority channels for transmission. A compression circuit responsive to high definition video source signals provides hierarchically layered codewords CW representing compressed video data and associated codewords T. defining the types of data represented by the codewords CW. The priority selection processor, responsive to the codewords CW and T, counts the number of bits in predetermined blocks of data and determines the number of bits in each block to be allocated to the respective channels. Thereafter the processor parses the codewords CW into high and low priority codeword sequences wherein the high and low priority codeword sequences correspond to compressed video data of relatively greater and lesser importance to image reproduction respectively.