UK: Freeview to start HD in 2009

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Viewers will be able to watch high definition television (HDTV) on Freeview from 2009, the broadcast watchdog has confirmed.

Ofcom has said that new technologies and the digital switchover will enable more channels, including HD services. However, viewers who want to watch the new services will need a HD-ready TV and a brand new set-top box. The new services are expected to start at the north-west of England.

Up to four free HD channels will be broadcast, including the already-launched BBC HD service. The other three spots will be taken by ITV, Channel 4, Five or the Welsh language network S4C (which replaces Channel 4 in analogue television). They will also be invited to bid on the new services as well.

Viewers have to wait until the analogue television signals are switched off before receiving them, meaning that London will need to wait until 2012, even though trials were done in the area. Other areas who will wait until 2012 are Northern Ireland and the north-east of England.

Ofcm will also change the way digital terrestrial television are arranged to make way for the new services. Digital televisions are arranged in six “multiplexes”, owned by different operators including the BBC, which owns two.

The BBC will have to move some of its channels to create space for the HD channels or other new services. HD channels take up four or five times the space than the SD signal.

But if you want the HD channels now, you can get them from satellite or cable, paying a subscription fee. BBC and ITV are also launching a new satellite service, dubbed Freesat, and will include HD services.