Freeview HD today (Wednesday) held its ‘technical launch’ with BBC HD and an extended ITV HD on-air in London and the North West. However, with no receivers currently commercially available and limited reception possibilities, the major marketing push will not take place until next Easter when major volumes are expected.By this time around half of the population will have access to Freeview HD either as a result of analogue switch off or the additional transmitters serving London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Bradford and Birmingham. A retrofit of those areas where analogue switch-off has already been completed is also taking place.
“It’s only a matter of months until the consumer launch next spring,” Freeview MD Isle Howling told a news briefing at the BBC Media Centre in White City. “Freeview HD equipment will begin going on sale in the shops from early in the New Year and the HD channels from ITV and Channel 4 will complete the line-up ready for the consumer launch ahead of the World Cup.”
On display were working prototypes of IDTVs from Sony and Panasonic; and set-top boxes from Pace and Vestel. The new HD EPG now features Freeview branding for the first time, though manufacturers are free to create their own look and feel.
The first areas to experience Freeview HD as a result of ASO are the major conurbations of Liverpool and Manchester served by the Winter Hill transmitter, from where all-digital transmissions commenced in the early hours of the morning. Crystal Palace, serving Greater London and from where DVB-T2 tests have been taking place from earlier in the year, also went live.
The Freeview launch also marks a change in strategy for ITV, which will run a full simulcast of its main channel, branded as ITV1 HD. Until April 2008 this will be a simulcast of ITV1 London, after which some regionalisation will take place. While terrestrial viewers will see an upconverted version of ITV, Freesat homes will continue to access ITV HD through the Red Button.Previously a primetime-only version of ITV HD had been put forward.
Increasing amounts of programming will be in HD with dramas including The Bill and Law & Order joining coverage of major sports event including the Champions League and The FA Cup. ITV1 HD will share high definition coverage of the World Cup with BBC HD.