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Sky demos HDTV in UK

But no hard news on launch date or pricing

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Sky demos HDTV

Sky HDTV Box

Well the big news from Sky on HD is that there is no news, not yet anyway. The satellite broadcaster treated journos to a coffee or two in the wonderful Bar Italia – the place where John Logie Baird cracked television for the first time - and then shipped us over to Groucho's for the first ever live demo via satellite of its new service. But Sky stopped short of naming the day its service will launch and how much it will charge.

The demo itself was pretty impressive with a large projector and several 40inch LCD screens carrying a trailer that showed clips from movies, documentaries and the Champions League final in HD.

After the demo, Sky's Director of Customer Products and Services, Brian Sullivan, gave a fairly detailed speech about why Sky is launching HDTV and followed up with some reasonably candid responses to questions from the floor.

Sky had originally planned to launch HD in 2008 but brought the debut forward because of the growing availability of both HD video cameras and flat screen TVs. The development of the MPEG4 video compression system also eased its bandwidth worries.

The launch date will be announced in ‘the very near future’. We think that the hot money should be on spring 2006.

Pricing details will be announced in the new year. Sullivan did stress though it ‘will be affordable to the mass market from day one.’ Later in the Q&A sesh Sullivan added that there would be more than one programme package, but that Sky was very keen on keeping the pricing simple. We think that subscribers will pay an extra £10 a month over their existing Sky subscription costs for the service.

It will be a Sky+ box. There are no details on the size of the hard disk, but the hot money is on 300 Gigabytes. It'll certainly have more storage than the current model which has a 160 Gigabyte hard disk. Users will be able to watch one HD channel while recording another too. The box will also feature an Ethernet connector to enable it to connect with, hazarding a guess, a Sky Easynet broadband box which will most likely launch next year. This could download HD video to the box, or be used for interactive services.

Sky Sports will feature the best of the action from Sky's four existing channels the vast majority of which will be in HD. The two movie channels will almost certainly be completely all HD, but the HD Sky One and the Artstworld channel may include some standard definition footage. Among the top HD shows for Sky One are 24, Stargate, Bones, and Over there.

Sullivan suggested that there will be two third party channels at launch.

As Sullivan pointed out the BBC and ITV owns the rights to the live coverage of the World Cup and Sky would obviously love for one, or indeed both broadcasters to make HD football games available via free to air satellite. ‘We are prepared to give them the full depth of our technical resources,’ he quipped.

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