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Telewest has become the first British company to deliver a live HDTV (High Definition TV service) service. Starting from today it is offering a limited High Definition service to a select group of 400 viewers in south London. The service will be rolled out across the Telewest franchise early next year. Telewest hasn’t put a date on when it will available nationwide but it is likely to be before the summer.

HDTVUK gained an exclusive peek at the new service with a live demo in Telewest's Woking HQ.

While Sky will offer a HDTV service across at least seven dedicated channels, Telewest is taking a different approach. Its high definition transmissions will be available through its TV-on demand service Teleport.

At the present time the service is fairly limited with a small selection of BBC series including Pride, The Blue Planet and Wild Weather. This will be followed by HD movies on demand early in 2006. The company is apparently in talks with a number of other TV broadcasters. Spokesperson John Moorwood believes that ‘TV on demand is an interesting proposition for some TV companies to trial HDTV. It means they can gauge viewer response and don’t have to go to the expense of setting up a dedicated TV channel.’

To view the HD programmes Telewest viewers need to upgrade to the company’s new hard disk-based video recorder system the TVDrive. This offers the viewer 160 Gigabytes of storage - enough for eighty hours of standard footage and twenty in HD. Users will pay between £10-15 per month for the new TVDrive box and access to the HD transmissions.

Among the first HD programmes to be offered to Telewest viewers is Pride, the BBC’s live action/CGI documentary style programme that focuses on the lives of a group of young lions. It looks superb in High Definition with the rich colours of the African plains complementing the superb level of detail of the animals’ faces and bodies. Pride is shown in 1080i the higher definition of the two HDTV formats and Telewest says that many of its programmes will be screened in this format.

Not all of Telewest HD offering looks quite as good as Pride though. Several of the programmes have been upscaled to HD while others are classic series like The House of Cards which have been remastered for HD.

Sky is expected to launch its HDTV services in early 2006. It channel line up includes High Definition versions of several of its channels plus the National Geographic documentary channel. The BBC has also announced plans for HD experiments in the coming year. Both Telewest and Sky are hoping that the 2006 Word Cup, which will be filmed in HD, will be made available by the BBC via both satellite and cable platforms.

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