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Eurovision HDTV contest

Is it nul points for the UK?

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HDTV has been creeping into Europe for a while and as we sit tight and anxiously wait for Sky, Telewest and the BBC to start rolling out our high definition signals some countries are already enjoying the delights of 720p and 1080i programming.

Germany is probably the furthest on in the development of HDTV helped along no doubt by the approaching World Cup which, as you are no doubt well aware, it's hosting. Lucky viewers get a choice of HD Broadcasts on the Astra satellite including the subscription Premiere, on which all 64 World Cup matches are being shown, as well as the free-to-air Prosieben/Sat.1.

Our closest neighbour, France, was interestingly one of the last countries to take up digital terrestrial TV but this hasn't held back the progress of high definition. Main TV networks M6 and TF1 began testing HD signals last year and satellite broadcaster TPS (Télévision Par Satellite), similar to Britain's Sky, looks set to push out HD packages this month.

Spain's Digital+ satellite service carried out HD trials in June last year but there are no definite plans to roll it out full time yet. That is coupled with a channel line up that doesn't look like it will boast the World Cup in HD which is a bit unfortunate. We expect that Digital's Real Madrid and Barca channels will be looking to go HD at some point though.

It looks like cable is the delivery means of choice in the Netherlands and Samsung has been hyping a special receiver in line with the World Cup HD transmissions that will be available from Dutch cable companies Essent Kabelcom and Casema. Another recent partnership between Philips and cable company UPC will also mean more HDTV options sometime later in the year.

In Sweden, HD satellite transmissions have already been tested and broadcaster SVT did announce back in September that the World Cup would be shown in high definition. Also quite intriguing is Sweden's progress towards IP HDTV which is possible due to the vastly improved broadband internet services available over there, some of which make our 8Mbps connections look achingly slow.

Also don't forget Belgium's Euro1080 channel which is probably one of the longest running HD providers in Europe. It is available to most of northern Europe on the Astra satellite but you will need to buy a Conditional Access Card to view it. Unfortunately, it isn't showing the World Cup but it has Winter Olympics footage.

As for the UK, well the hot money is now on an April launch for Sky's service, which will be available to viewers in the UK and Ireland. Cable company Telewest is starting to take orders for its Sky+ style TVDrive hard disk video recorder/HD decoder and most of its digital subscibers should be able to buy one and access its on-demand HD content from the BBC and others by the end of the year. Its sister company, NTL is expected to begin rolling out a similar HD-friendly decoder/recorder shortly.

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Certified gadget obsessives Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny scour Gizmoville for the oddest digital goodies, TV Scoop features all that's cool in British telly and Games Digest has all the latest gaming news.

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