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BBC HD channel gets green light

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The BBC's governing body gave a thumbs-up today to limited plans for a high definition TV channel over Sky, Freesat and cable.

Terrestrial TV viewers will be frozen out until at least 2009 because regulators and industry are yet to decide how to divvy up the spectrum freed by switching off analogue transmitters.

Ofcom has indicated that it favours a technology-agnostic auction, and using superior compression to squeeze HD programming into the existing Freeview band.

The plan is being resisted by some TV companies who want to retain the spectrum. It would let viewers who want HD get it sooner, rather than wait for the analogue switch-off to complete in 2012, as well as help open up the airwaves to new uses such as low-power wireless broadband.

The BBC board had suggested it broadcast four hours of HD using the existing Freeview MPEG2 compression standard until new spectrum regulations are decided. The independent BBC Trustees bounced the idea on grounds it could confuse consumers and mean they buy gear that could quickly become defunct.

Shows for the channel will be culled from across the Beeb's current range of channels and include up to 20 per cent movies and sport. It'll go on air for nine hours from 3pm until midnight. A trial version is already running, and the Trust said it should be made available to terrestrial viewers as soon as the spectrum arguments are settled.

Diane Coyle, chair of the BBC Trust Public Value Test Steering Group said: "High Definition will eventually become a significant broadcasting standard and, as with all BBC services for which everyone pays, it is essential that this is universally available as soon as possible."

Ashley Highfield, the man in charge of the BBC's new media efforts, is pushing for HD over broadband. ISPs say the UK's current internet infrastructure makes it unfeasible, and have even publicly complained about carrying relatively poor quality iPlayer downloads. The Trust said there would be public value in HD over broadband, but repeated its view that the amount that could be broadcast would be "very small in the short to medium term".

Today's BBC Trust announcement is here. ®

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