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Ofcom confirms Freeview will get HD next year

Depending on where you live

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Free-to-air satellite broadcasting system Freesat may have only just launched in the UK as an outlet for BBC and - soon - ITV HD programming, but regulator Ofcom has confirmed that some Brits will get HD over Freeview next year.

The service will allow UK users to receive up to four HD channels through a regular television aerial. One slot has been reserved for the BBC, and Ofcom is currently judging applications from other broadcasters, including ITV and Channel 4.

It’s thought that at least three HD channels will be available when the service launches in the Granada area of north-west England early in 2009. But Ofcom expects all four HD channels to be available across all of the UK by 2012.

Delivering HD over Freeview is closely tied with the analogue switch-off, which happens in the Granada region in 2009, followed by Central in 2010, Meridian in 2011 and, finally, London in 2012. Wales and the West Country are also due to go entirely digital in 2009.

The Border region goes all-digital later this year, but it looks like it won't receive HD on Freeview before Granada does.

In addition to buying an HD TV, Freeview HD viewers will have to buy a new set-top box in order to receive the service when it comes to their region. But TVs with integrated HD decoders are already coming onto the market, such as Sony’s recently launched V4500 range.

Ofcom’s chief executive, Ed Richards, said terrestrial HD offers benefits for broadcasters, because they will be able to launch “new services without using any new spectrum”. Richards claimed viewers “will have access to new channels and services on free-to-air”.

The BBC has already launched an HD service, imaginatively called BBC HD, in the UK. So far, it's only been available through subscription TV services like Sky and Virgin Media, but it's now on Freesat too. It only broadcasts for six hours each day.

Hopefully, the service’s HD programme line-up will be expanded as Freesat takes off and Freeview HD comes on stream.

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