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London could get HD Freeview next year

Ofcom considers Operation Spectrum Juggle

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Freeview viewers in London and other major metropolitan areas could get high-definition TV next year under spectrum juggling plans being considered by regulators.

The BBC has applied to Ofcom to temporarily use so-called "programme making and special events" frequencies for high definition broadcasts until the national switch off of analogue transmitters is complete in 2012.

If approved, the 2010 football World Cup would be available in better picture quality to millions, if they buy new receivers. Freeview high-definition broadcasts will be encoded in MPEG 4 and transmitted using the as-yet incomplete DVB-T2 standard.

The new channels, reported here, will occupy multiplex B, a data stream operated by the BBC. Granada viewers will get high-definition Freeview signals first, late next year. Ofcom is now considering letting the BBC broadcast the channels in big cities, on a case by case basis, over other frequencies until analogue systems are junked nationally.

In the four-week consultation launched today, Ofcom specifically examines the effect of the proposed broadcasts in London, where spectrum is most constrained. The capital isn't scheduled to get Freeview in high-definition until the tail end of the analogue switch-off. If the plans are approved, however, its very likely that other big cities will see high-definition early too.

It's also hoped that increasing the number of homes able to receive HD broadcasts early in the analogue switch-off will encourage consumer electronics manufacturers to launch new set-top boxes.

The consultation paper is here (PDF). ®

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