BBC launches free HD service, delivering Wimbledon, Olympics and more

By Kevin Hilton

SVG Europe correspondent

High definition coverage of this year’s Wimbledon tennis championships,
the Beijing Olympics and the Euro 2008 football tournament will be
widely available from the BBC after the public service broadcaster
launched a new free-to-air satellite platform this week in
collaboration with its commercial rival, ITV.

Freesat is
offering more than 80 digital channels, a mixture of TV, radio and
interactive services, as well as BBC HD. ITV is set to introduce its HD
channel during the summer and will also offer a range of sport,
including England internationals and the UEFA Champions League.
Initially viewers will only be able to gain access to ITV HD by
pressing the red button.

Like the now well established digital
terrestrial TV service Freeview the new satellite platform does not
rely on subscriptions. Viewers pay only a one-off fee for a receiver,
which can be a standard definition or HD box or a HD-ready digital TV
set with Freesat capability built in (an IDTV). Prices start around 49
for basic models, with IDTVs costing upwards of 80 and HD receivers
priced from 120.

The managing director of Freesat, Emma Scott,
commented, “This is a landmark for digital TV in the UK – the launch of
a new satellite service that brings free HD programmes to everyone.”

Freesat
is claimed to have a potential reach of 98 percent of homes in the UK
and by the end of this year 200 are scheduled to be available.