High definition television (HDTV) channels could be available on Freeview by 2009, the broadcast regulator has revealed.
Ofcom has today announced proposals for a ‘significant upgrade’ of digital terrestrial television (DTT) – on which Freeview operates – that will offer more channels and new services.
It says the upgrade could more than double the capacity of the DTT platform and would allow viewers to access an array of new digital channels and services.
Ofcom believes that the upgrade could be complete in time for digital switchover in the Granada television region, which is due to take place in late 2009 or early 2010.
The new services would then be available as switchover is rolled out across the rest of the UK, with four HDTV channels available by 2012.
Ofcom says there are several reasons why the DTT capacity can be increased. These include channels using more efficient compression technology and a new European transmission standard that will increase capacity by at least 30 per cent.
However, following the upgrade viewers who wanted to access the new services would need to buy a new DTT set-top box or integrated television which was compatible with the new MPEG4 compression technology, and DVB-T2, the new European transmission standard.
But viewers with existing DTT set-top boxes or integrated televisions would still be able to access Freeview services with their current equipment.
Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom, said: ‘Digital terrestrial television is a big success story; it is in nearly 13 million homes and it contributes to the choice and diversity of British television.
‘Our proposals to upgrade DTT represent a major opportunity to build on its success with wider, richer and more varied television services, including the potential for HDTV to be made available to millions of people free to air. We look forward to hearing the views of viewers and from right across the industry.’
Which? TV expert Mike Briggs said: ‘For a long time it looked like HDTV was set to be the preserve of those willing to pay monthly subsciptions to satellite and cable providers, so the prospect of free-to-air HDTV is something to get excited about.
‘The downside is you’ll have to buy yet another new digital box – but of course this will be a one-off payment only. And it could finally mean that if you’re one of the many people who own an HD-ready TV, you will finally get to watch in real high definition.’