From Colin Mann in London
UK DTT platform Freeview has launched an HD service available from today to around 4.5 million new homes, including in the cities of Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff, which puts Freeview HD coverage on track to reach up to 50 per cent of the UK by the 2010 World Cup in June.
A target of 60 per cent coverage is anticipated for year-end, with 90 per cent of the country covered in time for the 2012 Olympics in London, and near total coverage by the end of that year.
The UK's most watched channels are all represented on the new HD service. Channel 4 HD is available alongside the BBC HD channel and ITV1 HD. Welsh language service S4C will launch its HD channel Clirlun in Wales on 30 April. Channel 5 recently returned its allocated HD multiplex and is not expected to be present in HD until 2102. Freeview Chairman Caroline Thomson confirmed that the BBC and Ofcom are currently looking actively at what to do with the fourth slot
A range of Freeview HD boxes and Freeview HD TVs are available to buy from leading manufacturers including; Sony, Panasonic, Humax and Bush with more to follow from Philips, LG and Samsung in the coming weeks. Freeview+ HD boxes will arrive in shops before the World Cup. Prices of Freeview HD boxes start from £99 (E110), Freeview HD TVs from £480 and Freeview+ HD boxes are expected to cost from £250.
The first of a series of eight ads carrying the slogan 'It feels good to Freeview' will break on Saturday, 3rd April and the £6 million (E6.7m) campaign will run until the end of the World Cup, returning again at Christmas. FreeSat is mounting its own campaign over the same period (see below).
Ilse Howling, Managing Director of Freeview, described the launch as “a momentous day, the most important since Freeview launched,” adding that HD was going “genuinely mass-market for the first time.”