Freeview HD launches, new channel expected by end of year

Freeview has officially launched its HD service, which will be backed by a £6m (€6.7m) TV ad campaign.

Freeview HD signals have been broadcasting since December and at today’s official launch, Ilse Howling, Freeview’s managing director, said 50% of households would be able to receive Freeview HD in time for the World Cup finals in June, rising to 60% by the end of the year and 90% by the 2012 Olympics. From tomorrow, around 4.5 million new homes will come into Freeview HD coverage for the first time, including in the cities of Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff.

“We are not pretending to be the first HD [provider] on the market,” said Howling. “Other HD products are available. Unlike them we are for everyone; with great, free programming.”

The UK’s free-to-air DTT platform is launching its HD service with BBC HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD available from today. Viewers in Wales will also be able to watch S4C’s HD channel S4C Clirlun. Howling said there was room for two more channels and that she was hopeful at least one would launch “sooner rather than later”. Five was expected to be the fourth broadcaster to launch a HD channel on the platform but failed to resolve outstanding issues. The space on multiplex B is now in the hands of the BBC. Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer of the public broadcaster, said she hoped a new HD channel would launch by the end of the year and did not rule out the possibility that it would be a BBC channel.

A range of Freeview HD set-top boxes and TVs are already available with a total of 16 being on offer within the next few weeks. The price of Freeview HD boxes starts at £99, with Freeview Plus HD DVRs costing from £250.