ITV is joining the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel Five for a trial this summer allowing digital terrestrial television viewers in London to get a taste of programmes shot in high definition.
However, viewers wanting to see a range of HD channels rather than just a taster can sign up for BSkyB’s digital satellite offering, Sky HD, from next Wednesday, April 12.
BSkyB is to begin installing Sky HD set-top boxes next month, giving customers access to enhanced picture quality versions of channels including Sky One, Artsworld, National Geographic, Sky Sports and Sky Movies.
Sky HD customers will also be able to watch the BBC’s World Cup football coverage.
Sky HD boxes cost £299 plus a £10 monthly subscription, but BSkyB is offering free installation as an introductory offer.
The six-month DTT HD trial, using a test and development licence from Ofcom, will use local frequencies to showcase a selection of specially recorded HD programming, including live World Cup coverage from Germany.
ITV and the other broadcasters are looking for 500 volunteers in the London area to take part in the trial, which is designed to test a range of consumer equipment and gain a better understanding of terrestrial HD broadcasting.
The major unresolved issue for high definition broadcasts on DTT, or Freeview, is that there is not likely to be enough bandwidth to support permanent services in the enhanced picture quality format until after digital switchover in 2012 – and maybe not even then.
Channel 4 and the BBC have floated the idea of the government giving them some analogue spectrum after digital switchover is completed in 2012 so they can launch DTT HD services.
However, the analogue spectrum freed up by switchover could also be sold off to telecoms operators, which would bring in far more revenue for the government than giving it to the public service broadcasters for HD channels.
"ITV is already commissioning and recording a wide range of HD programming. We are committed to making our content available on whatever device, whenever and wherever our viewers want it," said Simon Fell, the controller of emerging technologies at ITV.
"This trial will allow us to evaluate the technology and give us valuable insight into viewer attitudes to HD, helping to show the possibilities for HD broadcasts over DTT post-switchover."