Europe’s first HDTV channel completes trial broadcast

Europe’s first high-definition television channel completed a trial broadcast of music and sports programming last week, with regular broadcasts set to begin early next year.

Called Euro 1080, the new HD channel broadcasts live coverage from the World Athletics Final in Monaco and the “Night of The Proms” concert in London to an audience of journalists and TV executives at the IBC conference in Amsterdam.

Though the shift to HDTV in the United States has been sluggish even under a 2006 FCC digital television mandate, Europe’s shift to HD technology—under no government deadline—has been even slower.

The official launch of the channel, owned by the Belgian company Alfacam, is scheduled for January. The name Euro 1080 refers to the number of lines in the image, double the quality of “low-definition” regular TV.

When launched, viewers will receive four to five hours of daily programming, ranging from the Euro 2004 soccer championships to Vienna’s annual New Year's concert. The broadcasts will be free.

The price of HDTV receivers has been dropping about 15 percent each quarter in Europe, however, new displays still range from $1,800 to $4,000, and a set-top box off-air receiver costs up to $550, company officials said.

It was unclear whether the cost is low enough to attract many of Europe’s 380 million television viewers. So far, HDTV sets haven’t sold well, mainly “because there’s no content,” said Euro 1080’s technical manager, Jacques Schepers, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Euro 1080 will initially serve 30 countries with programs of minimal spoken content that can cross borders, such as music and sports. A second channel will broadcast to movie theaters or sports bars where audiences can watch sports and music events.

The new HDTV channel will produce 10 to 12 HD programs per month, and plans to supplement those offerings with programs from the United States and Japan, according to the company.

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