U.K.: BBC Encouraged to Air HD on Freeview Sooner

The four major broadcasters in the United Kingdom have called for HD programming to be run on terrestrial TV well ahead of the planned analog turnoff in 2012.

Trials of uncompressed, over-the-air HD by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five recently concluded in London, and most of the consumer "trialists" say they expect to see HD services up and running within three years, well before the DTV conversion is complete. About 90 percent of the test homes also believe all four broadcasters should be "at the forefront of HD developments," according to ElectronicsWeekly.com.

The chief of HD operations at the BBC said it is clear that, even from this small trial sample, "audiences increasingly expect us and the other major broadcasters to offer high-quality HD programming on Freeview [free broadcasting] in the [near] future." The BBC has demonstrated terrestrial HD at 10 Mb with MPEG-4. The recent trial used MPEG-4 HD boxes from Humax and ADB.

The U.K.'s Digital TV Group is technically investigating the "polarizing" approach that could be used to deliver HD services alongside existing broadcasts--a scheme the BBC indicated is not likely for at least a couple of years.

In reality, the possibility of any non-DBS HD services in the U.K. before the 2012 switch-off still appears to be low. The British government has said spectrum allocation will be "market-driven," and a government spokesman said what the overall HD demand will be by U.K. residents in the near future is still anyone's guess.