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U.K.: Freeview Provides HD, sans HD Boxes

Like the proverbial tree than falls in the woods, what happens if you provide HD services and no one can see them? That's a question perhaps some subscribers to the Freeview HD channels in Britain will ask themselves in the next few weeks.

The U.K.'s first terrestrial channels to provide HD content began airing in early December, but there are few to actually see it. Most viewers are being asked to wait until early 2010 (not as far away now as it may sound) when an adequate supply of HD set-top boxes are expected to be made available.

Freeview is a digital service owned by a consortium (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB and Arqiva) that recently began its so-called "technical launch" of HD services from its greater London and Manchester transmitter sites. But apparently "technical launch" refers to the fact that while there is indeed HD content in the air, it's not serving any real purpose except, of course, for somewhat unplanned technical tweaking and evaluation. New HD STBs will likely begin to become available by February.

Using next summer's World Cup in South Africa as a distant target, Freeview — which now serves more than 18 million dwellings — is pushing to penetrate roughly half of all U.K. households with HD channels by the time of the soccer matches in June. Britain's deadline for a total DTV transition is not until 2012.