Transmission of high-definition (HD) programming on Freeview is set to begin on the 2nd of December 2009, initially starting in the north-west and London before rolling out across the country as digital switchover continues.
Using more efficient transmission methods and compression technologies, Freeview's six existing multiplexes (groups of channels) are being reorganised to clear one of the multiplexes to make room for four high-definition channels. These will be from the following broadcasters:
- Channel 4
- S4C (in Wales)
- Five (to launch late 2010)
Starting on the 9th of December in the north-west Granada region covering Liverpool and Manchester, transmission of high-definition programming on Freewiew is set to begin shortly after digital switchover occurs. As digital switchover progresses across the country until it concludes in 2012, Freeview HD transmissions should begin broadly around the same time. For regions where digital switchover has already take place before December 2009, Freeview HD transmissions are due to begin one year after digital switchover occured in each region.
Additionally, from December 2009 from Crystal Place in London and in 2010 for a number of major UK cities, Freeview HD should be available around Springtime for the 2010 World Cup. The major cites are will be:
- Leeds & Bradford
These upgrades to the Freeview platform will allow for a limited amount of high-definition programming to be made available on Freeview over the next few years as the digital switchover progresses. In the shorter term Freesat, a free satellite based television service from the BBC and ITV, offers a limited range high-definition content from these broadcasters for free with just a one-off set-up fee.
Read more about Freesat and Freesat HD
In order to receive Freeview HD, new reception equipment will be necessary that supports the decoding and output of the new high-definition programming. The new equipment is expect to become available in late 2009 and more widely in 2010 as more products come to market, the final standards and specifications only recently having been announced.
The new set-top boxes should cost only a little more that existing standard definition boxes so should be available for less that £100 initially, with the costs falling over time as we have seen with ever falling prices of standard-definition decoder boxes.
The extra space that has been found for the four high-definition channels on Freeview HD has come from existing channels spread across six multiplexes being reorganised to only need five multiplexes, leaving one spare for the for high-definition channels on Freeview HD.
The four Freeview HD channels will be broadcast using MPEG-4 rather than the currently used MPEG-2, which is around twice as efficient. High-definition programmes on Freeview HD are likely to be a mix of 720p and 1080i transmissions depending on the programme content, 1080i being particularly suitable for faster moving images such as those found in sports coverage, while 720p will be used for the majority of regular programming.