The BBC Trust has given the go-ahead for the launch of a 'real' HD service as soon as possible on cable and satellite - but technical reasons will delay decisions on a
Freeview terrestrial HD service until at least next year.
The long-awaited decision clears the way for the current 'trial' service, currently running on Sky and Virgin, to transform into a full channel, running from 15.00 to midnight daily, and with the flexibility to extend to cover significant live events.
The service will be available on the existing cable and satellite platforms, and also on the Freesat service when it launches soon. However, the need for new hardware to enable the service on the Freeview digital terrestrial platform means that, while the Trust wants to implement this as soon as possible, it's delaying the decision until next year. It's hope that by then a clearer picture should emerge of the spectrum availability made possible by the ongoing analogue TV switch-off.
That means the proposed four-hour 'time shift' DTT service, originally planned as an interim step, may only happen in those regions set to be late in the digital switchover schedule - the Trust is keen that when Freeview DTT HD happens, all platforms should have access to the full nine-hour service.
This should get round initial fears that terrestrial viewers would need to buy one box when the four-hour service launched, and then another to receive the full nine-hour HD service.
The plan is that the new HD service will highlight the BBC's HD output, much as the existing 'trial' service does, rather than simulcasting BBC One. The new channel will be a 'mixed genre' offering, with up to 20% sports and movies being allowed.
Also of interest is the Trust's view on future upgrades to HD picture quality: if HD moves to 1080p some time in the future, the service will have to remain backwards-compatible with existing 720p/1080i-compliant equipment.