In advance of today's big announcement on the launch of the UK's first free-to-air satellite TV service, we sent our man Andy Kerr to interview Richard Lindsay-Davies, commercial director of Freesat.
Asked what was most significant about the launch, Lindsay-Davies stressed the almost universal UK coverage – 98 per cent of British homes will be able to receive Freesat transmissions – as well as the first free-to-air high-definition channels and the fact, of course, that after the initial installation and set-top-box cost, the service will be completely free.
What about the hardware? 'There's a very rigorous specification that the manufacturers we're working with have to pass before we'll allow them to release products onto the market with our brand name. Much, much more rigorous, in fact, than Freeview.'
What can we expect from the service, in terms of performance? 'We're trying to ensure there's a very high level of performance from receivers, which allows us to innovate on the platform – In the early days we'll have some exciting interactive services, much, much faster than Freeview. With us, it's very slick, much higher capacity, much faster.'
We asked Lindsay-Davies (above, speaking exclusively to our reporter) about the installation process: how will Freesat ensure those offering installation are qualified to do the job? 'Well, we've got a trademark licence with installers, so after they've done the job, they should carry out a demo before they leave. We're ensuring retailers offer an assisted sale: that means they're all trained, and they should sell the proposition as an installed proposition. We want the whole experience, end to end, to be a level quality, good consumer experience.'
Receivers from £50
What about pricing on the receivers? 'If you want a standard-definition receiver, it'll be around £50. An HD receiver will be around £150. Standard installations should cost around £60. Recorder or multi-room installations will cost a little more, as they'll require an additional cable run.'
So, who is Freesat aiming at, and does Lindsay-Davies have predictions as to the takeup? 'We've no intention of disclosing our targets,' he says, 'but we're chasing the large number of householders that own HD-ready TVs, but who don't yet have an HDTV supply in their homes – somewhere around 8 million people.'
And what about that HD content? What form will the broadcasts take? 'Whether you'll see 720p or 1080i will be largely up to the broadcasters. We're trying to maintain the native content of the content wherever possible. The boxes will include their own upscalers – the Humax, for example, comes shipped as 1080i.'
SD 'better than terrestrial Freeview'
'The great thing as well,' he adds, 'is that the quality of our standard definition broadcasts will be, in the long term, better than terrestrial Freeview. The Ofcom plan for Freeview means squeezing Standard definition in order to fit HD in – we're not under any pressure to squeeze SD because of our superior bandwidth.'
Bullish words from Freesat's commercial director. We'll continue to bring you the latest news of today's big launch, and we'll be monitoring its impact on the world of TV broadcasting over the coming days and weeks. What do you think of the idea? Will you be rushing out today to order your installation? Let us know, below...
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