The BBC is planning to evolve its existing HD trial, available on Sky and cable, into a full-scale HDTV service. And that could mean up to nine hours of HD content every night.
The plan is that the service will be available entirely free on the existing carriers, as well as the Freesat service due to launch next year and eventually on digital terrestrial TV, or Freeview.
There's also the possibility that it will appear on the internet, both via bbc.co.uk and providers of internet protocol TV (IPTV). That would allow downloads or streaming as part of the BBC's 'catch-up' view-on-demand system.
And best of all, the corporation is committed to producing programmes in HD end-to-end, not upconverting standard definition material. The exception is that any programme may contain up to 25% upconverted material, an example being archive shots in documentaries.
The BBC's plans, announced in a document jointly drafted by the BBC Trust and communications regulator OFCOM, put forward proposals for the service to be subjected to a Public Value Test by the Trust and Market Impact Assessment by the regulator. It seeks approval for a single channel, drawing content from across the BBC's channels, and running from 3pm to midnight daily, with the flexibility to extend those hours to cover 'significant live sports or other events'.
At launch, it's likely that just four hours of content will be available daily, the BBC suggesting the schedule might look something like this,
but the service would build to a full nine-hour package, covering children's programming, mainstream factual and drama and more specialist shows such as the BBC's music output.
The proposals for Freeview HD broadcasting are dependent on sufficient broadcast spectrum being made available following the switchover to all-digital TV, which starts to roll out this Autumn and is scheduled to be completed by 2012.
It's suggested that the BBC would offer a four-hour overnight HD service from 2am to 6am, allowing suitable HD Freeview recorders to store content for watching later, by shutting down BBC Four, BBC Parliament and some interactive video streams during these hours. The programmes offered would be advance showings of material due to be broadcast in HD on other platforms the next day.
But it's clearly hoped that there will be space enough for the full nine-hour HD service to be offered on Freeview as well as Freesat, with the terrestrial service rolling out across the country as analogue TV transmitters are switched off.
It's expected the Sky/digital cable service will be ready to go live, replacing the current trial service, assuming the Public Value Test approves it. This decision is expected by November this year, and that service will be followed by Freesat and DTT (Freeview) next year.