As we predicted here several weeks ago, Freesat is launched today. Brand new set-top boxes are available as of this morning, and this summer TVs with integrated Freesat tuners will be launched.
Viewers will have to pay for installation of a satellite dish and set-top box, but after that there's no monthly subscription to pay.
At launch there will be 80 channels, including the BBC HD channel. Later this month ITV HD will become available on the service too, but not Channel 4 – yet.
Freesat claims 98 per cent coverage of the UK, more than that of the current Freeview digital TV service.
Richard Lindsay-Davies, commercial director of Freesat, told whathifi.com: "Freesat will be much bigger than Freeview. We don't have the spectrum capacity constraints that Freeview has: it's not an unlimited capacity, but there's a wealth of capacity on offer. That means we've got the opportunity to grow from two high-definition channels at launch to many more over time."
Freesat plans to have more than 150 channels within its first year of operation. They'll be broken down into Entertainment, Sports, News etc.
"Channel 4 isn't involved as yet, but we've been in discussion with Channel 4 for some time, and we're in discussion now," says Lindsay-Davies.
A standard-definition receiver will cost around £50, while an HD one will be around £150. Standard installations will cost approximately £60, and recorder or multiroom installations will obviously cost more.
Some TV manufacturers such as Panasonic have already announced they will produce flatscreen TVs with built-in Freesat tuners (see below) for a slight premium over Freeview models.
Soon there will be Freesat set-top boxes from Goodmans, Grundig, Bush (below) and Humax. Freesat PVRs are planned for the summer. "DVD recorder/Freesat products are a possibility, and we're in discussion with some people about Blu-ray," says Lindsay-Davies.
Freesat HD broadcasts will be in either 720p or 1080i, with Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Initially Freesat will provide simulcasts of standard-definition and high-definition programmes.