BSkyB has appointed Thomson as the initial manufacturer of the set-top box for its forthcoming high-definition television service, and it will include a personal video recorder as standard.

Sky has placed an order with Thomson for the high-definition boxes, although terms and volumes have not been disclosed. It has been confirmed, however, that the box will be MPEG-4 compatible and will handle both 720p and 1080i frame formats.

Speaking at the DVB World conference in Dublin, BSkyB’s chief operating officer, Richard Freudenstein, revealed for the first time that Sky’s HDTV box will feature a personal video recorder capability similar to the existing Sky+ box, although this will still require a Sky+ subscription.

“More than 600,000 customers already enjoy the control and flexibility of our Sky+ product,” said Richard Freudenstein. “Offering PVR capability as a standard in the HDTV arena will ensure that they can continue to enjoy these benefits in association with our highest-quality programming.”

The news that Thomson will be the initial provider of the high-definition set-top box will no doubt be disappointing to Pace Micro Technology. The UK company has signed a deal to deliver MPEG-4 set-top boxes to Premiere in Germany, enabling the operator to be among the first to deliver high-definition services.

Confirming that BSkyB was on track to launch HDTV in 2006, Mr Freudenstein added that the step change in picture quality would help BSkyB to achieve its target of 10 million customers in 2010. “By introducing HDTV, our ambition is to raise the bar again. We want to re-affirm that the digital satellite platform is the home of the highest-quality viewing experience available.”

The UK satellite broadcaster says that current strong growth in sales of flat-screen television sets indicates rising consumer demand for a high-quality viewing experience in the home. BSkyB expects that sales of “HD Ready” TV sets will accelerate as equipment prices continue to fall and the availability of HDTV programming grows.

Although BSkyB’s HDTV box can be connected to any kind of TV set, customers will require an “HD Ready” TV set to enjoy the full benefits of HDTV picture quality. BSkyB estimates that almost two million such sets will have been sold in the UK by the end of 2006.