The BBC is to begin high-definition television broadcasts in mid-2006 as a limited technical trial.
Highlights of the BBC One peaktime schedule will be simulcast in high definition on satellite and cable. There are also plans for a technical trial on terrestrial television in the London area.
The BBC will apply to the communications regulator Ofcom for temporary use of a terrestrial frequency that is currently not allocated to broadcasters.
Capacity for HDTV broadcasts on terrestrial television will remain limited until digital switchover, scheduled to take place across the country between 2008 and 2012. This will free some extra capacity as analogue services are switched off. Ofcom will decide how this spectrum will be allocated.
The BBC is considering collaboration with other broadcasters on the terrestrial trial. It is expected that these trials will last for about a year.
“From colour and widescreen to digital radio and television, the BBC has always been at the forefront of innovations in broadcasting,” said Jana Bennett, the BBC director of television. “Our promise to our licence payers is to give them the highest quality television, so the time is right for the BBC to get involved in high definition.”
Some flagship BBC programmes, are already made in high definition and the BBC has a target to move all production to high definition by the end of the decade.
A limited number of high-definition programmes are being made available as downloads as part of the BBC iMP integrated media player trial.
The BBC, which will have a leading role in completing the conversion to digital television, has asked for a licence fee increase 2.3% above inflation, including £700 million identified for digital broadcasting infrastructure.
Satellite broadcaster BSkyB has already announced plans to launch a high-definition service in mid 2006.
Commenting on the BBC proposals, Richard Freudenstein, the chief operating officer of BSkyB, welcomed the announcement. He said: “The BBC’s commitment to HD is very positive news for this exciting technology and ensures that viewers will be able to enjoy an even wider choice of programmes in HD quality.”
Other countries, including America and Australia are already broadcasting high-definition television services.