The BBC is beginning the first public free-to-air high-definition television transmissions in the UK as part of a 12 month trial, ahead of the official launch of Sky HD, while research shows that licence fee payers expect the BBC to offer high-definition broadcasts as standard.

Following the broadcast of a promotional preview from midday on 11 May, the BBC is planning to broadcast the first five episodes of the natural history documentary Planet Earth and sixteen episodes of the classic Dickens drama Bleak House over the Whitsun Bank Holiday from 27-29 May.

Starting on 9 June, the BBC World Cup coverage will be simulcast in HD, as will major Wimbledon matches.

From July onwards, the BBC will transmit high-definition highlights of drama, documentaries, events and music for a few hours each day.

The broadcasts will initially be available to satellite television viewers with high-definition compatible receivers and displays. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which is launching a full HD service, will start installing compatible set-top boxes from 22 May, having received over 40,000 advance orders.

The BBC HD channel will also be carried in some cable areas in time for the World Cup, following an agreement reached with NTL Telewest.

Terrestrial reception will be limited to a BBC trial service in the London area, as there is currently not enough capacity available nationally for the high-definition broadcasts. Test streams have already been received in the capital.

Research conducted by GfK NOP for the BBC showed that the majority of those sampled expected the BBC to broadcast in high-definition free-to-air on all platforms in the future.

A representative sample of 1,500 respondents revealed that 73% had heard about high-definition television. Of those, 87% said they expected the BBC to broadcast in high definition in the future; 93% expected those broadcasts to be free to air; and 95% expected them to be available on satellite, terrestrial and cable television.

“These are small but exciting first steps in the BBC’s ambition to offer the option of high definition to all in the future,” said BBC director of television Jana Bennett. “It’s clear that licence fee payers expect high-definition broadcasts from the BBC, the same way they have moved to colour television, widescreen, digital radio and online services with us in the past.”

High-definition television has available for many years in some other countries, including America and Australia.