The BBC is to broadcast its 2006 World Cup football coverage in high definition as part of a year-long HD trial. Major Wimbledon matches will also be shown in HD, as will the Planet Earth and Galapagos natural history series; the Hannibal drama documentary; and some BBC Proms concerts, including first and last nights.
Things get underway on Monday May 15 with a test stream previewing forthcoming programmes. The first HD transmission of a live event will be of the opening World Cup match - Germany v Costa Rica - on Friday June 9. All of the BBC's allocation of World Cup matches will go out in HD, including, of course, the final on July 9, and be followed by selected Wimbledon matches from Centre Court and Court One.
Auntie's HD broadcasts will only be accessible to viewers who have HD services - via satellite from Sky or via cable from NTL or Telewest (or whatever the joint company will now be called). They'll also need HD ready TV sets, in addition to the HD set-top boxes that will be provided as part of the satellite or cable HD services.
The trial - scheduled to last for about one year - is intended to enable the BBC to test technical delivery of HD and to understand how the audience values such a service from the BBC. Any subsequent BBC HD service, though, will be subject to approval by the BBC Trust.
Explaining why footie and tennis are being trialed first, BBC director of sport Roger Mosey says, "High definition works particularly well for sport. It gives fantastic picture quality, from the blades of grass that are being played on right to the back of the stands, and although only limited numbers of people will be able to see this trial we hope it will be a glimpse of the future."
Commenting on future aims, Seetha Kumar, head of BBC HD TV, says, "We believe that in the long term the BBC can help provide the benefits of HD to everyone, free to air, in the same way that we backed colour, stereo, widescreen and online in the past. With this trial, the BBC is taking the first crucial steps to support the development of HD broadcasting in the UK."
Although the trial has a sporting kick-off, it will also show what the BBC describes as some of its "most ambitious programmes", such as the Planet Earth and Galapagos natural history series; the Hannibal drama documentary; and some BBC Proms concerts, including first and last nights.
The amount of new HD programming will vary from day to day but average, the BBC says, between one and two hours. Some programmes will be simulcast with BBC ONE or "in a few instances" BBC TWO. Others will be time-shifted or offer another chance to view in HD for the first time past programmes such as Bleak House and Hotel Babylon.
Although it's not possible yet to provide a full HD service over the Freeview terrestrial digital system because of limited bandwidth, the BBC will be running some simultaneous technical trials of HD on Freeview - but restricted to a lucky few hundred households in London, to be "chosen shortly".
After the switchover to digital (taking place between 2008 and 2012), Freeview could accommodate some high definition broadcasting, but quite how much, if any, will depend on how bandwidth is shared out after Ofcom's Digital Dividend Review later this year.
For more about the BBC's HD trial, check out the corporation's HDTV and digital home pages. And don't forget to let us know your thoughts in the HEXUS.community.