What's happening with Freeview HD?
[The Editor: In our recent open post we had several questions about the roll-out of Freeview HD. This is the first post on the blog from Graham Plumb, Head of Distribution Technology, BBC Operations Group.]
The plan is still to launch Freeview HD on December 2nd at the Winter Hill transmitter serving Manchester and Liverpool. The plan has always been to roll Freeview HD out around the country following switchover and Winter Hill was selected as the first achievable transmitter. There will need to be a retrospective upgrade of regions that have already switched.
The originally mentioned date of November came from the fact that Winter Hill starts to switch over in November. But it was quickly realised that the BBC's second Multiplex (Mux B) that is being converted for Freeview HD actually switches over on 2nd December at Winter Hill.
The March 2010 date in the Ofcom document is simply the last backstop date by when Winter Hill has to be on air to comply with our licence conditions. They've built in a contingency (as already happens in switchover licences).
The BBC has been working on plans to deliver early upgrades to some stations (serving high populations) that are late in the switchover programme and would otherwise have to wait long for Freeview HD.
One example is London that switches over in 2012 but we're planning to upgrade its Crystal Palace transmitter in December this year. There are another four main transmitters that we plan to upgrade in the first half of 2010. We can give the names and dates of these transmitters in a little while when plans are a bit firmer. We are also planning an upgrade to the Digital UK postcode database, which will tell viewers when they can expect their transmitter to be upgraded to Freeview HD.
Although everything is still on track against plans, there are significant technical and contractual challenges - not least to get transmission and domestic receiver equipment through design, development and delivery stages within an ambitious timescale. As with any major technical project, there is always a risk of slippage due to circumstances beyond anyone's control. However, there is industry-wide commitment to rolling out Freeview HD as soon as possible, and good progress is being made on all fronts.
Graham Plumb is the Head of Distribution Technology, BBC Operations Group.