Freeview audiences will be able to enjoy soaps, movies and sports in high definition (HD) from next year, media watchdog Ofcom has announced.

HD Freeview services will initially roll out in the Granada region in 2009, with nationwide coverage by the time the UK's switchover to digital TV is completed in 2012.

Channel 4 plans to broadcast more than 150 hours of films in HD during the first 12 months - most of which will be shown at peak time- while popular shows such as Desperate Housewives and Hollyoaks will also be available in HD.

ITV, meanwhile, plans to provide a HD broadcast of its peak-time programming, featuring shows such as Lewis and Coronation Street, as well as sporting events including the FA Cup and 2010 football World Cup.

The BBC has yet to outline its plans, but is likely to offer a similarly generous package to that provided by ITV and Channel 4.

"This is a significant step forward in the range of choice available in the UK," said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive.

"It will enable viewers to watch some of the very best programmes free-to-air in high definition through their television aerials."

HD viewing is already available via satellite and cable providers.

17/10/2008 13:09:29