By Tim Fanning

PALMA
THE days of having to have a massive satellite dish to pick up BBC and ITV are over, according to one installation company in Majorca.
Yesterday the BBC and ITV launched their new digital satellite television service called Freesat. One of the main selling points in the UK is that it will be the only service to offer ITV HD (high definition). The new service offers over 80 channels including high definition channels and there is no subscription charge.

But the real news in the Balearics is that customers will be able to pick up this new service using a smaller sized dish. The stronger signal will cover a larger area, which means a smaller dish is required. At present most viewers in Majorca need a 1.4-metre dish to pick up the BBC and ITV. In the south of the island - in Cala d'Or and Andratx - an even bigger dish is required. Many people can't get dishes that big on their balcony.

This new service can be picked up on the same size dish as for Spanish TV. “Basically you can pick it up on an 80-cm dish,” said Sean Connolly from Ocean TV yesterday. “You can get ITV on a dish that's the size of a plate, as opposed to a massive Nasa-sized dish. This is going to revolutionise having satellite in Majorca.” Freesat currently offers all the BBC channels including regional variations and BBC HD, all the ITV channels (ITV HD and Ch4 HD will be broadcast shortly) and Ch4, as well as a number of other channels owned by Ch4, such as E4 and FilmFour. There are also a number of other movie, lifestyle, music and children's channels.

According to Connolly, “Someone in Majorca who is thinking of getting satellite TV should really be getting their hands on a high definition Freesat box.” The only free to air channel that viewers won't be able to receive at the moment using the Freesat service is Five.
However, this supposes that they don't want Sky's subscription channels, such as Sky One, Sky Sports and Sky Movies. In the UK, the standard set-up box sells at about 55 pounds. The high-definition box starts at about 120 pounds but, according to Connolly, more realistically, you are talking 160 pounds for a decent set top box. The boxes are currently only available from four retailers in the UK, John Lewis, Argos, Curry's and Comet. Later this year, Freesat will be rolled out in the Republic of Ireland. Viewers who have a high-definition ready television set will only be able to pick up BBC HD and ITV HD using the Freesat service.

You won't be able to pick up ITV HD on another set-top box because the signal will be constantly shifting frequencies. “It has to have the Freesat badge on the box and be HD to see ITV, which is really surprising because if you have just forked out a lot of money on a big plasma TV and a high definition box, you'd expect to get Coronation Street in high definition but you won't,” says Connolly.

BBC HD is currently available free to air using a Sky set-top box. But this may change in the near future. The BBC's 300 hours of Olympic coverage will be broadcast on its HD channel as well as its standard channel. According to Connolly, there is a possibility that BBC HD will soon not be available using a Sky box. Freesat has the added advantage of automatically updating all the new channels that come on board.

The programme guide is also laid out in a logical fashion, so that BBC1 is followed BBC2, ITV1, Ch4 and so on. “The fact that you can get it on a small dish is really the news today,” says Connolly. “We've already made test signals. It works on 85cm in Majorca. But we recommend in southern areas of the island 1 metre.” The new box will be available in Majorca from Ocean from Friday of next week.