British stations to air on Irish digital TV

Mainstream British television channels will broadcast on Ireland's new trial digital service, it was announced today.

Seven companies have been given the green light to air programmes on the Government-funded pilot service over the next two years.

It is expected to be the beginning of the end for the old analogue television system, which the European Union hopes to switch off across the continent for good in 2012.

Among the successful applicants for the trial service were RTÉ and eircom, businessman Denis O'Brien's Communicorp, Rupert Murdoch's Sky Ireland and Channel 6.

Other companies confirmed are Chellomedia Services Limited, Magnet Networks and USP Ireland Limited.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland said major UK channels as well as local programming and radio channels would form the service due to launch next March.

Digital TV is already available in Ireland through cable and satellite subscribers but has not been available for the rest of viewers until now.

The system takes up less bandwidth, freeing up space for more channels and allows for other special services like interactive features and multi-programme viewing at the one time.

Fans say it has superior image, sound and reception quality but this depends on conditions. Critics point to defects in the emerging technology not present in the old system.

The free-to-air terrestrial pilot service will transmit from the Three Rock site in south county Dublin and the Clermont Carn site in Co Louth.

The system is presently undergoing private tests by experts to examine the stability of the technology.

After any problems are ironed out set-top boxes - which transform the digital signals so as they can be understood by old television sets - will be given to trial participants.

Ordinary users will then report back on any shortcomings with the new system or any problems experienced by transferring from the old analogue service to digital.

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