HDTV's Prime number: 2008


WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Free-to-air high-definition TV in New Zealand has taken a step closer to reality as the nation's smallest network, Prime, this week announced it will begin broadcasts in February 2008.

It is the first network here to set a date for HDTV transmissions. Earlier this year, rivals pubcaster TVNZ and CanWest-controlled TV3 said that HDTV wasn't a priority for their digital platform, FreeView, which is due to launch next year.

However, since Prime's announcement, each has signalled HDTV broadcasts are in their short- to medium-term plans, with TVNZ close to making a decision on when.

Prime is owned by pay TV operator Sky TV. Sky chief executive John Fellet said in an interview that Prime will "lead a suite" of Sky HD channels.

"The existing wisdom says 720p for sports and 1080i for movies," Fellet said. "But my engineers are going through a European tour right now to see what is the best way to go."

At its annual general meeting Friday, Sky announced it will launch a video-on-demand service in May that will give subscribers the ability to download about 20 movies a month via their MySky set-top boxes.