News Corporation's UK satellite TV monopoly BSkyB on Monday launched the country's first regular high definition television service.

It did so just three weeks in advance of the planet's largest broadcast sports event - the 2006 soccer World Cup hosted this year by Germany.

As of yesterday Sky Digital offers eight high definition channels, one of which is provided by state-owned broadcaster, the BBC. Other providers include National Geographic and Discovery

The BBC is also poised to launch its own HDTV service in time for the opening World Cup match on June 9, as will its commercial rival ITV. The BBC also plans to transmit the Wimbledon tennis tournament in high definition.

High definition TV has enjoyed success in the US, where its proponents claim a quantum leap in quality, akin to the shift from black and white to colour.

However, uptake is expected to be slow at first. The new platform not only requires an HDTV-enabled receiver, it also needs a special set-top box, while few broadcasters will initially have the technological facilities to broadcast all programmes in high definition.

By the end of this year, around 2.7 million of the UK's 24m-plus households will boast HD-ready TV sets, according to industry research.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff