Broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 has launched high-definition television in Germany.
The country's largest free-to-air commercial TV group is leading the way in Europe with the new format, which is said to produce images up to five times sharper using special cameras.
Its pioneering steps will be followed next year by other groups such as the UK's BSkyB, France's CanalSat and Sky Italia.
HDTV television sets cost around €1,470 ($1,778; £1,000) plus a new settop box. But ProSiebenSat1, which is investing €2.9 million in development costs, believes it will be profitable within five years as manufacturers increase hardware output and reduce prices for consumers. Research suggests more than 4.5m households in Europe will have switched to HDTV by 2008
Says James Healey, from media analyst Datamonitor: "Although the televisions remain high-priced and few operators are ready for HD broadcasts, momentum for the introduction of HDTV in Europe is unstoppable."
ProsiebenSat1 is launching the service in advance of the soccer World Cup in Germany next summer. The globally televised tournament will not only provide a showcase for HDTV but is also expected to drive takeup of the service from German subscribers.
Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff