Astra launches German HDTV platform

Jörn Krieger

Satellite operator SES Astra will launch an encrypted digital television package in high definition for DTH households in Germany this autumn, with commercial general interest channels RTL and VOX being the first services on board the offer.

The bouquet, dubbed HD+, will be distributed in MPEG-4/1080i and encrypted in Nagravision. Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland has rented additional capacity on a long term basis on Astra’s orbital position 19.2° East for transmission of the HD services. Viewers will then be able to choose between the analogue or digital versions of RTL and VOX in standard definition, which will continue to be distributed free-to-air, and the encrypted HDTV variations.

RTL HD and VOX HD will provide simulcasts of the conventional channels’ schedules in high definition. Movies, sports events and other programmes which have been produced in the new TV technology will be distributed in real HDTV, while the remaining material will be up-converted.

“We believe that HDTV offers added value which many viewers would like to enjoy,” said Andre Prahl, member of the management board of RTL’s technical subsidiary CBC and head of the distribution unit at Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland. “RTL is investing in this project despite economically unstable times in order to make television more attractive both for viewers and advertising customers.”

To receive HD+, viewers will have to pay a fee yet to be fixed. SES Astra’s new subsidiary HD+ GmbH will be responsible for the distribution of smartcards. The satellite operator, which stresses that HD+ is open to all interested broadcasters, will now commence negotiations with further channels to enlarge the offer.