'Half UK viewers will be able to watch 2010 World Cup on HD

ITV'Freeview claims 50% of viewers will be able to receive high-definition channel in time for football tournament

England's Theo Walcott in action against Croatia in a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup.

Freeview claims half the country's viewers will be able to watch 2010 football World Cup matches in high definition after ITV announced that it will launch an HD version of flagship channel ITV1 from the end of this year.

ITV, which announced the launch of ITV1 HD as part of the broadcaster's half-yearly results yesterday, has reached a distribution agreement with the BBC to lease some digital terrestrial television bandwidth to launch the channel on Freeview.

Despite agreeing a joint blueprint with the UK's other main terrestrial broadcasters in 2007 to roll out HD TV on Freeview, ITV has only now confirmed it will go ahead because of potential cost issues.

ITV1's HD service will become available across the UK in line with Freeview's three-year roll-out plan for high definition services.

A spokeswoman for Freeview HD said that 50% of UK households will be able to receive ITV1 HD in time for the football World Cup in South Africa next June.

ITV added that the first area to receive ITV1 HD will be Manchester in December. Freeview HD's roll out plan ahead of the next year's World Cup is focused on the London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Bradford.

ITV HD programming is already available to view in HD format on Freesat, the free to air digital satellite TV service. ITV has so far not managed to reach a deal with BSkyB to launch a HD service on the digital satellite broadcaster's service.

The BBC HD channel, which will also be broadcasting live football World Cup coverage next summer, is available to Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat viewers. A BBC Freeview HD service is due to launch later this year.

A detailed plan of the Freeview HD roll-out will be made available in September.

While sport is the biggest draw for consumers wanting to get HD services, ITV1's channel will also feature shows such as The Bill, Marple, Doc Martin and Kingdom in the higher quality format.

However, for consumers to receive Freeview HD broadcasts they will need to buy a set-top box compatible with two new technology standards MPEG4 and DVB-T2 to watch the channel, as well as an HD TV set. Freeview HD equipment will only becomes available in any great quantity from early next year.