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World Cup: UTV faces wrath of fans over absence of high definition service

By Maureen Coleman

Armchair football fans across the UK will be enjoying glorious high definition TV coverage of the World Cup in South Africa... unless you are trying to watch it on UTV.

Disgruntled fans in Northern Ireland have criticised the local channel for failing to launch its high definition service in time for the World Cup, which kicks off tomorrow.

ITV is broadcasting the tournament in HD this summer but Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own franchises, STV and UTV.

While STV has announced its HD version will be operational in time for this Friday’s kick-off, UTV will not be launching its HD service on Virgin Media until autumn.

HD, or high definition, is a development in digital TV which allows for clear, crisp pictures with brighter colours and up to five times more detail than ordinary standard definition TV.

The BBC and ITV have divided up the matches, with both networks broadcasting key games over the next four weeks.

While Northern Ireland viewers can watch the BBC matches in HD, they will not be able to see ITV’s in HD.

These include the opening game between South Africa and Mexico, England’s first game against the USA this Saturday and Germany v Australia on Sunday.

Football forums in the province have been swamped with angry fans complaining about the lack of HD coverage.

One disappointed fan who contacted the Belfast Telegraph said: “It’s very frustrating that UTV has not been able to launch its HD service in time for the World Cup, especially as STV has.

“So, basically, Northern Ireland is the only region to be missing out on this, which is really annoying.

“I bought the Virgin Media package with the intention of watching the World Cup on HD,

but of course this is not going to happen now.

“Even if you subscribe to Virgin Media or Sky you won’t be able to get HD, yet UTV has been very quiet about telling us this.”

The angry viewer, who did not wish to be named, added: “Football fans here are getting second class treatment because UTV didn’t get its act together in time.”

A spokesman for the Garrick Bar in Belfast, which will be showing every match during the tournament, said it was disappointing that UTV had not launched its HD service ahead of kick-off.

But he said he had found a way around the situation, and that the bar would be showing all matches — on BBC and ITV in HD.

“All you have to do is buy a Freesat box and programme in an English or Welsh postcode instead of a local one,” he said.

“That’s what we’ve done, even if we do admit that we’ve shown a good degree of Northern Irish ingenuity.

“But I do think UTV has missed out on an opportunity.”

Football fans have been posting on internet forums to express their frustration.

One poster on www.cablefo rum.co.uk wrote: “Any more news about this? I doubt it will happen before the World Cup now.

“So we’re being left behind again.

“I just want to watch the World Cup in HD like the rest of the UK.”

Another angry viewer wrote: “At least they’ll have it for Euro 2012.”





A spokeswoman for UTV confirmed: “UTV would like to be in a position to provide HD for our viewers for the World Cup, but technically there is not sufficient capacity on the Freeview service here until digital switchover |takes place in Northern Ireland which is not due to happen until 2012.

“Neither UTV nor STV are available on Sky HD due to capacity issues on that platform which we are working to resolve with ITV Network and hopefully we will be on Sky HD by 2011.

“In terms of Virgin Media we will be available on this platform by late Autumn when UTV will be the first Irish channel to launch a HD service which represents a significant investment for an independent broadcaster.”

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