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Euro web pumps up HD volume

1080 group planning region's first network

AMSTERDAM — While the U.S. is starting to roll out high-definition cable channels, in Europe, HD nets are still a glimmer in the eye of enthusiasts.

Now, a group calling itself Euro 1080, an initiative driven by Belgian-based Alfacam, Europe’s biggest HD facilities company, hopes to change that. It plans to launch Europe’s first HD network Jan. 1.

The two-channel web (a general entertainment outlet and an events channel) will begin a test launch Sept. 13 during the Intl. Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.

The European Union began throwing money at HD producers and manufacturers about a decade ago, but did not back broadcaster initiatives.

That error, according to a number of HD experts, resulted in a failure to create a demand for HD beyond occasional and very expensive music and cultural-events programming.

The upshot is there are few programs and few HD screens to be had in Europe.

The U.K. has gone to digital widescreen in standard definition, while the rest of the continent remains on the more usual standard def.

Euro 1080 shareholders, including Alfacam owners Gabriel Fehervari and Karin Stoop, believe it’s a chicken and egg situation: HD will kick off in Europe when there is a demand for the programming, and there will be a demand when a broadcaster is up and running. Other shareholders include unnamed members of the consumer electronics industry, to be announced Sept. 13.

Alfacam, which has five offices in Europe and 15 HD outside broadcast vans, works regularly with companies such as Japanese broadcaster NRK, the world leader in HD program making, and the U.K.’s BBC, whose blue chip documentaries such as “Blue Planet” have been filmed in HD.

“Alfacam has a stock of beautiful images, and since we began the initiative, Euro 1080 has been acquiring rights as well,” says Vicki de Beule, Euro 1080 channel manager assistant.

At press time, Euro 1080, which gets its name from the number of horizontal lines in the European HD format, was in negotiations with a satellite carrier and a set-top box manufacturer.

The network will use a specially designed prototype set-top box. There is no HD set-top box available in Europe today.

Programming for the network will include live sport events and sports highlights, high profile music concerts, including opera, rock, and pop, as well as historical and cultural events. De Beule noted those kinds of programs are perfect for HD and for the launch, since at the outset, the network will not be subtitling or dubbing, and the programming will need pan-European legs.