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EDITIONS
Friday, 29 March, 2002, 10:44 GMT
Set-top box offers low-cost digital
CBBC presenters
CBBC is available on the box
A set-top box designed to give viewers access to digital television without paying a subscription has gone on sale.

The box, which costs 99, is made by manufacturer Pace and the company hopes it will boost the take-up of digital TV in the UK.

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You can watch but not interact with ITV 2
Its release comes days after digital service provider ITV Digital was put into administration.

The decoder can pick up 14 free national channels, including BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Choice, BBC Four, BBC News 24, recently launched BBC children's services CBBC and CBeebies, ITV1 and ITV2.

Freeco

The new Pace box is not interactive nor does it have facilities to upgrade to pay TV, but these services could be added by downloading necessary software.

The BBC has been talking to ITV, Channel 4 and other broadcasters, as well as equipment manufacturers and retailers, about creating a so-called Freeco service that can be received via the new boxes.

Broadcasters would promote free channels and the equipment to receive them to persuade viewers who do not want to a pay a subscription to go digital.

A BBC spokesman said: "There's no Freeco proposition at this stage, but we are continuing to talk to all free-to-view broadcasters and believe it's in the viewers' interests for digital terrestrial television to flourish."

Pace is planning to add interactivity to the new boxes later ths year, according to Andrew Wallace, the company's marketing director.

'Good call'

Mr Wallace said negotiations with ITV Digital to include a pay TV upgrade facility in the box had broken down "just a few days ago".

"Some days ago we failed to reach a commercial agreement with ITV Digital, so we took the decision to take [the pay-TV upgrade] out of the box," he said.

"Given what's happened over the last few days, that looks like a good call," Mr Wallace added.

He added: "We will continue to talk to ITV Digital, but there's no urgency. We'll see what happens over the next couple of weeks.

"The platform is capable of carrying this sort of feature," he said. "It's just a case of agreeing the upgrade route with ITV and putting the software into the box."

But an ITV Digital spokeswoman said no deal was done for a pay-TV upgrade because the box did not meet its technical specifications.

"It doesn't have the level of interactive capability we're looking for, or the security against piracy. That's to do with the technical capability of the box."

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Chief executive of Pace Malcolm Miller
"It's a simple box"

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