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<  Freeview, TopUp and TV  ~  HD on Freeview sooner rather than later?

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nwhitfield
Posted: Thu Sep 25, 2008 11:18 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 20 Mar 2005 Posts: 9567 Location: London
So, where are we now with Freeview and HD? Essentially, not a lot has actually changed in the last 9 months.

Basic facts
The current MUX B (carrying BBC4, BBC News 24, and some interactive streams) will be re-organised as part of the switchover process, starting late 2009 with the Winter Hill transmitter.

It will now be engineered using the new DVB-T2 standard, carrying material broadcast with MPEG4/AVC compression. It's intended that in peak time, there will initially be three HD services; the BBC is guaranteed the space for one, and a beauty contest was run earlier this year for the other spaces. Given the only ITV and C4 put in bids, it's pretty much certain that they will also have HD services in the space. The plan is that as encoders improve (and according the BBC people I spoke with at IBC, that's happening faster than they imagined), there will also be space for channel 5.

Ofcom has said it's open to a mix of services on this mux - which might include the space that's used for prime time HD being used for multiple SD channels at other times of day.

The existing service
What's happening to the rest of Freeview? The channels that have to be displaced from the current mux will be moved around; most of the BBC services will go on their current mux 1, and changes to the configuration of that should mean that there won't be any significant drop in picture quality. Some services will go on mux 2 (owned by ITV/C4), presumably as a quid pro quo for space on the HD mux.

It looks like this may mean, overall, the loss of one interactive stream from the BBC, but that's about it.

As further regions switch over, then the same changes will take place in those regions, and they will be rolled back to those that have switched.

In tandem with this, Ofcom is working to identify temporary frequencies that may allow HD services in certain areas, before they switch off their analogue services. These too will use the new DVB-T2 technology. London is likely to get such a service, and so will a few other areas.

A second switchover?
But it's very important to note that there is no proposal at all to switch off the DVB-T service on any mux other than mux B - the one that's changing to HD.

You will continue to receive, for the forseeable future, at the very least all the channels that you receive on analogue, and the additional digital ones from BBC, ITV and C4. So, no boxes are going to be obsolete, as some naysayers claim. They won't receive HD, but that doesn't mean they're useless.

There is little chance (if any) of the main PSB channels moving to the newer technical standard within a decade of switchover.

It is, however, possible that if there is a massive takeup of HD equipment (which will also receive SD with both old and new technologies), then some of the commercial muxes (carrying channels like Sky's, Dave, QVC etc) may decide that it's worth converting to that new standard.

However, that isn't going to happen until there's either a really compelling channel that will drive people to change boxes to receive it, or a lot of installed HD capable boxes. It's taken Sky HD a couple of years to get half a million people. Freeview HD might grow faster than that, it might not. We don't know yet.

But a mux operator will not be popular with the channels they carry if they decide to make the switch to the new standards where there are only, say, 1 or 2 million boxes capable of receiving a service, rather than the several million households (and climbing) they can reach with the current MPEG2/DVB-T system.

They're not going to cut their own throats, so don't expect a mass move to the new technology any time soon, even from the commercial channels. And certainly not from the PSBs.

Anything you buy now will be able to receive at least the PSB channels, and most likely an awful lot more, for the next decade. It will probably have stopped working by the time channels start to move to a format that it cannot receive.

Equipment availability
There are chipsets at prototype stage for the new DVB-T2 system right now; I saw some of them working at IBC in Amsterdam this month. The picture looked excellent, by the way.

It's anticipated that the first consumer equipment will be available late next year, in time for the changeover at Winter Hill, but real volume shipments are more likely in early 2010.

It is not possible to upgrade existing DVB-T equipment in software or firmware to work with DVB-T2, or to convert it from MPEG2 to MPEG/AVC. You will need new equipment to receive HD broadcasts. This applies to the Toppy, to the tuners built in to "HD Ready" TV sets and to everything else.

Anyone who tells you that you have something already that will receive Freeview HD is lying, or doesn't know what they're talking about.

A special treat
Not seen this online yet- cleaned up from a photo I took at IBC:


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gomezz
Posted: Thu Sep 25, 2008 7:52 pm Reply with quote
Frequent contributor Joined: 18 Nov 2005 Posts: 3963 Location: Buckingham
nwhitfield wrote:
It looks like this may mean, overall, the loss of one interactive stream from the BBC, but that's about it.

I find this part extremely worrying for the MotoGP viewer. Guess which sport's coverage will get the chop when put up against F1, Wimbledon or snooker? Sad

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Laser
Posted: Fri Sep 26, 2008 11:27 pm Reply with quote
Frequent contributor Joined: 10 Jan 2008 Posts: 421
I must confess to some cynicism and disappointment at this push for HD freeview. Sad

The quality of the majority of existing transmissions is quite poor, some being abysmal. Only the occasional prime-time programme the BBC wants to push may look reasonable. Now the existing bandwidth is being squeezed even further which will make them all worse still. Why can't we lose all the utterly pointless "+1" channels to make some bandwidth instead?

The long-running hype of "HD" in the TV market has gone beyond a joke. Yes, a proper HD source like a HD-DVD or Blu-ray, shown on a properly set-up, large screen TV can look stunning, I agree. However, HD is not just about "more pixels". You can have as many pixels as you like, but if the compression has removed or distorted the detail, it's worse than properly-done SD. And you can be sure that freeview HD will be compressed within an inch of its life.

A decent SD DVD played with a good quality player on a nice, large TV looks about as good as you're likely to get at normal viewing distances. I'll put money on it looking a lot better than HD freeview will, for sure. The irony is that many people will rush out to buy HD boxes (as they have done with Sky) and end up watching it on a small, badly set-up TV and convince themselves it looks better. Rolling Eyes

Sorry for the rant... Razz

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nwhitfield
Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2008 10:42 am Reply with quote
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Well, the demo of Freeview HD at IBC had three channels being fed through the mux they were transmitting, and the pictures looked excellent, as far as I could see.

When I find time, I'm hoping to visit BBC R&D to see more. Certainly a great improvement on the SD.

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ryclark
Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2008 1:49 pm Reply with quote
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I have always thought that although HD would be nice SD DTT could obviate the need for HD if the broadcasters didn't compress the life out of SD transmissions just you broadcast so many channels. It's the usual digital quantity over quality problem that affects so much media these days. Crying or Very sad

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Laser
Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2008 8:54 pm Reply with quote
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nwhitfield wrote:
Certainly a great improvement on the SD.

Well, one would hope so! Otherwise it's all a little pointless.

My point was rather meant to be along the lines of "SD freeview would look as good as the HD freeview is likely to be, if only they didn't apply so much compression".

Static images are usually passable, but as soon as there's flashing or other whole-screen colour/intensity changes, the entire picture gets macroblocking galore. It's like watching YouTube.

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moogaloo
Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 3:12 pm Reply with quote
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Is it worth adding to the HD update the fact about the digital dividend auction for which some of the capacity could be bought for television broadcasts?

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simonc
Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 3:13 pm Reply with quote
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That's if money still has any meaning by the time they try to sell it. How many chickens do you think it's worth?
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glenmcfar
Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 6:50 pm Reply with quote
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simonc wrote:
That's if money still has any meaning by the time they try to sell it. How many chickens do you think it's worth?

10 Smile

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nwhitfield
Posted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:50 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 20 Mar 2005 Posts: 9567 Location: London
To update on what I've said elsewhere, as some people will doubtless get excited about the announcement from Ofcom regarding who will be broadcasting on the HD mux.

Essentially, this is nothing that earth shattering - it was already clear that there was space for three HD channels initially, with a fourth coming later as HD encoders improve in efficiency.

The agreement between the PSBs over HD on Freeview suggested that, as part of the mux re-arrangement, C4 and ITV would join the BBC in having space on the mux, with five joining later.

So, when Ofcom announced that the BBC would get one slot on the mux, as it was previously their mux, and that it was asking for people to apply for the other two inital slots, who applied but ITV and C4 (in each case, in a consortium involving the licence holders for other parts of the UK - the irish and scottish channel 3 folk bidding with ITV, and the welsh C4 bidding with C4. Channel five did not submit an application.

The announcement that, of the two groups bidding for two slots, both have been awarded one slot each, is hardly therefore a bolt from the blue.

What's happened is, essentially, regulatory confirmation of what we knew a long time ago was the most likely outcome, once the PSBs decided that they would go along with the plan to re-engineer one of the existing muxes for HD.

My personal suspicion is that, for the next few years at least, there will probably be roughly the same amount of HD on Freeview as on Freesat - few other broadcasters will have the deep pockets necessary to launch an ad-supported HD channel on satellite right now.

Nigel.

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reslfj
Posted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 6:10 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 11 May 2008 Posts: 2
nwhitfield wrote:
announcement from Ofcom
Essentially, this is nothing that earth shattering - it was already clear that there was space for three HD channels initially, with a fourth coming later as HD encoders improve in efficiency.

Nigel.


It is, however, news, that the 4th HD channel - Five-HD - may join as early as 2010.

The application from C4/S4C included 'Teletext':
"A full Text & Interactive service provided by Teletext is part of this bid."

But 'Teletext' is not mentioned in the Ofcom 'News Release' ?

In the original Ofcom 'Invitation to Apply' there is this text:

"Ofcom has provisionally identified a frequency in London which could be used to extend the coverage of the Multiplex B service to up to 3.7 million households up to two years earlier than the currently planned DSO schedule for this region in 2012.
This, as with any other possible frequencies Ofcom might identify, will
be subject to a separate consultation"

I guess we are waiting for this consultation now, to see where HD on DTT may start before DSO.

Lars Smile
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ultimate_fish
Posted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:11 am Reply with quote
Joined: 31 Dec 2005 Posts: 2
Just to comment on the quality issue. Whilst it's generally agreed that encoding quality and bandwidth are more important than resolution, higher resolution is better and with lots of people now owning HD capable TVs the move to HD makes sense. Mpeg4 is a codec designed for HD use and is at its best when used to compress HD material with a relatively high ratio. In my experience even pretty heavily compressed MPEG4 HD looks much nicer than heavy handed MPEG2 SD.

I have much more experience in audio, where there's a similar story. Some of the latest AAC codecs get very good results at 48kbps, vs MP3 at 128kbps or MP2 at 256.

Of course greater codec efficiency will probably just mean more channels squeezed in and lower quality for all. But we can hope.
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alahen
Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 3:50 pm Reply with quote
Frequent contributor Joined: 23 Jun 2008 Posts: 108 Location: Scotland
nwhitfield wrote:
It is not possible to upgrade existing DVB-T equipment in software or firmware to work with DVB-T2, or to convert it from MPEG2 to MPEG/AVC. You will need new equipment to receive HD broadcasts. This applies to the Toppy, to the tuners built in to "HD Ready" TV sets and to everything else.

Anyone who tells you that you have something already that will receive Freeview HD is lying, or doesn't know what they're talking about.


Being in a position where I'm tempted to 'upgrade' from a CRT to an LCD TV (despite not currently having any HD sources), I've been thinking about the practical consequences of Freeview HD and the equipment needed for it. I wonder if anyone can help answer a few queries:

When Freeview HD arrives, current tuners won't receive HD broadcasts. Does this mean that the thousands of people who currently own LCDs with inbuilt Freeview tuners will have to buy a set-top box, and the built in tuners will become redundant?

Is it likely that at some point new TVs will come with built in Freeview HD tuners?

Will we ever see a Toppy which has twin HD tuners and a hard drive big enough to use them?

I understand that the first areas to get Freeview HD will get it later this year and I think I read that Scotland would be 2010. Will that include all the transmitters in Scotland or will remote areas have to wait longer? I ask this because I live in the Western Isles and whenever something new gets rolled out that covers 99.5% of the population, it's always my area that is in the 0.5% which doesn't get it! Sad

So, on the basis that I don't want to switch to Sky or Freesat, do you think it's unwise to think about an LCD TV (unless a new telly is necessary) until Freeview HD is up and running?

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simonc
Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 4:07 pm Reply with quote
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It's worth considering that as a Toppy owner, you'll probably prefer to record your HD content for viewing at a more convenient time, in which case the tuner in the TV is largely redundant.
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ryclark
Posted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 5:16 pm Reply with quote
Frequent contributor Joined: 10 Jul 2005 Posts: 1611 Location: Shropshire
If they want to view/record HD Freeview then, yes, they will need a new set-top box. But for SD Freeview their present in built tuner will continue to work as long as there is still SD broadcast which should be for at least another decade I should think.

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