Freeview (UK)


Freeview (UK)
Freeview
(DTV Services Ltd)
Industry Media
Founded 30 October 2002
Headquarters London, England, UK
Key people Ilse Howling (Managing Director)
Products Equipment to receive free-to-air digital terrestrial television channels
Revenue Not for profit
Website freeview.co.uk

DTV Services, trading as Freeview, is the name for the collection of free-to-air services on the Digital Terrestrial Television platform in the UK. The service is jointly run by its five equal shareholders, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and transmitter operator Arqiva. DTV Services is designed to market changes to the platform. DTV Services is responsible for marketing services such as Freeview+, the PVR brand and Freeview HD.

The technical specification for Freeview is published and maintained by the Digital TV Group, the industry association for digital TV in the UK who also provide the test and conformance regime for Freeview, Freeview + and Freeview HD products. DMOL, a company owned by the operators of the six DTT multiplexes (BBC, ITV, C4, and Arqiva) is responsible for technical platform management and policy, including the electronic programme guide and channel numbering.[1]

Contents

Overview

Adoption of digital terrestrial television (green) across all television sets from 2006-2009. Source: Ofcom

Freeview officially launched on 30 October 2002 at 5 am when the BBC and Crown Castle (now Arqiva) officially took over the digital terrestrial television (DTT) licences to broadcast on the three multiplexes from the defunct ITV Digital (originally called ONdigital). The founding members of DTV Services, who trade as Freeview, were the BBC, Crown Castle UK (now part of Arqiva) and British Sky Broadcasting. On 11 October 2006, ITV plc and Channel 4 became equal shareholders. Since then, the Freeview model has been copied in Australia and New Zealand.

Equipment required

Receiver

To receive the services that Freeview promotes, either a television with an integrated digital tuner, or an existing standard analogue television receiver (used as a display device) plus a set-top box (typically available from £15) or digital PVR is required. (New analogue receivers are no longer sold as there will be no more analog transmissions after the 2010-2012 digital switchover.) DTT tuners for computers are also available from about £15. Some retailers say that a digital television receiver is actually required, which is untrue.[2]

Aerial

An aerial (antenna) is required for viewing any broadcast television transmissions. For all transmissions indoor, loft-mounted, and external aerials are available. In regions of strong signal an indoor aerial may be adequate; in marginal areas a high-gain external aerial mounted high above the ground with an electronic amplifier at its top may be needed.

Aerial requirements for analogue (the old standard) and digital reception in the UK are identical; there is no such thing as a special "digital aerial", although installers and suppliers often falsely say one is necessary.[3] An aerial which gives poor analogue viewing may give unwatchable, rather than poor, digital viewing, and need replacing, at a cost of typically £80 to £180, most of which is fitting cost.[4]

After digital switchover the power of digital transmissions is much increased (before switchover, powerful digital transmissions would interfere with analogue transmissions); this resolves some issues of bad reception. In some strong signal areas the post-switchover signal may possibly be too strong, particularly if an aerial amplifier is used; this can be cured (and diagnosed) with a small attenuator of, say, 6-12dB, costing a couple of pounds,[5] or by removing the amplifier.

Service costs

The name distinguishes the service from cable, Sky Digital and the former ITV Digital, digital TV services. Freeview channels can be received at no charge (other than the annual television licence required for television reception required for all viewers of broadcast television in the UK which must be purchased by anyone who has and uses the appropriate equipment to receive television signals[6]).

A subscription-based DTT service, Top Up TV, launched in March 2004 using unused channel space on multiplexes that were owned by parties who, at the time, were not members of the Freeview consortium. The Top Up TV service is not connected with the Freeview service; it simply runs alongside it on the DTT platform. It was possible to receive Top Up TV on selected Freeview set-top boxes or televisions equipped with a card slot or CI slot, however, this was replaced in 2006 by "Top Up TV Anytime", a service which requires a proprietary set top box—details are on Top Up TV's website. ESPN can be received with televisions equipped with a card slot.

The Digital TV Group the industry association for digital television in the UK, is responsible for co-ordination between Freeview, Top Up TV, and other digital services.[citation needed]

Freeview channels

The Freeview service broadcasts free-to-air television channels, radio stations and interactive services from the existing public service broadcasters. Channels on the service include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 terrestrial channels, as well as their digital services. In addition, channels from Sky and UKTV, text services from Teletext and radio stations from BBC and Bauer amongst others are available.

The full range of channels broadcast via digital terrestrial television includes pay television services from operators such as Top Up TV and ESPN. These channels, although available only to subscribers with appropriate equipment, are listed in the on-screen electronic programme guides displayed by many Freeview receivers but may not be viewed.

Freeview+

Freeview+, originally entitled "Freeview Playback",[7] is a consumer brand for the specification of Digital Terrestrial Recorders which is published and maintained by the Digital TV Group. It is designed to "raise consumer awareness and promote sales" of Freeview-capable digital video recorders. Only approved digital terrestrial recorders (PVRs, DVRs and DTRs) which meet specified quality and functionality criteria are permitted to carry the Freeview+ logo. An advantage of the scheme is the benefit of joint marketing and consumer confidence.

Freeview HD

Channels

With two channels (BBC HD and ITV1 HD) Freeview HD completed a "technical launch" on 2 December 2009 from Winter Hill (as a full power service) and Crystal Palace (as a reduced power temporary service) and operates on multiplex BBC B (aka Multiplex B or PSB3) from that date in regions that switched-over on or after that date, with the service coming to all regions by the end of 2012.[8] Channel 4 HD commenced test broadcasts on 25 March 2010 with an animated caption, ahead of its full launch on 30 March 2010, coinciding with the commercial launch of Freeview HD.[9][10] S4C Clirlun launched on 30 April 2010 in Wales, where Channel 4 HD will not broadcast.[11] STV HD launched in Scotland, where ITV1 HD does not broadcast, on 6 June 2010.[12]

Five HD was due to launch during 2010 but was unable to reach 'key criteria' to keep its slot.[13][14] Spare allocation on multiplex B was handed over to the BBC, two years from the date when it was anticipated that further capacity on multiplex B would revert to the control of the BBC Trust. On 3 November 2010, BBC One HD launched on Freeview HD.[15] It is available in addition to the existing BBC HD channel, which continues to show the "best of the rest" of the BBC in HD. The BBC Trust recognised that technical and financial constraints as of 2010 prevent additional variations.[16]

Until 17 October 2011, the Commercial Public Service Broadcasters had the opportunity to apply to Ofcom to provide an additional HD service from between 28 November 2011 and 1 April 2012.[17] Channel 5 HD was the sole applicant,[18] with the aim of launching in spring or early summer 2012.[19]

Technical

The Digital TV Group publishes and maintains the UK technical specification for high-definition services on digital terrestrial television (Freeview) based on the new DVB-T2 standard. The specification is known as the D-book. Freeview HD is the first operational TV service in the world using the DVB-T2 standard. This standard is incompatible with DVB-T, and can only be received using compatible reception equipment.[20] Some television receivers sold before the HD launch claimed to be "HD-ready", but this usually implies that the screen can display HD, rather than that DVB-T2 signals can be received—a suitable tuner (typically built into a STB or PVR) is additionally required. Freeview HD set-top boxes and televisions are available. In order to qualify for the Freeview HD logo, receivers will need to be IPTV-capable and display Freeview branding, including the logo, on the electronic programme guide screen.[21] The Freeview HD trademark requirements state that any manufacturer applying for the Freeview HD logo should submit their product to the Digital TV Group's test centre (DTG Testing) for conformance testing.

On 2 February 2010, Vestel became the first manufacturer to gain Freeview HD certification, for the Vestel T8300 set top box.[22] Humax released the first Freeview HD reception equipment, the Humax HD-FOX T2, on 13 February 2010.[23]

It was announced on 10 February 2009 that the signal would be encoded with MPEG-4 AVC High Profile Level 4, which supports up to 1080i30/1080p30, so 1080p50 cannot be used.[24] The system has been designed from the start to allow regional variations in the broadcast schedule. Services are statistically multiplexed – bandwidth is dynamically allocated between channels, depending on the complexity of the images – with the aim of maintaining a consistent quality, rather than a specific bit rate. Video for each channel can range between 3 Mb/s and 17 Mbit/s. AAC or Dolby Digital Plus audio is transmitted at 320 kb/s for 5.1 surround sound, with stereo audio at 128 kbit/s; audio description takes up 64 kbit/s, subtitles 200 kbit/s and the data stream, for interactive applications, just 50 kbit/s.[21] Recording sizes for Freeview HD television transmissions average around 3 GB per hour.[25] Between 22 and 23 March 2011, an encoder software change allowed the Freeview version of BBC HD to automatically detect progressive material and change encoding mode appropriately, meaning the channel can switch to 1080p25.[26] This was extended to all of the other Freeview HD channels in October 2011.

To ensure provision of audio description, broadcasters typically use the AAC codec.[27] Hardware restrictions allow only a single type of audio decoder to operate at any one time, so the main audio and the audio description must use the same encoding family for them to be successfully combined at the receiver. In the case of BBC HD, the main audio is coded as AAC-LC and only the audio description is encoded as HE-AAC.[28] Neither AAC nor Dolby Digital Plus codecs are supported by most home AV equipment, which typically accept Dolby Digital or DTS, leaving owners with stereo, rather than surround sound, output. Transcoding from AAC to Dolby Digital or DTS and multi-channel output via HDMI was not originally necessary for Freeview HD certification. As of June 2010 the DTG D-Book includes the requirement for mandatory transcoding when sending audio via S/PDIF, and for either transcoding or multi-channel PCM audio when sending it via HDMI in order for manufacturers to gain Freeview HD certification from April 2011.[29] Thus equipment sold as Freeview HD before April 2011 may not deliver surround sound to audio equipment (some equipment may, but this is not mandatory); later equipment must be capable of surround sound compatible with most suitable audio equipment.

In early February 2011 it was announced that 1,000,000 Freeview HD set-top boxes had been sold.[30]

Copy protection

In August 2009 the BBC wrote to Ofcom after third-party content owners asked the BBC to undertake measures to ensure that all Freeview HD boxes would include copy protection systems as required by the Digital TV Group's D-Book, which sets technical standards for digital terrestrial television in the UK.[31] The BBC proposed to ensure compliance with copy-protection standards on the upgraded Freeview HD multiplex by compressing the service information (SI) data, which receivers need to understand the TV services in the data stream. To encourage boxes to adopt copy protection, the BBC made its own look-up tables and decompression algorithm, necessary for decoding the EPG data on high-definition channels, available without charge only to manufacturers who implement the copy-protection technology. This technology would control the way HD films and TV shows are copied onto, for example Blu-ray discs, and shared with others over the internet. No restrictions will be placed on standard-definition services. In a formal written response, Ofcom principal advisor Greg Bensberg said that wording of the licence would probably need to be changed to reflect the fact that this new arrangement is permitted. The BBC had suggested that as an alternative to the SI compression scheme, the Freeview HD multiplex may have to adopt encryption. Bensberg said that it would appear "inappropriate to encrypt public service broadcast content on DTT".

On 14 June 2010 Ofcom agreed to allow the BBC to limit the full availability of its own and other broadcasters' high definition (HD) Freeview services to receivers that control how HD content can be used.[32] Ofcom concluded that the decision to accept the BBC’s request will deliver net benefits to licence-holders by ensuring they have access to the widest possible range of HD television content on DTT.

An update to the Freeview HD programme guide data, featuring the Huffman-encoded EPG tables, was rolled out in August 2010.[33]

Coverage and reception

As of 2010, 77% of the UK population can receive the full Freeview service, with more able to receive some channels before digital switchover and all channels after[34] Coverage is being increased as digital switchover takes place across the UK.[35]

Ofcom estimates that the coverage level of the three public-service broadcasting multiplexes will reach 98.5% of the population (the same as analogue television) and six-multiplex reception will cover 90% of the population once the digital switchover has been completed in 2012.[36] The full package of sixty Freeview channels (six-multiplex) will only be available via the main transmitter in each transmitter group, and a number of other Relay Transmitters that are deemed to be important in terms of the large coverage area they serve. Those who rely on a local self-help relay transmitter, or other Relay transmitters covering a small village or area will only receive around eighteen channels (three-multiplex) after digital switchover.[37]

Approximately 27% of households were in a location that could not receive Freeview broadcasts in 2006.[38] Maximum Freeview coverage of the UK while analogue and digital services were running in tandem was reached in the years before digital switchover in the UK began.[39] Digital UK, a body backed by the UK government and UK broadcasters, is switching off analogue TV services in the UK in a process ending in 2012, region by region. In June 2009 the BBC announced that high-definition TV (HDTV) broadcasts on digital terrestrial television would start in December of the same year.[40]

In 2007 the Whitehaven transmitter in Cumbria switched to digital. In 2008 viewers in the Scottish Borders had their analogue signal switched off and their Freeview signal boosted, and coverage increased to minor relays. In 2009 Freeview coverage increased: The south-west of England switched to digital between April and August; Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway and the Isle of Man switched in June. As of 2010 Wales is the first nation to complete the digital switchover with its analogue services replaced by high-powered digital signals carrying the Freeview service.[41]

History

Following the collapse of ITV Digital, the Independent Television Commission re-advertised the licenses for the three multiplexes (MUX B, C and D) that had been used by ITV Digital. On 16 August 2002, the licenses were granted to members of the Freeview consortium, with BBC getting multiplex B and Crown Castle getting multiplexes C and D.[42]

Although all pay channels had been closed down on ITV Digital, many free-to-air channels continued broadcasting, including the five analogue channels, the BBC channels and ITV2, ITN News Channel, S4C2, TV Travel Shop and QVC.[43]

Freeview launched on 30 October 2002. Sky Travel, UK History, Sky News, Sky Sports News, The Hits (now 4Music) and TMF (now Viva) were available from the start. BBC Four and the interactive BBC streams were moved to multiplex B.[44] Under the initial plans, the two multiplexes operated by Crown Castle would carry eight channels altogether. The seventh stream became shared by UK Bright Ideas and Ftn which launched in February 2003. The eighth stream was left unused until April 2004 when the shopping channel Ideal World launched on Freeview. There are now 14 streams carried by the two multiplexes, with Multiplex C carrying 6 streams, and Multiplex D carrying 8. It has recently been announced that more streams are now available on the multiplexes, and that bidding is under way.

On 23 August 2010, Sky Sports News was removed from Freeview and replaced with Sky3 +1.

Transmission upgrades and equipment obsolescence

Digital terrestrial television is incompatible with analogue receivers, which can display DTT only by using a digital set-top box.

Changes in the way that DTT is transmitted mean that a digital set-top box from the late 1990s would have offered impaired performance as early as 2002, and will today be completely unusable in many parts of the UK where transmission is fully digital. The increase in the number of channels (including services which broadcast only for a few hours a day, and 'interactive' text-based services which nonetheless require their own channel numbers) resulted in a requirement to alter the previous broadcast parameters of the network. In August 2008 this caused approximately 250,000 receivers with Setpal microprocessors (mainly 4–6 years old) to stop working altogether due to incompatibility with the expansion, due to a change in size and format of the Network Information Table.[45] Freeview had warned consumers in advance of the update, which was phased in over a three-month period.[46]

Other boxes and IDTVs (almost all dating from 2004 or earlier) have been made obsolete by the change to "8 k mode" [47] which is used in regions where analogue transmissions have ceased. The 8k mode offers financial and technical benefits to broadcasters, at the expense of compatibility with older receivers.

Customers make no payment for transmissions beyond the licence fee, but there is no entity with any obligation to ensure that old equipment continues to work, or is replaced when incompatible upgrades occur, as is the case on managed platforms such as cable TV providing services for which payment is made. Affected consumers are advised to buy new Freeview receiving equipment.[48][49]

Further alterations to broadcast services are trialled on a regional basis. Viewers who experience problems as a result are advised by Freeview to contact the manufacturer of their equipment.[50]

2009 retune

The Freeview service underwent a major upgrade on 30 September 2009 which required 18 million households to retune their Freeview receiving equipment.[51] The changes, meant to ensure proper reception of Channel 5, led to several thousand complaints from people who lost channels (notably ITV3 and ITV4) as a result of retuning their equipment. The Freeview website crashed and the call centre was inundated as a result of the problems.

The change involved an update to the NIT (Network Information Table), which some receivers could not accommodate. Many thousands of people could not receive some channels. This included 460,000 fed from relay stations who have permanently lost access to ITV3 and ITV4. Updates were broadcast to enable firmware changes, but in some cases the receiver must be left on and receiving broadcasts to accept the updates; not everyone was aware of this.[52][53]

See also

References

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  3. ^ BBC: Digital switch advice 'shocking' 9 of 14 installers gave bad or misleading advice, suggesting that people are likely to need a new aerial for digital switchover ... 5 told the mystery shopper they would need a "digital aerial", when in fact there is no such thing.
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