Tag Archives: FreeView

Future of TV

Its just a matter of time that the capacity of the internet both wireless and landline based will be able to cope with the demands of quality, live streaming TV channels. And I don’t mean the mobile phone type of video usually associated with internet based television. Already, throughout the internet, there are tens of thousands of television channels able to be viewed, not to mention millions of videos and shows able to be downloaded both legally and illegally.

But, for most computer users, downloaded or live streaming content can only be watched on their computer. So far there is not a great deal of products available to have your TV as part of the computer, and use the computer as the source of your entertainment. Apple has a product which gives connectivity between the computer and the TV, but they don’t seem to be readily available yet (in Australia) and there is little quality content in any case.

The lower quality videos with slow frame rates, fewer lines per screen are fine for the computer screen, but when you put them onto your larger lounge room TV, you quickly see the lack of quality. However, this is improving as the internet world wide gains more capacity and speed allowing near broadcast videos to be seen in real time.

In the past few years especially, we have seen the proliferation of broadband internet plans both mobile and land line based at very affordable prices. While Australia is behind Europe and other parts of the world in this regard, it is easy to pick up a 5Gig per month mobile internet plan at say $40 per month. And providers like TPG offer 50Gigs! Thats about 75 DVD quality movies that could be downloaded each month – which by extrapolation, I would assume enough bandwidth to stream about 150 hours of broadcast quality standard definition TV per month.

As internet capacity increases, the monthly download size will increase and the possibility of broadcast quality TV being sent through the internet will become reality. In my opinion, I see this as the future of TV, and in the extreme long term, the way TV will be delivered to many households. Once the infrastructure is in place for the internet to handle this sort of data, it will actually be cheaper and more environmentally responsible for television broadcasters to start broadcasting TV direct to the internet as the need for transmitters chewing up hundreds of thousands of watts of power will be not needed (well at least in urban areas where population density ensures the viability of infrastructure, and in regional areas or places where the land line based internet does not reach, mobile internet technology takes over providing a similar service).

Just around the corner are 1 and 2TB hard discs, SD cards holding up to 2TB (2000 gigs) of data and USB3 – which allows for a much faster transfer rate of about 10 times what USB2 offers. This is more than enough memory to hold millions of pictures, and thousands of hours of video. I imagine, that in the next few years, as people make use of large memory storage devices, the next logical step is to want all of your videos stored in HD format – which of course will take alot more memory to store – at least 4 times standard definition).

And if the internet keeps up, we’ll be sending HD quality videos through the internet. Both fixed and mobile. It will become common place. The next step after that, is UHD – Ultra high definition where you have 2160 x 3840 pixels instead of 1080 x 1920 – again more memory needed and bandwidth to transmit. Of course, you’re not going to notice the difference between HD and UHD unless you have a very large TV!

So while Australian TV still struggles to come to terms with multi channeling, HD content and being relevant in todays’ society, their days will be numbered unless they start adapting and getting involved in the internet. I remember hearing last year that ABC USA was now streaming on the internet. Unless you cheat, you can only receive it in the US, but still – this is where the future is. Broadcasting on the internet will not only reach more viewers but will bring the networks back to keeping up with technology. As it is, the digital standard we are using in Australia is 15 years out of date, and will have to be upgraded within the next few years – the FreeView brand will already be compatible with this new standard as part of being future proof.

The way TV is going in Australia, the internet will take over as it is developing at 10 times the rate of domestic entertainment technology. Computers and internet are taking over everywhere, and the loungeroom TV is the next step. I just hope there are some inexpensive products to provide the connectivity between the two.

In 50 years time, provided the internet is not abused or polluted by uncontrollable spam or viruses, the internet will be part of everything we use ranging from radio, phone calls, all mobile communications, TV and pretty well any kind of communication you can think of. Traditional radio transmissions will be phased out and the bandwidth they free up in the electromagnetic spectrum will be freed up for the internet to use for wireless internet.

(Above commetary is my own opinions and thoughts based on material I have read or seen from various sources and references to specific details such as capacity, memory or any other detail is of the top of my head and for the sake of discussion only as opposed to presenting any specific facts).

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FreeView in My View 2

An article in Melbourne’s Herald Sun the other day suggested that LCD and Plasma TVs would be out of date as of May 1 when FreeView starts. On FreeViews’ own web site which, at the time of writing my previous article about FreeView last week stated, that there was no guarantee that all services and channels offered by FreeView would be able to be seen on equipment not branded as FreeView.

Now it says, and possibly as a result of the article: “If you already have an HD integrated TV …. FreeView will automatically become available to you…”.

To anyone who knows anything about Digital TV, that is obviously true and has always been true. And for the majority who don’t, it was very misleading.

As for the Herald Sun, the article refers to the fact that FreeView equipment will be MPEG-4 compliant, which the broadcasters will begin using at a date in the future, my guess would be 2013 when analogue is fully off and the bandwidth freed up could be used to transmit the old and the new signal at once like they are doing with their digital and analogue signals currently. I imagine, with the technology in most HD TVs now, it may be a matter of updating their firmware, but that time will tell.

Our big TVs will continue to work for some time yet, receiving all digital channels broadcasted. Lets hope FreeViews’ new marketing team will make sure that clearing up the confusion is first on their to-do-list. Changing that comment I refer to on their web site is at least a step in the right direction.

Freeview in my View

So Freeview promises to deliver 15 channels virtually for free, or at least without a subscription. Freeview will be offering a hard disk recorder allowing you to record 2 HD channels at once and watch another. But, according to the news so far I have read about FreeView, you will not be able to skip the ads! Honestly, what is the point of a hard disk recorder (PVR) if you cannot skip ads on commercial network shows? Since the early 80’s, if I have watched a show recorded from commercial TV, I fast forward the ads. If the FreeView box does not allow fast forwarding the ads, then who’s going to want it? This is one point that needs clarification. So far, FreeView is nothing more than an ad on TV, a fancy website that tells you little and a hot topic on TV blogs everywhere.

Its easy to see where the figure of 15 channels comes from – each of the 5 free to air networks now have the license to broadcast 1 HD channel and 2 SD channels, all 3 of which can have unique programming. 3 x 5 = 15 – easy! In fact, currently, each free to air broadcaster can actually broadcast up to 4 SD channels and 1 HD channel. Ch 7, Prime, ABC and SBS already do that, its just that all the additional channels are simulcasts, and licensing only allows 1 HD and 2 SD channels. 9 and 10 broadcast 1 HD and 2 SD channels – again – most the time they are simulcasts. And when analogue switches off completely in 2013, the extra bandwidth available means they should be able to offer even more channels or at least be able to offer say 3 HD channels. Time will tell on that one.

But the reality is somewhat different. To any normal person, the interpretation of 15 channels means 15 unique channels each containing different content for most of the day. It makes one believe that on each free to air network there will be an HD channel, and 2 SD channels broadcasting different content some time in 2009 when FreeView takes off.

Apart from the ABC which has plans for ABC3 (if funding is approved), it is extremely unlikely we’ll see any network provide 3 unique channels at once in the near future. Why would they? During the nightly prime time ratings dog fight, most shows are able to be seen in HD – as they should be for those of us with HD TVs. And for those who do not have access to HD, the same show has to be shown on an SD channel. And for those not yet on digital, it also has to appear on analogue. That leaves only the 2nd SD channel left to offer alternative programming. Then it is likely that the 2nd SD alternative would be programmed in such a way not to detract from the main programme being screened – by showing repeats or niche programming. Therefore, the result would be only 2 shows on at once on any free to air network.

We can already see an example of this: Ch 10, ONE HD and ONE SD. Even the FreeView web site lists ONE and ONE HD as separate channels. As ONE SD is nothing more than the SD simulcast of ONE HD, it cannot count as a separate channel. The reason is obvious – if you have an HD TV, you’d be watching ONE HD and never ONE SD. If you do not have an HD TV, you’d be watching ONE SD and cannot get ONE HD. ONE channel broadcasted over 2. This limits channel 10 to 2 channels, not 3. So straight away, the 15 channels FreeView promises begins to fall apart.

And then there’s the question of what 7 and 9 will do.Yes, at some stage, they’ll launch their 2nd SD channel, but the HD channel will still show prime time in HD and may possibly offer further unique programming late night as they already do. It would not surprise me, though, if alternative HD viewing disappears altogether, with the shows that used to be there seen on 2nd SD channel, and maybe some of those shown on HD at the same time – resulting in an HD channel showing content form both the main channel and the 2nd SD channel from time to time.

 Therefore the number of unique channels would work out as:

Ch 10 and ONE HD / ONE SD simulcast – 2 channels

Ch 9 SD and 9 SD2 with HD simulcasting 9 SD most of the time – 2 channels

Ch 7 SD and 7 SD2 with HD simulcasting 7 SD most of the time – 2 channels

ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 (let’s assume it goes ahead) – 3 channels (assuming ABC HD is ABC1 simulcast in HD)

SBS and SBS news (assuming SBS HD remains simulcast of SBS) – 2 channels

Total: 11 channels. Not 15.

In my opinion, this is extremely misleading and the claim of 15 channels should be reworded. I note now on the FreeView web site it says “up to 15 channels”. To me, the whole FreeView campaign is pointless and a waste of money – and why have it as a brand and a separate PVR? While I am a great advocate of extra channels, I don’t think it should the main priority. In the US, the focus is on HD content as opposed to extra channels each free to air network offers. All the major shows in the US are HD, and the daily and nightly talk shows make a big deal about being in HD. Here, there’s little emphasis on HD at all. While multi-channeling and FreeView seems to work well in the UK, lets keep in mind over there the population is 4 times larger than Australia, in a space smaller than one of our states – so its alot more viable.

I think the focus over the next few years should be digital take up overall without fancy brands and campaigns like FreeView. We should be making sure that all households have digital TV prior to the switch off in 2013 and legislating that all TVs must be sold with a digital tuner – like they have been doing in the US prior to their switch off in June. Until we are forced to buy only digital TVs there will never be adequate digital TV take up in Australia to warrant the networks bothering with alternative viewing knowing full well such viewing cannot be seen by all viewers. Then again, if consumers knew there was additional free content on digital television, they might switch  over. Bit of a catch 22.

Again, the lack of information offered about multi-channeling from the networks (other than 10) can only draw one to the conclusions above. We don’t know when 7 and 9 will start their 2nd SD channel and we don’t know if they will offer alternative HD viewing on top of that. Until some facts come out, the 15 channels of FreeView is really only 10 or 11.

And you can get these channels on ANY digital HD TV regardless of brand. Any set top box that can decode a HD channel will receive ALL digital channels. You do not need FreeView for this, regardless of what they say. FreeView is nothing more than a hard disk recorder with a twin HD tuner, like Tivo and many others you can buy off the shelf. Only difference would be how they interact with electronic program guides. Another subject for another time!