Freeview HD plans to launch for World Cup 2010 – forcing up to 18m Freeview SD users to retune

21 May 2009

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First, the good news: Freeview HD looks like it could become a reality earlier than first planned with the news that some areas may receive the service as soon as December this year.

Five TV transmitters covering some of the UK's most heavily populated urban areas, including London, Birmingham, the north-west and the north-east, are set to receive the service between December this year and June 2010.

Each one will have to be upgraded and the plan is to do so in time to broadcast the football World Cup in South Africa next summer. 

Danielle Nagler, head of BBC HD, says: "We could see an earlier provision for Freeview HD in the UK. Technically, in December 2009 there's a switchover.

"If the plans for new transmitters go ahead, 45-50 per cent of the country will have access to the technology. The World Cup in June 2010 will be a strong marketing target point."

However, Nagler adds that the 2010 date originally set for making 100 per cent of BBC1 and BBC2 peak-time content in HD "isn't going to happen", partly because the costs of producing TV programmes in HD haven't fallen as fast as had been hoped.

New set-top boxes required
Of course those wanting to watch Freeview HD will need to buy a new set-top box. Given that the final technical specs for Freeview HD set-top boxes have only just been agreed, so theoretically some boxes could be on sale by Christmas this year, it's unlikely Freeview HD PVRs (personal video recorders) will be available until part way through 2010.

However, existing Freeview set-top box owners will also be affected, with the required channel reorganisation to make way for HD requiring existing channels to change the frequency on which they broadcast.

This means up to 18 million Freeview users in the affected areas will have to manually retune their boxes to find the channels on their new frequencies.

While this shouldn't be too taxing – it's a simple operation with the menus, and many boxes will prompt users to retune for new channels anyway – there's no doubt a potential problem for less tech-savvy consumers.

Broadcasters have said that a plan to communicate the changes to viewers has not yet been worked out, although onscreen warnings, leaflets and extra information on Freeview's website is expected.

Around 17.7m UK homes had access to digital TV via Freeview by the end of last year, according to the latest figures from Ofcom.




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Will we start to see manufacturers leaving out the analogue tuners, only fitting Freeview & Freesat ? The analogue switch off cannot come quick enough. Interesting times ahead.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question clearly.

It'll need an aerial, Dominic. Whether an indoor aerial will be up to the job is another matter.

will freeview hd need a satellite or just an indoor aerial ?

Evening all.

Kev g: Yes, Freeview HD tuners will be built into TVs. The specifications for the new service were only ratified about a month ago, so it may take a little while for suitable kit to hit the streets, but it'll come, probably by Christmas (or if not certainly by next spring). To clarify: a TV able to receive both Freeview and Freeview HD will require a tuner able to cope with both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video. We may well see TVs able to receive all three services � Freeview, Freeview HD and Freesat HD. Sorry, no idea on costs as yet.

Fee: At the start, Freeview HD only has capacity to support three channels of HD, and yes, Ofcom indicates that this will mean BBC HD, ITV HD and Channel 4 HD. However, the broadcast multiplex allocated for the new service has a maximum (note, maximum) capacity for five channels, with each channel operating at around 8mbps. This can only be achieved by 2012-13: right now, HD on Freeview will run at around 12mbps. The improvements in data transfer rate will come not from new technology, but from enhanced efficiency in encoding data. If they don't happen, we won't get any more free channels of HD.

Stefanr: Yes and no. Freeview isn't going to be turned off. Let's say that again to be ultra-clear: Freeview isn't going anywhere. Freeview HD is an adjunct to the existing service, not a replacement for it. If you've just bought a Freeview product, you're secure. What it won't do is receive HD. To do that, you'll need a Freeview HD product, either a TV, or a set-top-box.

Philmeeke: What's the difference between Freeview HD and Freesat? Not much, save for a few niceties in the channel offering. If we're talking numbers, Freesat has just over 300,000 homes signed up (admittedly after only a year of operation), while Freeview has more than 10 million. However, Freesat HD is available nationally now, while Freeview HD might not hit some parts of the UK until 2012, and additionally the satellite service isn't encumbered by bandwidth constraints, unlike Freeview. As a result, it could be that when compared head-to-head, a Freesat HD picture is better than the same content viewed on Freeview HD, simply because Freesat can allocate more data (in mbps) to the broadcast. We'll have to wait and see.

Will HD Freeview tuners be built into LCD & Plasmas ? If so when will these models be available & at what extra cost ?    

What channels will be available in HD? BBC HD, ITV1 and C4 at most I'd wager.

Does the purchase of a new freeview box to receive HD mean that the inbuilt freeview tuners, in say, the new Panasonic range of HD Ready Plasmas and the like (excluding the FreeSat ones) be defunct?

What will be the difference between this and freesat?  Just that freeview has Dave and a few other channels or am I missing something?