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back to article Freeview HD - your questions answered

With the first Freeview HD transmissions scheduled to start on the 2 December in the London, Liverpool and Manchester areas, Register Hardware answers all your questions about the new telly technology. Freeview HD logo New Zealand's Freeview HD logo. What will Blighty' look like? What do I need to receive Freeview HD? You’ll …

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WTF?

Hmmmm

I live in winterhill area. So you are saying i will be getting a HD transmission come December 2nd but no equipment to watch it? Thats extremely helpful!

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Flame

Surely if...

You have purchased a TV with a built in Freeview tuner and it carries the HD ready logo you have been mis-sold?? It certainly implies that it is ready to receive and display HD TV.

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Excellent, I have some questions...

Good article, nice and concise.

Two questions I have

1) How does this compare to Freesat's HD offering?

2) Have any of the manufacturers hinted at a likely price for the set top boxes?

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Anonymous Coward

Resolution?

Will programs be using 1080 or 720 resolution? I plan to ditch my old and very fine telly only when there is a good supply of high quality, free 1080 programming. 720 just does not seem worth the expense for really only a very small increase in quality over the ancient 576 line standard.

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Anonymous Coward

Aerial

And will I need to replace my newly installed digital SD aerial?

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nih
FAIL

Signal strength still the same?

Does the picture still break up a few times a minute?, that's a must have for me since I really don't think I could live without it.....

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FAIL

Disposable Technology

What a bloody shambles. So, what it boils down to is that DVB-T would be fine if we ditched a bunch of useless channels, but then we'd not have the joy of buying new equipment and getting lots of lovely DRM in return for a very minor increase in resolution.

Fantastic. Freeview HD is made of Fail.

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Hmm

The "HD Ready" thing is a bit of a silly idea really.

For those who are more technically proficient with their AV equipment, it's quite simple to understand that HD Ready just implies that it's able to display a picture in HD resolutions from an able source.

Unforunately this has got lost down the line in terms of explaining it to the mainstream as people associate things like Sky HD and Virgin Media HD with HD Ready televisions.

The name "Freeview HD" doesn't help this cause.

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compression?

Is there any guarantee that the HD signal will (continue to) be high quality and not compressed down to the point where the picture is worse than a "normal" SD or analog TV's picture.

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Unhappy

Still seems confusing

So, let me get this right. I can buy a DVB-T2 television, but it still might not be capable of supporting Freeview HD.

That's a shame, I had my eye on a small Philips 1080 set with DVB-T2. Might wait now until things settle down...

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Flame

Why not use the same standard as everywhere else?

"To make HD practical on terrestrial television, using H.264 is essential, unless lots of other channels are turned off to make room.'

Well how many shopping channels and +1 channels do we need? I'd rather have 10 channels of quality programming than 50 channels of rubbish and repeats, regardless of the picture clarity.

"Launching HD now, and then using the new transmission technology later would force many people to upgrade twice in a short time"

What about everyone who already upgraded to a "HD Ready" TV for their Blu-Ray/HD-DVD players and XBOX/PS3 consoles? How can OFCOM defend moving to the DVB-T2 standard, inconveniencing millions of HDTV owners, while simultaneously refusing to move to the DAB+ standard in case it upsets a few thousand radio listeners?

Using this brand new encoding system, which has little or no penetration of the consumer market will effectively cripple terrestrial HDTV and push existing "HD-Ready" TV owners into the arms of Mr Murdoch. Or perhaps that's the idea?

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Standards

"the most technically advanced terrestrial TV system in the world"

Like BetaMax was more advanced and higher quality than VHS?

I'll wait for the dust to settle on this one. In the meantime, HD on Freesat is quite nice to look at, though there are few programs yet.

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More answers

Aerials: Existing aerials will work perfectly well; all aerials are analogue, there's no such thing as an SD, HD or Digital aerial.

Some installers will tell you you need a "Digital aerial" when what they tend to be offering is a wideband one, rather than the 'grouped' ones that are optimised for a specific chunk of the spectrum.

Resolution: Perhaps I'll persuade El Reg to do a whole separate piece on this, but the launch config of Freeview HD will be 1080lines, interlaced, initial horizontal resolution 1440 pixels; if you want the technical description, that's 1080i25, as the EBU would say.

Timing: With a new technology, and a need to update the transmitters, one or the other had to come first, transmissions or receivers. Getting both to happen on the same day would have been a pretty nifty logistical feat.

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USB devices

Are there any USB devices on the market yet? I've got a mythtv system and, with any luck, I should just be able to stick another tuner into it and use sVGA output into my projector.

Or something, maybe, drivers allowing...

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Boffin

Re: Resolution?

720 is larger improvement over 576 than you think. It's 720p (a full 720 lines every frame) rather than 576i (odd 288 lines one frame, even 288 lines the next). Depending on the set, you'll either see the annoying tearing effect on adjacent lines on any moving object caused by interlacing, or your set will try to de-interlace it, which generally involves making the picture less sharp.

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Various responses

James93: chicken and egg. Which would you prefer: transmissions with no equipment to receive, or equipment to receive and no transmissions? I know which one I'd prefer! You need the signals there in order to encourage the manufacturers, who otherwise wouldn't sell any equipment. Not likely you'd buy any without being able to use it. Besides which, it's all very new and it takes time to develop these things.

AC1: there's no such thing as a "digital aerial" - it's all a marketing ploy. The only reason to call it "digital" is if in your area the digital transmissions are in a totally different part of the TV band from the analogue ones, which would require a different (or wideband) aerial.

AC2: There is more to television picture quality than number of lines. For instance, interlace: just because bog-standard telly has about 576 active lines, if sent a full resolution picture consisting of alternating white and black lines, you'd see 25Hz "interlace twitter" flickering because the white lines are being refreshed during one field only. To stop this, you need to blur the picture vertically, which cameras always did (by virtue of their lenses) but early electronic picture production equipment - eg caption generators - didn't, so you'd see twitter around their sharp transitions.

This all means that an interlaced picture has less vertical resolution than the corresponding progressive picture. Don't get bamboozled by the headline figure.

nih: If you want to avoid "fail" then get a better aerial, or position it better, etc.

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No

No i would prefer to see them work with the manufacturers to release kit the same time as transmissions start. it seems to me they just forgot to work with manufacturers, and who does that remind you of? It makes absolutely no odds at all whether its the other way round it is still useless either way.

There is no point transmitting signals unless there is someone to receive them and there is no point releasing kit to receive them if there is no signal! get the timing right or its a waste of time and money until both parts are there to meet.

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WTF?

"HD ready" -> Has a HDMI socket.

"HD ready" is miss-leading at best and a con at worst. Post people consider 1080p to be HD but many "HD ready" TV's won't support this or anything near. I just read "HD ready" as "has a HDMI socket"

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More on compatibility

Are there any Philips DVB-T2 sets to have your eye on, RichyS? I don't think so, right now.

If you were able to find such a beast, it would receive and display the channels because they are broadcast in the clear, using DVB-T2. Just as you can buy (almost) any DVB-T receiver, and pick up existing Freeview SD signals, even if it doesn't have the digital tick or Freeview logo.

However, to be sure you'll get the interactive features and the EPG, you'll need the FreeviewHD logo. (In particular, if the BBC is allowed to use the content protection they want, you'll definitely need a compatible box for the EPG, but the programmes have always been going to be transmitted without encryption).

Given that the UK will be the first deployment, and therefore the market where people will most likely pay a premium for DVB-T2, I would think it very unlikely that Philips or any other major manufacturer will be launching DVB-T2 sets without also getting them certified for FreeviewHD.

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Re: Resolution?

druck is quite correct, in fact in many respects 720p can be considered superior to 1080i because of interlace artefacts which reduce the effective resolution to provide more lines.

People are all too often attracted by the 'bigger numbers' rather than the evidence. Progressive capture is superior if done at a sufficiently high frame rate.

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Epic fail

So the channel launches on December 2nd.. to *zero* viewers.

One for the philosophers this one.. If a channel launches and nobody is watching, does it really launch?

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Emo
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Missed question

All very interesting so far, and a really good El Reg article.

But what channels will be HD then? That is the question.

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Launch channels

The channels available at launch should be BBC HD (which already exists), Channel 4 HD and ITV HD, which will be a peak time simulcast of ITV1.

When technology allows, Channel 5 will be added to the mux.

As for why not remove the other channels so that we can use DVB-T instead, the problem is which channels? Some may not like the slapper on a sofa channels, or the plus 1s, or the shopping channels, but they've all paid for their space, in contracts with privately owned mux operators.

Ofcom can't just go round closing down commercial stations, so that the largest operators can have the space back for an HD service; attempting to do so would drag things through the courts, and even further delay any launch.

If we had a centrally planned TV system, perhaps that would be possible. But we don't - so about the only organisation that could be bullied into giving up space was the BBC. Even losing a couple of their channels (as opposed to the interactive streams that have gone), so that other broadcasters could simulcast HD would be unacceptable to many.

The only other option would be to allocate more spectrum - but with any government we get in the next few years needing cash, that's unlikely to happen.

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Neotion adaptor

It can't solve the DVB-T2 issue, it uses the built in tuner. Also since it converts from MPEG4 to MPEG2 the bit rate is very high, to avoid re-compression artifacts, a bit higher bit rate than native MPEG2 of same quality would be. HD is FIVE times the data of SD. The CI simply can't manage that amount of data.

The Neotion is a stop-gap solution for Countries with some DVB-t TVs that do MPEG2 and have launched DVB-t MPEG4 SD TV, New Zealand, Estonia, Ireland, France. About 20 countries.

Frankly I'm sceptical about the claimed 60% saving of DVB-t2 compared with DVB-t, I can't see how in real life it's much more than 30%.

Sony's PlayTV USB dongle for PS3 has just recently got MPEG4 fully working (odd that it didn't from start as it could view and pause MPEG4 TV, but failed to play recordings). However it and virtually all other USB tuners, PCI cards and PCIexpress cards/modules won't do DVB-t2.

Most countries just starting Digital Rollout are using DVB-t + MPEG4 for regular non-HD (rather than MPEG2) as that gives 2x to 3x more capacity compared to UK/German/Dutch MPEG2.

Given the continuing failure of Irish Digital TV to launch in 1999, 2001, 2008 and 2009 some people are asking if Ireland should be using DVB-t2 MPEG4 rather than DVB-t MPEG4. Others of course say Ireland should use DVB-t MPEG2 so that the existing Import UK sets with Digital tuners will work... The Neotion "CAM" does however work with Irish test transmissions, but not on all models of TVs.

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Anonymous Coward

Freeview cards for PC

The statement that the Freeview cards on the market for PCs can not receive Freeview HD is simply false.

I know someone that has used such a card in their PC and used it to record the HD test transmissions the BBC made some time ago. I know this, because I watched some of the HD programmes transmitted!

The sad thing is, the broadcast Freeview HD that starts in December will actually use higher compression than those test transmissions and will result in inferior picture quality.

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Dumb Question this but

Are dvd t2 tuners compatable with dvd t transmissions?

dont want too sodding boxings

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Existing sets

@RedBren's "What about everyone who already upgraded to a "HD Ready" TV for their Blu-Ray/HD-DVD players and XBOX/PS3 consoles?"

Many of those sets, of course, wouldn't receive HD transmissions even if DVB-T were used, because they don't have HD decoders, or lack H.264 support at all. A few sets made in the last couple of years, from some manufacturers, support H.264 and HD via DVB-T, but the majority do not.

As I said in the article, many of those sets would need an upgrade anyway, regardless of whether or not they have the 'HD Ready' logo.

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Good article, and further info

Many thanks, Nigel, for the article and for your further comments. Very informative IMO.

I'm looking forward to the launch of HD freeview, especially now I know a bit more about the specs. I'm surprised, on an IT site, that so many people are bemoaning having to upgrade their kit to receive the new transmission standards - it's been pretty obvious for a long time that "HD ready" kit was unlikely to be able to receive native HD freeview signals once the standards had been agreed (as obvious as a chicken and egg scenario can be).

If I already had a HD telly (which I don't FWIW) I'd look at buying an HD freeview PVR when they become available and effectively kill two birds with one stone. People don't generally moan about having to use a Sky set top box to get Sky HD (or SD for that matter) so I'm not sure why they always insist on DVB-T being built natively into their telly's hardware. Personally I'd rather have the best telly I can get for my money and the best PVR to plug into it. Of course this is just my preference, though.

Finally, out of interest, does anyone know if the BBC and Ofcom agreed on whether the BBC will be allowed to use DRM in their broadcasts? I don't understand why an organisation that *we* own should be so desperate to stop us keeping BBC recordings for more than a month or two.

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Anonymous Coward

@nih

In addition to checking your aerial position you should check the cable type (that runs from the aerial to the living room [or main] socket/outlet). Freeview works best with CT100 or CT125 double-screened cable. If your cable is the old (usually brown) single-screened type then that's probably where your problem lies, especially if your analogue signal is quite good but digital breaks up regularly. Also make sure any cables you use to connect from a aerial wall socket to your digibox is fairly new (not a very old VHS cable, for example) as these may only be single-screened and can degrade the signal quite markedly, especially where they pass near to mains cables supplying the telly, digibox etc.

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It is a shame though

that my loverly analog signal I used to get from Winter Hill , is now a 'not that great' digital one. I mean, it's okay for some things, but anything with 'active' screens shows up the compression so easily I'm amazed that people still talk about the 'better screen quality'. Especially since we tend to have better quality screens that show these artifacts up more. Oh hum, I suppose who cares that we have artifacts when we can have 20 channels that nobody watches in the same 'space' :( .

Interesting comments about 'no to DAB+ , but yes to DVB-t2' . Couldn't they also have the same idea and start DAB+ transmissions as well , in the same way we're going to be having DVB and DVB-t2 ?

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Good article.

Well written.

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Megaphone

Say it with me people...

Altogether now...

The launch of DVB-T2 DOES NOT mean you HAVE to buy new equipment.

The launch of DVB-T2 DOES NOT mean you HAVE to buy new equipment.

The launch of DVB-T2 DOES NOT mean you HAVE to buy new equipment.

You only need new equipment if you want to see one of the three free HD channels.

As the article says, DVB-T transmissions are likely to continue broadcasting for the forseeable future, in all probability into the 2020s.

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Stop

So what are the technical details

Next article - please give the initial line up of channels, their bitrates, their resolutions. Does the system support switching between 1080i for movie type transmissions and 720p for sports transmissions? Does it support 24 frame per second transmissions for movies?

I mean, if you're going to put effort into doing things right, you might as well do them RIGHT.

What's all this 1440x1080 at 25 frames per second? Just give us 1280x720 at 60 frames per second and be done with it. It's good enough.

Ah, http://www.hdtvfaq.org/freeview-hd.html helps:

Initial lineup: BBC ; ITV ; Channel 4 ; S4C (in Wales) ; Five (to launch late 2010)

Resolution: High-definition programmes on Freeview HD are likely to be a mix of 720p and 1080i transmissions depending on the programme content, 1080i being particularly suitable for faster moving images such as those found in sports coverage, while 720p will be used for the majority of regular programming.

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@Bob H

"People are all too often attracted by the 'bigger numbers' rather than the evidence. Progressive capture is superior if done at a sufficiently high frame rate."

You're generalising. Sure, given the choice of 1080i50 or 720p50 on sport, you'd choose the latter. But for period drama I'd take 1080i every time (well, if I could bring myself to watch it). There's no single right answer. Well, except for 1080p50, but that won't happen until the broadcasters and the public are prepared to pay...

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What does it matter?

So what? It's only TV.

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I couldn't care less about HD TV - I don't watch enough TV to justify my 10-year old set, let alone a new one - and selling new equipment is surely what this is all about. As far as I can see we've recently gone from buying a (small) TV almost with the groceries and moved back 30 years to when a TV was a major investment you thought twice about.

High definition and high quality programming are two different things. We now have 100s of channels, even on freeview satellite - and 99% of it is pure rubbish. I just can't see what difference HD TV is going to make to that. I'd rather have a decent PC that will take my DVDs too.

Save your money - take your dog for a walk and buy a few books.

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Nev
FAIL

How the mighty have fallen(behind).

There was a time when the UK excelled at this stuff.

Here in France I recently bought a Philips TNT/HD TV and can now watch French channels in HD with an English soundtrack , when available.

If the French have pulled their fingers out for most terrestrial channels, why can't the UK?

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Stu
Grenade

Yes, good article...

...nowhere else, the BBC included, will even go into the slightest detail over the STB incompatibility issues, let alone explain the real reasons why we're expected to buy new gear again.

Imagine if this sort of f**k up happened back in the 60s or 70s - remember the resolution and appearance of terrestrial analogue signals improved over time, but there was no major fuss about supportable equipment - you could always plug a TV in and get something - buy a newer TV and it would look much better, smoother. This happened right thru to the 90s I think.

.

This time round it just stinks of very bad planning from the early stages of original Freeview (SD) ratification. I find it utterly ridiculous why this wasn't accounted for seeing as there must now be millions of soon-to-be-defunct DVB-T receivers built into just as many TVs, STBs, PVRs, computer TV tuners, PS3 Play TVs etc etc etc etc.

The problem may very well have stemmed from the decisions made by the original ON Digital days, remember them? Believe it or not I still have one of their set top boxes, it still works! And then when ITV Digital took over and nearly destroyed the whole shebang until the BBC & co picked up the pieces.

What next!? New kit required for when 1080p 7.1 surround is practically transmissable across the airwaves? Or then WUXGA? I'll only believe that DVB-T2 is actually properly future-proofing us when I see it in action.

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@Paulo - Freesat

I've had Freesat for a year. It has one major advantage and one major disadvantage. The advantage is that satellite transmissions have gobs and gobs of bandwidth available, and DVB-S2, so they don't need to multilate the picture as much. Even on my currently still-SD TV (saving up for one of those Samsung LED jobbies, oh yes), the picture is impeccable, with no visible compression artefacts at all on most channels. Friends who come round are always astonished by how clear the signal is compared to their own Freeview boxes, and nipping round to my neighbours for a gander at his HD-ready setup shows that HD channels look equally excellent.

The disadvantage is that you don't get the same channel range, and a large chunk of the EPG is comprised of Sky cast-offs. For example, I have no Dave, or Sky Three - those are only available with subscription.

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Stop

Blockavision?

So does the picture go to YouTube quality the minute anything moves such as waves, explosions or flames? I remember watching the Olympics last year on FreesatHD and it looked great on a still shot but as soon as anyone moved (happens a lot at the Olympics apparently) the picture just fell apart.

I really cant see this working with all the garbage channels that are eating up valuable bandwith.

As mentioned earlier, less channels means more. Consumer gets better picture and sound and hopefully higher quality programs, the broadcasters get higher viewing figures (remember the days of 18 million+ with 4 channels) and as a result can charge more for advertising.

You could easily combine BBC3 and BBC4 to make at least one vaguely viable channel for a start.

The fact folks arent watching might be due to the fact that episode of Dr Who/TopGear/QI/Eastenders has been shown 12 times already this month.

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another unanswered question

Assuming that we are now in a point in time where DVB-T2 is being broadcast, and I have a FreeviewHD box capable of receiving the signal and a Full HD tv to watch it on. Will I need to be switching back and forth to my existing Freeview(sD) tuner to watch the SD broadcasts that will still be in the majority ?

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Boffin

Manufactures are Greedy Twats

Ther is no reason besides Greed not to sell new tuner boards.. I would quite hapily pay my local TV man's call out fee to come round swap the tuner card and flash the set.

But no not an option just bin the whole set and get another.. same next year? and the year after?

Bunch of C**ts

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Attenboroughs exclusion principle.

If its not and Attenborough program then the program content is inversely proportional to the number of pixels.

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So what do I do?

Not really clear: will a set able to receive Freeview-HD be able to receive the old standard?

I suppose I can just connect a set-top box.

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PlayTV

Yeah i know it won't work with this BUT.............when are SONY releasing the new DVB-T2 modulator box to make it work?

This is the only way i can figure this ever taking off for people who aren't going to replace their TV soon. There's no way i'm going to spend any money buying a box to watch BBCHD not because i think BBCHD is rubbish, it'll just shaft the rest of my set up. i've only just got a TV with a built in digital tuner and it's so much better than the 'set top box' solution that i've had for the best part of 10 years. that's something i don't ever want to go back to thank you very much.

if play TV is upgrading then i've got one system (the PS3) for watching/recording SD, HD, Blurays, DVDs, downloaded media, iplayer, playing games (not that i do much of that).

one thing i'm not doing is replacing my 2 year old £2k 1080p plasma!!!

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Old transmissions were DVB-T

In reply to RotaCyclic's "The statement that the Freeview cards on the market for PCs can not receive Freeview HD is simply false," sorry. You're incorrect.

The original test transmissions a couple of years ago were using DVB-T, not T2, because the T2 standard wasn't even finalised.

In the most recent round of tests, which included comparative tests of different modes in both T and T2, there were transmissions using both standards; those using DVB-T could be picked up on existing equipment, those using it without could not.

And, its partly as a result of those tests that the performance of DVB-T2 has been assessed; talking to engineers who have been involved in that, they seem confident with the 60% figure. One of the original design criteria for T2 was that it should give *at least* a 30% increase.

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@ Rotacyclic RE: Freeview HD test transmissions

Sorry Rota, it's you that is wrong.

Yes, your friend recorded the Freeview HD transmissions a year or 2 ago but these were done on DVB-T. That solution was discarded and they went (with Ofcom's heavy hand) to DVB-T2 instead. As has been accurately reported, you cannot buy any DVB-T2 equipment at the moment, not even a usb tuner.

Also the EBU description in the article is incorrect. The EBU uses a / in the notion so "1080i/25" Still a misleading notation, of course as this can refer to a transmission standard of 50 fields not 25 interlaced frames (yes, there is a n important difference).

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Backwards compatible, tuner replacements

With regard to backwards compatibility, it was certainly an element that was mentioned at various stages in drawing up the DVB-T2 spec; I don't have all my notes to hand, but it's expected (and may be mandatory, but without my notes...) that T2 tuners will be able to receive T signals as well. You won't need a separate box to watch SD material.

As for swapping out tuner boards, sadly not every set is modular; if you have a typical tuner can soldered onto a main board, like you'll see in lots of PVRs, for example, doing a swap is not straightforward. Even when you can, you'll also need the firmware (and in some cases loaders) updated in a receiver, to drive a new tuner module.

I honestly can't see many manufacturers going down that route.

@Mage, Regarding the Neotion CAMs, there were actually some (I've played with one) that don't rely on the existing tuner, such an ethernet equipped one, and even a prototype that had an HDMI output. But by then you're getting into requiring sets to do things that they really didn't have in mind when they added the CI slot; as you say, a lot of them just won't work with these things anyway. But people ask...

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WTF?

"Two technologies are being introduced to terrestrial broadcasting for Freeview HD. "

Why on Earth?

Unless future boxes are dual standard, manufacturers will have to to make to two models for the UK.

The idea that if you move within the UK, you have to buy new TV equipment is bizarre.

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(Written by Reg staff)

@Anonymous John

Two technologies are being introduced but both are part of the Freeview HD specification. So, no, you won't have to buy a second box. They will all do DVB-T2 and MPEG 4.

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Boffin

@Nigel Whitfield Neotion

I tested the Neotion Cam with the ethernet connector...

1) You can only record via Ethernet if the TV recognises the channel

2) Playback fails on most TV & Setboxes if there is no channel to select.

It "pretends" to be a CAM. So only works under the conditions and bitrates that the Setbox or TV supports.

It also was inferior picture quality to a couple of Native DVB-t MPEG4 solutions I tested. I used both off air RTE tests and a PC with a Dektec PCI DVB Modulator card (About 1,200 Euro worth). All tests MPEG4 720x576 25i

Captions and sharp edges had noticeable artefacts with the neotion "CAM" Pocket Duo. Given the cost compared with a real set box, the Real setbox is a better solution.

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