When I wrote about the situation with the 4TV-based Freeview PVRs a couple of weeks ago, some readers made the assumption that, reading between the lines, I was suggesting people don’t buy equipment that hasn’t got the official Freeview or Freeview HD logo on the box, and given that the one box that’s eagerly anticipated by many but doesn’t have Freeview HD certification is the one from British start-up 3View, some readers might have drawn the conclusion that I was talking about them.
As I said in a comment to that post, I wasn’t specifically referring to anyone, and I’m certainly not going to tell people to make a decision one way or another about the 3View box when I’ve yet to play with it (I declined the offer of a pre-production unit, preferring to wait until the release version, with final firmware).
All that said, the cessation of the 4TV service and the problems caused for people left with no EPG on their device has made some people wonder about the wisdom of buying something that isn’t Freeview certified. So, I tackled that question head on earlier today, in a conversation with 3View’s Robert Blackwell.
The most important message for people to bear in mind is that there isn’t really a chance of the sort of problems caused by the missing 4TV EPG affecting the 3View box. Although it’s designed from a fairly internet-centric point of view, with easy access to catch up services from the programme guide, it is also perfectly capable of working without an internet connection at all. It can use enhanced programme guides from the internet (which allow things like clicking on programmes to buy them on DVD, or accessing catch-up TV), or it can quite happily work with the standard Freeview broadcast EPG. So, whatever happens, you’ll have an EPG, from which you can set recordings.
And, 3View has already confirmed that the box will be able to access the EPG for Freeview’s HD channels, which has content controls, so you’ll be good for both HD and SD channels.
What of online services? While the core TV recording functionality is clearly able to continue whatever happens to 3View, the box promises lots of other neat tools and tricks. According to Blackwell, the online widgets are standard Opera widgets, so while 3View may have some available on their own site and through their own portal for you to add, it’s essentially an open system.
And, where you install a widget that accesses information from, say, the BBC News site, your box will be accessing that information directly. In other words, 3View isn’t running servers through which all the information reaching your box has to pass. So, again, even if they were to go the way of the 4TV guide, you wouldn’t lose out on services provided by other people – you’ll still have a box that can connect to and display online content.
So why not certify?
The obvious question for many people, then, is why not certify? Wouldn’t the FreeviewHD logo provide people with some extra degree of reassurance?
Perhaps – but 3View’s Blackwell outlined some other reasons why not. With Project Canvas creating a new class of connected boxes with a powerful brand name, 3View feels that in the longer term the ‘Freeview’ label may be seen by consumers as meaning more basic boxes, lacking the online services that will assume a higher profile when Canvas (probably to be called YouView) launches next year.
Certification would also require the use of an MHEG system, which provides the ‘red button’ interactive features used by the BBC; while some people may miss those, Blackwell is confident that many of the functions will be able to be replicated through widgets – and for those who do want to access specific BBCi content, they’ll almost certainly have a TV that’s capable of displaying it anyway. And, in my own experience, MHEG can slow down boxes, and has been the cause of plenty of bugs in various PVRs over the years.
The Freeview label, in other words, is seen as potentially limiting the marketing options. 3View’s box is compliant with the key technical standards, like DVB-T2, and agreement to use the HD EPG as well as the ability to pick up the standard Freeview programme guide should ensure that whatever the fortunes of the company themselves, the boxes will carry on working just fine.