Coming to your TV in 2011

Last week, I wrote about whether or not you should buy Freeview HD this Christmas, and I mentioned that there will be some interesting new stuff coming in 2011, which some people may prefer to wait for.

Predicting things is always risky – perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to resist. You know that a little way down the line, you can look back and say “why did I ever think that would happen?” But still, there are certain things that you can be fairly certain about, and most of the things mentioned here certainly fall into that category.

I hope this may help some readers decide whether or not it’s worth buying new gadgets now, or waiting a bit longer.

Freeview and Freeview HD rollout

This is going to continue, as per the timetable, so if you can’t receive Freeview at the moment, you may well get it next year – some pretty large chunks of the country will be switching over. If you’re in a marginal area at the moment, remember that with the switchover comes a stronger signal. So, if you can put up with poor or no reception now, don’t spend money on a replacement aerial when it might not be necessary in a few months. Check your coverage details on the Freeview website to find out when switchover happens in your area.

Freesat and the ITV player

ITV has been talking about adding their catch-up TV service to Freesat for a very long time, and many expected it this summer. It’s likely that it will arrive shortly after the BBC finally removes the ‘beta’ tag from iPlayer on Freesat – and that seems to be down to when Panasonic finally updates some of their older sets. Essentially, the BBC is proving the technology, and when that’s done, it will be much more straightforward for other broadcasters like ITV to add their own catch-up to Freesat. I think we can pretty confidently expect this to appear during 2011, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

Freeview HD and surround sound

At the moment, not all Freeview HD equipment is capable of creating a surround sound signal that will work with older (or indeed most) home cinema equipment, which expects to receive a Dolby Digital surround signal. From April 2011, the test requirements for FreeviewHD will make ‘transcoding’ mandatory. That means that products launched after April 2011 for FreeviewHD will have to provide a signal that will give you surround – but whether they’ll be clearly labelled so that you know when they were launched is a different matter.

In fact, since many of the big manufacturers unveil their ranges for the year quite early, I’d expect that most of the products that we see in their showcases over the next few months will support surround properly.

For people who want surround sound, you can be much more certain that FreeviewHD kit launched next year will provide it than you can right now.

Streaming media goes mainstream

This year saw a few products – like Panasonic’s DMR-XW380 – that can record FreeviewHD or Freesat and then allow it to be played back over a home network on other devices, like TVs that have media players built in.

Humax is planning to introduce the same functionality on some of their products, including the FreeviewHD HDR-Fox T2 . It’s likely that this will start to become a more widespread feature next year, from a range of manufacturers. So, potentially there’s no need to run aerial cables to other rooms, as long as you have a connection to the home network (perhaps via power line networking). You’ll be able to watch stuff recorded in the living room anywhere else at home.

One fly in the ointment is that you may find it only works when all the equipment is from the same brand, for now, especially where HD content is concerned. That should improve over time – I’ll write more on that later – but for now, stick with one brand, or check compatibility very carefully.

No more HD channels

If you’re hoping for more channels on Freeview HD next year, there’s bad news. It’s not going to happen. There won’t be capacity for another HD channel until 2012. There may be auctions of space, and some of that might be bought up by broadcasters, but you certainly want get anything launching on Freeview next year – so it’s going to be BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV 1HD and Channel 4 HD for now.

Freesat is a different matter, perhaps – but it’s always hard to know. It’s possible that some of the channels not currently on Freesat in HD will appear, like Channel 4 or Channel 5, but I’m not going to hold my breath. And, much as people may like it, I suspect that new HD channels from other broadcasters remain unlikely, unless we suddenly bound out of recession. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and so I don’t think anyone’s going to take the risk of launching a brand new HD channel on Freesat.

Internet TV

You’ll hear a lot about ‘Over the top’ services in 2011, I think. It’s an industry term that, essentially, means extra stuff delivered via the internet, on boxes that are primarily used for terrestrial or satellite TV.

I would expect that more and more TVs and set top boxes will include internet functionality, and that the existing ones will be improved – so we may see a better range of content from people like LoveFilm, and the service appearing on more TVs and other devices.

Dedicated media players like the Apple TV and Boxee will provide more internet content – as long as our creaking broadband can cope with it – so for an increasing number of people, watching internet video via their living room TV will become commonplace.

The new FreeviewHD requirements from April next year will include some related to the Ethernet port on all the boxes, so we may even see iPlayer come to FreeviewHD in the same was it’s available on Freesat.

YouView

And that leads us to the big event for 2011 in TV terms – the launch of YouView, formerly known as Project Canvas. This is a service from the main broadcasters while will initially be launched in a product that combines a twin tuner Freeview recorder with the YouView service. Expect it to be around the top of the price range for FreeviewHD kit at the moment.

YouView will provide access to all the free TV services, and also to the catch-up services of the broadcasters, via a programme guide that goes back in time as well as forwards. It will also provide access to other internet content, including services like film rental and other pay per view. Freesat versions of YouView boxes may come, but not until later.

Some of the companies behind YouView are internet providers TalkTalk and BT, who will probably be providing subsidised YouView boxes with some internet packages; other people will be able to just buy a box in the shops.

Why is this a big event? Partly because it’s got plenty of big names behind it and partly because it’s hoping to provide a common standard – at the moment, if someone like LoveFilm wants their rental service on different TVs, it has to be written for each brand specially, a bit like doing an iPhone, and Android and a Symbian version of a phone app. With YouView, there will be a single way of doing that, no matter who is making the boxes (or, eventually, TVs). So companies like LoveFilm, or other new firms, will be able to get their services on lots of screens with less effort.

Worth the wait?

Should you wait until next year, and buy kit that includes some or all of these new features? Only you can answer that question, but you might find some help in the previous article. And, of course, I’ll be trying my best to keep people up to date and informed about new products and technology both here and in my work for Register Hardware.

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