So long, 4TV

If you own a Thomson DHD-4000, a Sony SVR-S500, an Inverto IDL-7000T or one of a few Digifusion models of Freeview digital TV recorder, you’ll have noticed by now that the programme guide isn’t working properly.

Do not adjust your set. As explained in this news item on Digital Spy, the company that broadcast the programme guide isn’t doing so anymore, leaving users with a box that may display now and next, and on which scheduling recordings won’t be very easy at all.

A lot of people have, understandably, been getting quite hot under the collar on various web forums, wanting to know if they can complain, or take someone to court, or do something to get their EPG back. So, how has this happened, and is there any redress?

A little bit of history

Freeview now has a 7 day programme guide, which uses an industry standard, and so can be picked up by any box that understand that standard. But it wasn’t always like that – the guide was rolled out in the second half of 2004. Without a full guide, it’s hard to make a recorder that’s easy to use, and when the first Digifusion models were launched, the Freeview guide wasn’t available. So, a system was set up where a programme guide would be broadcast overnight (when capacity is cheaper and easier to come by) and the boxes would automatically save it. The company broadcasting the guide was known as 4TV, later to become part of InView.

Alongside the Digifusion boxes, the others I mentioned at the start of the article used the system – even though some of them were launched after the Freeview guide had been rolled out. Perhaps it was cheaper to use that, rather than re-write the software to use the industry standard; perhaps they thought that the 14 days eventually offered by 4TV was a good marketing point, compared to the 7 days of the Freeview guide.

Either way, boxes carried on using the 4TV guide when there was a free alternative – and the free alternative now has information for things like series links, and automatic rescheduling when programmes run over, which just isn’t possible with a guide that’s transmitted once a day.

Where are we now?

Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that no new boxes use the 4TV system, all preferring instead to use the standard, and the Freeview+ features is provides. Meanwhile, the part of Thomson that made their box isn’t operating in the UK; Inverto doesn’t appear interested in the Freeview market, Sony abandoned their PVR (which in any case was made for them by Beko), and the Difigusion brand was subsumed into Beko too – and they don’t appear to be involved in the Freeview market anymore either.

And so, as is the way with contracts, the one for the broadcast of the guide data came to an end, and there was no one to pay for it. InView’s a business, and you can’t really blame them for not carrying on, when they wouldn’t be paid for it.

You can’t, really, blame Freeview, either – they were never responsible for the 4TV guide being there in the first place, and it would be an awkward precedent if they (and don’t forget, Freeview is really just a marketing thing, for the idea of free to air TV) stumped up the cash to take over from someone else’s failed business venture, when there’s a perfectly standard guide that’s broadcast, for anyone to use.

Something must be done!

In law, the only people you have a contract with are the people who sold you the box; you have no relationship with InView/4TV, so no redress – and only the most venal of ambulance chasing lawyers would even suggest they owed you any duty of care.

So, can you go back to your retailer, and demand they do something? Well, frankly, you’d have a pretty hard job, in my view. Yes, as some people will point out, there are rules and regulations that say you may have a claim for up to six years – but that’s not set in stone.

In particular, those rules really relate to faulty products; the recorder you have isn’t faulty – it’s just that a service provided by a third party is no longer available. And just as you didn’t have a contract with InView, nor did the shop where you bought the box.

Even if you could claim that a recorder should last six years – and in a field like Freeview, a clever lawyer will argue that’s pushing it a bit – any compensation you could get would have to take into allowance the fact that you have had a certain amount of use – you’re not going to get back the cost of something, after using it for four or five years.

In short, there’s not really anything you could achieve through the law, other than making lawyers happier and richer.

An appealing prospect?

An appeal to the better natures of the companies involved is about the only thing that might be possible. But even then, frankly, I doubt it would do any good. InView aren’t going to spend their own money when they don’t have to. The water company’s not going to give you free water, just because your landlord has gone bust and stopped paying the bills, are they?

In theory, it might be possible to update some of these boxes to use the standard guide – but they’re old, the people who worked on the software will have moved on, and in most cases the companies that created the equipment either don’t exist in the same form, or have decided not to compete in that market anyway.

And if a big company like Beko, for example, isn’t competing in the UK market for Freeview equipment, under its own name or another one, there’s really little incentive for them to do anything. The cost of creating new software, or arranging the broadcast of an EPG is probably far more than the cost of any goodwill that might be lost through not doing anything.

Let’s face it, relatively few people are affected, and fewer of those would even know which company to blame, or whom to thank if an EPG suddenly appeared. Who’d go out and buy a Beko fridge because the programme guide started working again on a five year old Thomson, Digifusion, or Inverto PVR?

I’m sorry, but there’s not really any other way to put this – if you have one of these recorders, time’s up. Start saving for an alternative, because nothing’s going to bring back the programme guide.

16 Replies to “So long, 4TV”

  1. Harsh but fair… I bought my Digifusion 200 years ago now for no more than 100 quid, it has done me well and I have been thinking about getting a Freeview HD Hard Drive twin tuner for a couple of months now… this is my reason to splash the cash now!

  2. Read the doom and gloom above and non of it alters the fact that 3 years ago I bought 2 SVR-S500 recorders and I bought them in good faith that they would work for longer than 3 years.
    It was the EPG that was one of the selling points.
    It is laborious but simple that I can program mine with the changer. I understand that with some boxes this isn’t possible.
    There is obviously nothing that I can do re the EPG but I regard this as a TV industry problem and had there been the will to retain the EPG it would have been done. Someone benefits financially from it not being done.
    I was about to buy a new flat screen. I have told my retailer that I will make do with what I have. Not much of a response I know but at least I have done something. Customers can exert their power if they choose to do so.

    1. I suppose “someone benefits financially” is one way of looking at it, but let’s be realistic here – if someone was paying you to do a job, and the money was paid up front to do it until, say, the end of this year, would you just carry on doing it after that, out of the goodness of your heart?
      If you carried on doing it, even though no one was paying you, you would probably end up out of pocket. So, to that extent, you could say that by stopping when you’re not being paid, you might be benefitting financially, but I think most people would consider that a strange way of looking at it.
      In the case of many of these recorders, the original company that paid for the EPG isn’t around; things are slightly different in Sony’s case, for sure. But I will be very surprised if they do decide that they want to shoulder the costs of providing an EPG for all those different manufacturers.
      Is it really an industry problem? I don’t entirely agree with that, unless you want to establish a principle that every time some service that was provided on the terrestrial TV network goes away – or looks like it might – then all the other companies in the industry have to pick up the tab and pay to have it carry on, regardless of whether or not they were involved originally. That might be nice in an ideal world, but where would you draw the line? And how would it be funded? Which services would be covered? Would you have to impose a levy on all equipment sold to cover the eventuality? Going down that route really raises a lot of very tricky questions.
      In writing the original post, I wasn’t attempting to alter any facts – just pointing out that this is where we are now, and blaming Freeview, or other people who weren’t originally anything to do with this isn’t likely to achieve anything, and that in law, you very probably have little chance of any redress.

  3. Being a confirmed cynic I try to see the politics, the bigger picture if you like. The 14 day EPG worked well on my boxes. I wished for nothing better. Now I ask why n number of viewers are being disadvantaged. We are supposed to be in a severe financial climate and many viewers will find it financially hard to replace to the 7 day program. It was particularly annoying for all of us not to have had any warning that it was going to be shut off. That is exactly why I have decided to use my Sony with its excellent Trinitron CRT for longer than I need to do. My response is that of an annoyed customer. It so happens that I bought all my TV kit from a friend in the business and he fully understands my attitude. Who will trust the 7 day program now, that could go the same way. This is far from solved by the pragmatic responses that I have read so far. As they say ‘watch this space’

    1. The 7 day guide isn’t something that could go away in the same way, really.
      It’s an integral part of the Freeview system, fed directly from the broadcasters to a piece of equipment called the “central collator”, from where is it fed to all the transmission equipment.
      It is hard to envisage a situation in which all the multiplex operators (collectively known as DMOL) decided to stop providing the broadcast EPG, or in which any broadcaster would unilaterally decide not to submit data about their programmes.
      Indeed, I suspect (though without digging out the actual multiplex licenses I can’t say with 100% certainty) that the provision of the standards-based EPG may be a requirement of the licences; certainly the reference parameters for digital terrestrial TV in the UK specify that the EPG (know as SI EIT information) is carried on each transport stream.
      That’s a very different situation from the 4TV scenario, which rather than being a standards-based part of the infrastructure was essentially a private data stream, paid for and operated independently of the broadcasters. The reason you’re being disadvantaged is, ultimately pretty simple: someone had paid for the EPG to operate for a certain length of time. That time is up, and no one has paid for it to continue.

  4. Reading through this blog I have decided only to think like a customer. Knowing about data streams, firmware, software and the like is not what I want. I just want a piece of kit that will do exactly what it said on the box.

    My digi boxes did this until the EPG was shut down and without warning. I am hoping that Sony will resolve this deliberately created problem. If they are not able to do so I will just have to program what I need to record from my TV information given with my Sunday papers. When my digi boxes do need to be replaced that is when I will look at other options. Relying on what could be dodgy data streams would be fools choice. I will need to see some form of reliability code or it will be bye bye Freeview.

  5. The financial aspect was not about would anyone do it for nothing because obviously they would not. The direction I was taking was, why wasn’t the piper paid to continue his tune. Was it that someone wanted the EPG shut down for reasons not so far made known.

    1. That sounds like the makings of a conspiracy theory!
      It’s simple: once upon a time there were some PVRs built around the 4TV programme guide. A contract was set up to pay for those. Various people made the boxes; none of them companies that are even involved in the PVR business in the UK any more. Some of them don’t even exist. Even Sony, who have their badge on a box, didn’t make it – they just bought it in from someone else. The legal entity that paid for the EPG doesn’t exist any more. So they couldn’t renew the contract.
      Frankly, given the age of the product, and the fact that they didn’t even design it themselves, I doubt that anyone in Sony – about the only one of these firms still selling consumer electronics in the UK – even realised there was an issue with the EPG on these boxes.
      About the only people who might, perhaps, have had some interest would be Beko, who made the Sony and some of the other boxes. But again, a long time ago, and for a market they’re not interested in any more. I doubt people there were aware of the issue, and even if they had been would they want, in the current financial climate, to pay money to support products that they made for other people, years ago?
      There is no conspiracy; the few remaining companies involved in these boxes gain nothing by the EPG closing, because they don’t make replacements they can sell people – there’s no Sony PVR, no UK Inverto models – and the loss of goodwill wouldn’t help. The idea of their competitors somehow nobbling them to make products obsolete is pretty far-fetched.

  6. Conspiracy theories seem less harmful than unnecessarilly having to splash cash around at a time of grave economic hardship.

    One of my boxes was purchased in 2008 and the other receipt is missing so the 2008 one could have been the first or the second. These two year old boxes may not have been purchased had I been told that the EPG was only good for 2 years. This info would have been available somewhere.

    What I am certain about is that one day it was working and the next day it wasn’t. I was informed that the contract to provide the EPG had run out and so it had been switched off. Had finance been provided it is reasonable to assume that it could just as easily have been switched back on or more likely never switched off had it been refinanced earlier. There can’t have been the will to do so.

    I have still not seen a satisfactory reason why we were not forewarned that the boxes were about to be swiched off and if not why not. I am quite certain that this issue will not be swept under the carpet. Satellite basic price is about £7.50 per week so that may have been why the last government seemed keen to push Freeview which is good value especially with the recorder when it works as it was designed. I wonder if anyone has asked their local MP about this issue. It needs to be aired if only to stop similar practice being repeated.

  7. I understand all of the events that have gone on, and can’t actually argue with them, it’s all just very unfortunate.

    I just feel really sorry for myself, and anyone in my position.

    I got my Inverto 7000m 3 years ago with my birthday cash.. £165, 160gb. I don’t have the cash for subscription services and when I bought the Inverto there was no advance warning this would happen.

    I’m saving for a mortgage now so don’t have the spare cash for a new box.. just can’t justify the cost of a cheap one at £60 and to be honest, they all appear to cause more trouble with operational glitches then they solve.

    I don’t expect the 14day EPG to re appear, but if the 7 day one is free I’d like to hope that inverto, who are at least still operating and selling STB’s, could do a software update even if it was a download and do ya self job as ALL there DTB boxes used the 14 day system.. even if it just puts 7 days where there was14 with out all the other 7 days related stuff.

    A Sad Rob.

  8. What I believe is unfortunate is that all those affected seem to have been just dropped in it. I cannot accept that is all that happened. Surely normal equitable behaviour would have been to try and reach a solution and let people know you were doing something. If the residual life of the EPG was known in 08 I never heard it being discussed. There is more to this than we have been told.
    Over the weekend I had a phone call suggesting that some boxes had guarantees which included the EPG but there were no other details. Even when I bought my last box in 08 this wasn’t an issue nor am I sure what my reaction would have been had I known.

    Over the weekend also I have practiced putting the programmes to be recorded in manually and provided nothing else goes wrong it seems as easy as using the EPG.
    An e-mail from Sony indicates that they are looking at the problem. So rather than the ‘doom and gloom, throw it all in the bin’ we now have something positve to investigate.

    1. There really isn’t more, you know.
      The EPG contract was a contract between other people – nothing to do with the end users. Just like the contracts that allow DVD players to have access to DivX VOD, or some Blu-ray players to have the Gracenote database – though at least in those cases, the companies that make the products are the ones that have their name on the label, and that signed the contract for a third party service. Even so, you don’t see anything in the manuals for kit like that saying “This box relies upon a contract with X for Y; the contract ends on the 25th May 2012.” That’s because no one ever puts things like that in instruction manuals, and there’s no obligation for them to do so.
      And, with most of these boxes, the people who’s brand name appeared on the front might not even have been parties to the contract for the EPG. The retailers certainly weren’t. And that’s why there was no discussion. Not because there was a conspiracy, but because that’s just the way commercial life works. The best you’ll typically find in any manual – and certainly not a contract of sale – is a note relating to the copyright or patents involved.
      Who could have known about the expected life of the EPG in 2008? The only people who could are the parties to the contract. The company operating it would be on pretty dodgy ground if they were to actively find a way to warn potential purchasers “the kit you’re buying relies on this service, which we might not provide beyond 2010,” even if they knew that. And the people selling the boxes aren’t likely to shout out a fact like that, are they? And, at the time these contracts were signed, the firms involved doubtless thought they’d still be around, to the extent that they could predict the future at all.
      As I said in my second post on this topic, a labelling system to indicate reliance on third party services would be about the best you could hope for, in future. Getting companies to disclose what they would doubtless class as commercially confidential contract details, and make those available via the retailer, is pretty unlikely ever to happen.

  9. Both my digiboxes have plastic labels which advertise the features of the box. One of these features reads

    ” Electronic Programme Guide for easy recording”

    There is no ambiguity in that statement and the labels cannot be removed without their destruction. In modern parlance ‘does what it says on the box’ The box in this instance is the metal case of the equipment. That is why I think Sony will honour what it says on this label. So there certainly is more.

  10. Sony have made me an offer which I shall give consideration and if it gives me what I want I shall go for it.

    1. And would you care to let us know what that is?
      Frankly, some sort of offer to those who make the most fuss has always been the most likely outcome. Restarting the EPG service, or updating the software to use the standard EPG are both non-starters. And probably more expensive than giving everyone a new box anyway.

  11. I have e-mailed Sony and told them whilst I appreciate their offer it wont give me what I enjoy now.
    I shall stick with my two SVR S500 which gives me the ability to record up to four programmes at the same time,
    I also mentioned that when I bought my last box in 2008 it must have been known that the contract for the EPG servicing the box would be over in 2010.
    The loss of the EPG is nothing more than an irritant now and has been replaced with a marker pen which I use in the Radio Times to indicate the programmes set to be recorded. I will look forward to trying a new double tuner box with hard drive if one becomes avaiable.
    Meanwhile it is not costing me anything to stick with what I have now.

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