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.