At an event in London this morning, with the DTG and Freeview, a significant announcement finally happened – and not before time in my view.
From January of next year, all Freeview labelled TVs above 32 inches will have to have support for HD and DVB-T2. From January 2017, that will apply to all Freeview labelled products.
This isn’t really about a wholesale move to everything being in HD, however – don’t get excited on that account. What it actually means is that every set will be capable of receiving channels using the same technology that’s used for HD. That’s a subtle difference, and it’s just as important for standard definition.
Updated: The Freeview press release is here. The key phrase – not that you’d know it from the way they bang on about HD all the time – is
to encourage the take-up of HD to deliver the best viewing experience for consumers and a more efficient technical standard.
Really, it’s that more efficient technical standard that this is all about, not high definition.
I wrote a little bit about this when Al Jazeera launched on the new HD multiplexes. As the bandwidth available to terrestrial broadcasting is squeezed, capacity is being lost, and eventually more channels will have to switch to using DVB-T2 instead of DVB-T, and to using H.264 for standard def as well as HD.
Together those two technologies make everything a lot more efficient, and ensure the current level of service can be maintained, even after 2020 when some of the frequencies now in use won’t be available. This has been known about for a long time, but until recently people have seemed a little reluctant to make the message clear to the public.
With today’s announcement, anyone who buys a new TV set with the Freeview logo should be confident that it will continue working for a while. In fact, a lot of kit is already capable – but not all, especially at the bargain end of the market. Exactly how the transition to the new technologies happens is doubtless something we’ll hear more about in due course.
I would imagine that as we get closer to the time when frequencies have to be handed back, some of the commercial multiplexes will switch over to DVB-T2, one by one. The public service broadcasters are likely to do some jiggling around, so that the core channels remain on a multiplex using DVB-T and MPEG2 for as long as possible, so those who have older equipment won’t lose service completely.
When I can find out more about timescales, I’ll write more – but this is, in my view, an essential first step: stopping people buying equipment that won’t pick up the full service in a few years time. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in this topic, it’s worth checking out two recent pieces of mine on The Register: my IBC report and a recent report on the prospect of Freeview and mobiles sharing spectrum.