As part of the rolling process to upgrade Freeview to an HD service, Freeview (as well as Digital UK and the DTG) are going to withdraw licenced use of the “Freeview trademark” from equipment that does not meet the most up-to-date high definition standards.
This is good news for anyone who might have bought a high definition capable TV set and found that it was incapable of watching the channels broadcast on Freeview in HD.
It is also good news for the mobile broadband industry: the sooner all homes have Freeview HD equipment, the sooner the TV frequencies can be rearranged to free up capacity for mobiles.
Freeview HD provides two important differences to “standard” Freeview. The most obvious is an increase in the resolution of TV pictures that provides a better viewing experience. Hidden behind the scenes is another technology called “DVB-T2” that increases the amount of data in a digital TV broadcast: this is needed to carry the better pictures.
Freeview HD for all
All homes in the UK can currently watch at least five channels on Freeview HD. These are BBC One HD, BBC Two HD, one of ITV HD, STV HD or UTV HD, Channel 4 HD and BBC Three HD and CBBC HD.
Freeview HD for some
About 60% of homes can also get another selection of HD channels (BBC Four HD, BBC News HD, Al Jazeera HD, Channel 4+1 HD, 4seven HD, CBeebies HD, QVC HD and QVC Beauty HD) but only from a selection of “main” transmitters.
Freeview HD later
Over the next decade, it is expected that there will be another “digital switchover” as the allocated frequencies for television are reduced further. For this to happen without the loss of Freeview channel selection, it will be vital for all Freeview homes to be using Freeview HD equipment, even for channels not broadcast in HD.
Because of the extra bandwidth provided by DVB-T2 as well as the improved data compression provided by MPEG4, it will be possible to provide the same number of TV channels whilst providing considerable extra capacity for mobile phones and tablets using 4G-type services.
When will there be more HD channels for everyone?
It is likely that improved (backend) computation speeds will allow the national PSB3 multiplex to carry an additional channel in the next couple of years. After that it will require the reconfiguration of another multiplex to DVB-T2 to create the required capacity.
However the BBC’s universal service obligation can’t do this until 100% of homes can use DVB-T2, and the same applies to ITV and Channel 4. The commercial multiplexes also will not wish to drop homes for their viewers, so the upgrade may be many, many years away.
This is similar to the reasons that DAB+ stations can’t be broadcast: such a transmission would be invisible to any home with “classic” equipment.