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Freeview Australia Limited
Type Private
Founded 2008
Headquarters Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Area served Australia
Key people Robin Parkes - CEO
Industry Digital television
Employees Unknown
Website www.freeview.com.au

Freeview is the brand given to the digital terrestrial television platform in Australia. It is intended to bring all of the free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters on to a consistent marketing platform to compete against PayTV, in particular Foxtel, and coincides with the expansion to 3 digital channels for each FTA network. Freeview will emphasise its members' 15 free over-the-air channels, will produce an enhanced electronic program guide (EPG) - and will also certify televisions, set-top boxes and personal video recorders (PVR) which meet their requirements.

The Freeview brand was launched in November 2008 with teaser commercials promising 15 channels in 2009. The first new "Freeview" channel started on 26 March 2009 with Network Ten's One sports channel. Further advertising began on 26 April 2009, with the first Freeview certified devices appearing in retailers from May 2009.

Freeview has been criticised as being ambiguous and light on details, with criticism that certification is more about restricting devices than enabling them.[1] Network Ten's simulcast of One in both high- and standard-definition is criticised by some as a single channel, without content unique to each. Its introduction also meant Network Ten's non-sports programming is no longer broadcast in high-definition.[2] Freeview certification will include at least two phases, with the phase 1 Freeview devices not required to feature the MHEG-5 technology Freeview intends to use to support its electronic program guide.[3]

Contents

Launch

The brand was launched on 24 November 2008 at 6:29 p.m. through the use of a 60-second advertisement shown on all networks, in a roadblock.[4]

The proper service was launched in 2009 along with a number of Freeview badged set-top boxes and integrated digital televisions.[5] At least four manufacturers intend to release Phase 1 Freeview devices which do not support MHEG-5.[6]

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Ownership

The non-profit Freeview organisation comprises the free-to-air licencees; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service, Seven Network, Nine Network, Network Ten, WIN Corporation, Prime Media Group and Southern Cross Broadcasting.[7]

An ABC release stated these groups are shareholders of Freeview,[8] though a company search revealed all shares are owned by the Nine Network.[9]

Freeview certification requirements

Part of the Freeview initiative is to certify set-top boxes as capable of receiving free-to-air digital television broadcasts (both standard and high definition). Although certification requirements have not been formally released, Phase 1 Freeview devices will be high-definition, and capable of more advanced video encoding (MPEG-4). Recorders will not be able to skip over ads, and must enforce digital rights management.

Phase 2 requires Freeview devices to feature the MHEG-5 technology, which Freeview intends to use to support its electronic program guide and its future enhancements.

The Freeview advertising for their 15-channel platform and certified products, combined with the Australian government's commercials warning of the closure of analog TV transmissions, is intended to help consumers buy appropriate devices.

Freeview has threatened PVR manufacturers such as DViCO with legal action if they include the Freeview (UK) logo (which looks very similar to the Freeview Australia logo) on their Australian packaging.[10]

Sony Computer Entertainment Australia added Freeview compatibilty to the PlayStation 3's PlayTV digital television tuner in October 2009 with the 1.21 firmware update. The update disabled ad-skipping, reduced fast forward and rewind speed to 30x and removed the ability to copy recordings to other devices. Unlike other Freeview-endorsed devices, these restrictions can be easily bypassed on the PlayStation 3.[11]

High-definition

To obtain Freeview certification, devices must include at least one high-definition digital tuner.

Note: In April 2009, it was not known whether displays needed to meet high-definition standards.

Video Decoding

Freeview devices must be capable of receiving and decoding H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, a far less data hungry standard than current MPEG-2.[12] The standard allows higher quality transmissions or more television channels in future, and Freeview has said that the television networks will not broadcast with this codec until the majority of the population has a device that can receive it.

The federal government has not approved any change in television broadcasting standards,[13] and Australian broadcasters have not announced a timetable for switching to MPEG-4 broadcasting.

Digital video recorder restrictions

Freeview devices can not skip an ad block - they can skip 10 minute blocks, and fast forward and rewind at 30x speeds

Hard drive-based recorders must offer a minimum of 160 GB internal storage, with Digital Rights Management applied to recordings copied off the device. Restrictions must also be in place to ensure recordings can not be accessed if the hard drive is removed from the recorder.

Enhanced EPG (MHEG-5) - phase 2

Freeview Phase 2 certified devices will use a new electronic programming guide (EPG).

Phase 1 Freeview devices are not required to feature the MHEG-5 technology that Freeview intends to use to support its EPG. From April 2009, Freeview was still negotiating an MHEG-5 licensing deal.[3] and it was not signed until July 2009 [14].

Freeview has agreed that manufacturers can sell Phase 1 devices without MHEG-5 for another three years, and are not required to label such devices as Phase 1.[3]

Freeview has not released details of when this EPG will be launched or what enhancements it will feature compared to the EPG data already embedded in the broadcast signal, which is available to all digital television devices. After some confusion as to whether non-Freeview devices would still have access to the EPG, Freeview chief executive Robin Parkes confirmed the broadcast EPG would remain and the Freeview EPG would be based on the same data, only using MHEG-5 to present a common interface across devices.[15]

Australian EPG provider IceTV's high court victory over the Nine Network, securing its right to supply a third-party EPG service, may influence Freeview's long term plans for the broadcast and MHEG-5 EPG services.[16] Freeview has finalised its license to use MHEG-5[3] but initially lacked a license to use the traditional information grid pattern EPG which is covered under patents under owned by Macrovision.[17] Freeview announced details of an agreement with Macrovision in July 2009.[18]

Non-compliant devices

Existing digital television devices should continue to operate without Freeview certification, with the following caveats:

  • Only HD devices can view the HD channels
  • If the TV networks start transmission in MPEG-4 in the future, non-MPEG-4 capable boxes will not be able to receive those channels
  • Non Compliant devices (and Phase 1 Freeview devices) will not have the enhanced EPG, which may be encoded to prevent non certified boxes reading it. Initially the enhanced EPG will contain the same data as the broadcast EPG,[15] although eventually it may feature higher quality and more accurate information to use for scheduling recordings.

Government labelling scheme

In April 2009, the government released a new labelling scheme for digital television devices, to help people buy the correct equipment in the transition from analog to digital television. This is unrelated to the Freeview labelling endorsed by the major commercial and public broadcasters.

Televisions will have the following labels:[19]

  1. Digital TV Capable - for analogue TVs which require a set top box
  2. Digital TV Ready (Standard Definition) - for TVs able to receive SD broadcasts
  3. Digital TV Ready (High Definition) - for TVs able to receive HD broadcasts

Freeview devices meet the High Definition Digital TV Ready standard, in addition to the other Freeview standards.

Channels

Each free-to-air broadcaster, from 2009, is permitted to transmit 2 channels in Standard Definition (SD) and 1 in High Definition (HD). Freeview has announced that the service will launch with 15 channels, three from each of the current broadcasters[20] - 10 SD and 5 HD services.[5]

Channel numbers

The digital television standard allows for multiple channel numbers to point to the same television stream. All the broadcasters use this - it can appear that there are several separate channels when they each point to the same transmission.

The broadcasters are permitted to broadcast 3 separate channels. When the HD and SD channels show the same program, they use different streams - one in standard-definition, the other in high-definition.

Metropolitan channels

Not all channels are available in all areas, duplicate channels omitted.[21]

LCN Channel Genre/Type Resolution Current use
1 One HD Sport 1080i HD Currently simulcasts One
2 ABC1 General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
3 SBS One General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
7 Seven Digital General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
9 Nine Digital General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
10 Ten Digital General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
12 One Sport 576i SD Active channel, Announced possible 3rd digital channel for Ten[22]
20 ABC HD General entertainment 720p HD Currently ABC HD. ABC NEWS will launch early to mid (2010)
22 ABC2 General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
23 ABC3 Children's programming 576i SD Active channel
30 SBS HD General entertainment 720p HD Currently simulcasts SBS One
32 SBS Two General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
44 TVS Community Television Channel 576i SD Sydney launched 1 March 2010[23]
70 Seven HD General entertainment 1080i HD Currently simulcasts Seven Digital
72 7TWO General entertainment 576i SD Active channel
90 Nine HD General entertainment 1080i HD Currently simulcasts Nine Digital
99 GO! General entertainment 576i SD Active channel

Regional channels

Some regional areas receive a different combination of metropolitan and regional channels. Below lists the general regional networks, see metropolitan channels where necessary. Some channels not available in all areas. Duplicates omitted.

Regional

LCN Channel Genre/Type Resolution Current Use
2 ABC1 General Entertainment 576i SD Active channel.
3 SBS One General Entertainment. 576i SD Active channel.
5 Southern Cross Ten/Ten Digital General Entertainment 576i SD Active channel. Localised for each area.
6 Prime/Southern Cross Television/GWN General Entertainment 576i SD Active channel. Localised for each area.
8 WIN/NBN General Entertainment 576i SD Active channel. Localised for each area.
20 ABC HD General Entertainment 720p HD Currently ABC HD. ABC NEWS will launch early to mid 2010.
22 ABC2 General Entertainment 576i SD Active channel
23 ABC3 Children's programming 576i SD Active channel
30 SBS HD General Entertainment 720p HD Currently simulcasts SBS One
32 SBS Two General Entertainment 576i SD Active channel
50 One HD* Sport 1080i HD Active channel
60 Prime/Southern Cross HD General Entertainment 576i SD/1080i HD Simulcasts Prime/Southern Cross Tasmania
62 7TWO General Entertainment 576i SD Active Channel.
80 WIN Television/NBN General Entertainment 1080i HD Simulcasts WIN/NBN.
88 GO! General entertainment 576i SD Active channel

* ONE SD is not being broadcast into regional areas, yet is broadcasting on Channel 55 in the Ten Mildura area.[24]

Future Channels

  • 44 Channel 31 - Community TV Channel
  • 24 ABC4 - Business/News channel - launching before the end of the year[25].
  • 25 ABC5 - Education channel
  • 26 ABC6 - Best Of Overseas channel
  • 33 SBS3 - Future SBS Service
  • 34 SBS4 - Future SBS Service

Online Video Portal

Through Freeview, the free-to-air broadcasters have signed a new initiative for an industry-wide video hub - details of what content will be carried is unknown. A consultant has been commissioned to advise on vendor partnerships, and ABC's iView technology is the frontrunner to deliver the service.[26]

Currently, the ABC, SBS, Seven Network, Nine Network and Ten Network each offer "catch up" internet television services in Australia, allowing viewers to watch locally produced content after it has been shown on their respective channels.

Criticisms

Freeview has been criticised as being ambiguous and light on details, with criticism that certification is more about restricting devices than enabling them.[1] TEN Network's simulcast of "One" in HD & SD is criticised by some as a single channel, as it is not unique content and the introduction of One HD means TEN Network's non-sports programming is no longer broadcast in HD.[2] Freeview certification will include at least two phases, with the Phase 1 Freeview devices not required to feature the MHEG-5 technology Freeview intends to use to support its Electronic Program Guide.[3]

In addition to the lack of detail, minimal information was given by Seven and Nine Network management regarding new channel launch dates. The original Freeview announcement stated planned May releases for the launch of new digital channels by both networks, while a later Seven release mentioned mid-2009 [27] and then October for its secondary channel launch.[28]

References

  1. ^ a b Picture not clear on Freeview
  2. ^ a b Nerds pay the price for One HD's 24 hour sport
  3. ^ a b c d e Freeview in a fog
  4. ^ "Freeview to launch 6.29pm Monday". MediaSpy (The Spy Report). 2008. http://report.mediaspy.org/index.php?p=2088. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  5. ^ a b Freeview (Australia) (2008-11-24). UNITES NETWORKS IN THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION 24 Nov 08.pdf "Freeview unites networks in the Digital Revolution". Press release. http://www.freeview.com.au/pdfs/FREEVIEW UNITES NETWORKS IN THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION 24 Nov 08.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  6. ^ Half of Australia's first Freeview devices won't be Freeview compatible
  7. ^ "Freeview About Us". Freeview. 2008. http://freeview.com.au/#/about_us. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  8. ^ Freeview to Drive Digital Take-up in Australia
  9. ^ So who's really behind Freeview?
  10. ^ Freeview Australia's FUD campaign turns on Dvico
  11. ^ Freeview infects PlayStation 3's PlayTV
  12. ^ Clock Ticks for Plasmas, LCDs
  13. ^ Battle over Australia's TV future
  14. ^ IMPALA announces Freeview Australia's selection of MHEG-5 as its iTV middleware
  15. ^ a b Freeview confirms new Aussie EPG is backwards compatible... coz it's nothing but a skin
  16. ^ IceTV cracks Nine - a win for viewers
  17. ^ Freeview To Cut EPG Deal After IceTV Win
  18. ^ New Freeview Coming In April 2010
  19. ^ http://www.digitalready.gov.au/panel_labels.aspx
  20. ^ "Freeview FAQs". Freeview. 2008. http://www.freeview.com.au/#/faqs. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  21. ^ "Freeview Channels". Freeview. 2008. http://freeview.com.au/#/channels. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  22. ^ Seven and Nine readying extra digital channels. The Spy Report. 2009-11-23. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  23. ^ Jackson, Sally (The Australian). "Sydney community channel TVS goes digital". http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/sydney-community-channel-tvs-goes-digital/story-e6frg996-1225835350870. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  24. ^ http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2009/06/southern-cross-adds-one-hd-from-july-2.html ONE HD to be broadcast 2 July in regional areas - TV Tonight
  25. ^ "ABC News to go 24/7 in 2010". ABC News (Australia). 21 January 2010. http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/media/s2797603.htm. Retrieved 22 January 2010. 
  26. ^ Freeview beats off US rivals
  27. ^ Leckie Hits out at Network Ten
  28. ^ Foxtel ponders internet-only subscriptions

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