Freeview (Australia)

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This article is about the Australian digital terrestrial television brand. For other uses of the branding, see Freeview.
Freeview Australia Limited
Type Private
Industry Digital television
Founded 24 November 2008
Headquarters Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Area served Australia
Key people Robin Parkes - CEO
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 subscription television, in particular (Foxtel), and coincides with the expansion to 3 digital channels for each FTA network. Important services from Freeview includes its free over-the-air channels with an enhanced EPG (Electronic program guide) across all channels. Freeview also certify televisions, set-top box 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. In June 2010, the second phase of devices, marked as "Freeview EPG" devices, became available in retail stores, designed to work with the newly launched interactive EPG.[1]

Launch[edit]

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.[2]

The proper service was launched in 2009 along with a number of Freeview badged set-top boxes and integrated digital televisions.[3] At least four manufacturers intend to release Phase 1 Freeview devices which do not support MHEG-5.[4]

Freeview has been criticised as being ambiguous and light on details, with criticism that certification is more about restricting devices than enabling them.[5] The introduction of channels replacing the previous High Definition simulcasts led to complaints that regular programming was no longer broadcast in high-definition.[6]

Ownership[edit]

The non-profit Freeview organisation comprises the free-to-air licencees; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service, Seven Network, Nine Network, Network Ten, 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]

WIN Corporation were previously a member of the Freeview organisation, however left in March 2012 with complaints over the organisation's role in the television industry and the cost of operations.[10]

Freeview certification requirements[edit]

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 uses to support its interactive electronic program guide and its future enhancements.

The Freeview advertising for their 17-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.[11]

Digital TV Labs, is an Officially Approved Test Centre for Freeview Australia conformance testing, where manufacturers wishing to deploy devices with the Freeview Australia logo and EPG can obtain pass reports.

Sony Computer Entertainment Australia added Freeview compatibility 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.[12]

High-definition[edit]

To obtain Freeview certification, devices must include at least one high-definition digital tuner, supporting the HD formats of 576p, 720p and 1080i.

Video Decoding[edit]

Freeview devices must be capable of receiving and decoding H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, a far less data hungry standard than current MPEG-2.[13] 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,[14] and Australian broadcasters have not announced a timetable for switching to MPEG-4 broadcasting.

Digital video recorder restrictions[edit]

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[edit]

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.[5] and it was not signed until July 2009.[15]

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.[5]

Freeview announced details of its EPG on 28 June 2010, with plans for a consumer launch in September 2010. The new EPG will be based on the same EPG data available to all digital TV devices via the broadcast signal, but it will also monitor Content Reference Indicator (CRID) data embedded in the broadcast signal. The CRID data will allow recorders to detect when a program is running over schedule and continue recording.[16]

After initial 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.[17] Only Freeview-endorsed PVRs featuring the "Freeview EPG" logo will have access to the new Freeview EPG, although the Freeview-endorsed TiVo recorder will extract CRID data from the broadcast signal to update its own EPG (with permission from the networks), rather than relying on Freeview's EPG data.[16]

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.[18] The ruling may also affect whether third-party EPG providers have the right to extract CRID data from the broadcast signal without permission from the networks, as the CRID data will not be encypted according to Freeview marketing director Chelsea Wymer.[16]

Freeview has finalised its license to use MHEG-5 but initially lacked a license to use the traditional information grid pattern EPG which is covered under patents under owned by Macrovision.[19] Freeview announced details of an agreement with Macrovision in July 2009.[20]

Update: Freeview has chosen HbbTV as its new interactive TV standard which combines the benefits of both broadcast and broadband. Freeview plans to launch the service in May'2014 and is also planning to launch a big campaign for the same early next year.

Non-compliant devices[edit]

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,[17] although eventually it may feature higher quality and more accurate information to use for scheduling recordings.

Government labelling scheme[edit]

As well as Freeview labelling, the Australian Government has its own scheme for identifying digital ready televisions and set top boxes. Freeview branded set top boxes are labelled as 'High Definition Ready' under the government scheme, however non-Freeview boxes can also be labelled in the same way, leading to viewer confusion as to whether the Freeview channels will be receivable on those set top boxes without the branding.[21]

Channels[edit]

A Freeview compliant device will display all digital television channels broadcast in a viewer's market area, including those broadcast in High Definition. While Freeview promote their approved devices, their website notes that any HD compatible device will show the same channels.[22]

With the exception of WIN Television services and in some regional areas, most digital channels broadcast the Freeview EPG. While WIN Television stations no longer broadcast the Freeview EPG, their programming is still listed in the EPG and channels remain on the Freeview website.

Online Video Portal[edit]

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.[23]

Currently, the ABC, SBS, Seven Network, Nine Network and Ten Network each offer "catch up" internet television services in Australia, allowing viewers to watch local and foreign content after it has been shown on their respective channels, while One allows online streaming of select sporting content, including live streams of Formula One.

Criticisms[edit]

Freeview has been criticised as being ambiguous and light on details, with criticism that certification is more about restricting devices than enabling them.[5] Network Ten's simulcast of "One" in HD & SD was criticised by some as being a single channel, as it is not unique content and the introduction of One means Network Ten's non-sports programming is no longer broadcast in HD.[6] 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.[5]

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 [24] and then October for its secondary channel launch.[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Freeview Finally Rolls Out Its EPG". Lifehacker Australia. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  2. ^ "Freeview to launch 6.29pm Monday". The Spy Report (Media Spy). 21 November 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  3. ^ UNITES NETWORKS IN THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION 24 November 08.pdf "Freeview unites networks in the Digital Revolution" (Press release). Freeview (Australia). 24 November 2008. Retrieved 24 November 2008. 
  4. ^ "Half of Australia's first Freeview devices won't be Freeview compatible". Pcauthority.com.au. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Turner, Adam (9 April 2009). "Green Guide". "Picture not clear on Freeview". The Age (Melbourne, Australia: Fairfax Media). p. 17. Retrieved 20 June 2010. 
  6. ^ a b "Nerds pay the price for One HD's 24 hour sport". Hydrapinion.com. 27 March 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions". Freeview – Digital Television. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "Freeview to Drive Digital Take-up in Australia". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Margaret Simons writes: (21 July 2008). "So who's really behind Freeview?". Crikey.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Meade, Amanda (26 March 2012). "Blow for Freeview as WIN pulls out". The Australian. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  11. ^ "Freeview Australia's FUD campaign turns on Dvico". Hydrapinion.com. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "Freeview infects PlayStation 3's PlayTV". Hydrapinion.com. 11 December 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Familari, Peter (16 March 2009). "News". "Clock ticks for plasmas, LCDs". Herald Sun. p. 4. Retrieved 20 June 2010. 
  14. ^ "News". "Battle over TV future". Herald Sun. 17 March 2009. p. 19. Retrieved 20 June 2010. [dead link]
  15. ^ "IMPALA announces Freeview Australia's selection of MHEG-5 as its iTV middleware". Impala.org. 20 July 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  16. ^ a b c "Freeview launches auto-updating EPG". Smh.com.au. 28 June 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "Freeview confirms new Aussie EPG is backwards compatible... coz it's nothing but a skin". Pcauthority.com.au. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "IceTV cracks Nine - a win for viewers". Hydrapinion.com. 24 April 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "Freeview To Cut EPG Deal After IceTV Win". Smarthouse.com.au. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  20. ^ "New Freeview Coming In April 2010". Smarthouse.com.au. 5 April 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  21. ^ "What is the purpose of Freeview? - CHOICE reviews Freeview - CHOICE". Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  22. ^ "FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions". Freeview – Digital Television. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  23. ^ "Freeview beats off US rivals". Businessday.com.au. 26 February 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  24. ^ "Leckie Hits out at Network Ten". News.ninemsn.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  25. ^ Sinclair, Lara (22 April 2009). "Finance". "Foxtel unveils internet vision". The Australian. p. 26. Retrieved 20 June 2010. 

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