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
Private
Industry Digital television
Founded 24 November 2008
Headquarters Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Area served
Australia
Key people
Liz Ross - CEO
Number of 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 built on MHEG-5.[1] This Freeview EPG will cease operating on November 24, 2017,[2] and Freeview is now focusing on its new Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV-based FreeviewPlus service which was launched in 2014 and incorporates an onscreen guide.[3]

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.[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]

Freeview has been criticised as being ambiguous and light on details, with criticism that certification is more about restricting devices than enabling them.[7] The introduction of channels replacing the previous High Definition simulcasts led to complaints that regular programming was no longer broadcast in high-definition.[8]

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.[9]

An ABC release stated these groups are shareholders of Freeview,[10] though a company search revealed all shares are owned by the Nine Network.[11]

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.[12] SBS withdrew from Freeview in May 2015, citing Federal budget cuts,[13] but Freeview can not disable SBS's HbbTV app or remove it from the airwaves.[14]

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. Skip features were initially limited to a minimum of 10 minutes, but these restriction was eased to 3 minutes in 2015 in response to a request from a hardware manufacturer supporting FreeviewPlus.[15]

Phase 2 required Freeview devices to feature the MHEG-5 technology, which Freeview used to support its interactive electronic program guide and proposed 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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,[19] and Australian broadcasters have not announced a timetable for switching to MPEG-4 broadcasting. There have been MPEG-4 trials but the Seven Network's Channel 78, rebroadcasting Racing Victoria's video feed, is Australia's first permanent MPEG-4 channel.[20]

Digital video recorder restrictions[edit]

Freeview devices can not skip an ad block. Initially they could skip 10 minute blocks, and fast forward and rewind at 30x speeds, but these were changed to 3 minutes and 32x in 2015.[15]

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 use an MHEG-5-based electronic programming guide (EPG) which will be decommissioned in November 2017.[2]

Phase 1 Freeview devices were not required to feature the MHEG-5 technology that Freeview to use to support its Freeview EPG. From April 2009, Freeview was still negotiating an MHEG-5 licensing deal.[7] and it was not signed until July 2009.[21]

Freeview agreed that manufacturers can sell Phase 1 devices without MHEG-5 for another three years, until 2012, and was not required to label such devices as Phase 1.[7]

Freeview announced details of its EPG on 28 June 2010, with plans for a consumer launch in September 2010. The new EPG was based on the same EPG data available to all digital TV devices via the broadcast signal, but also monitored Content Reference Indicator (CRID) data embedded in the broadcast signal. The CRID data allowed recorders to detect when a program is running over schedule and continue recording.[22]

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.[23] Only Freeview-endorsed PVRs featuring the "Freeview EPG" logo 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.[22]

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.[24] 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.[22]

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.[25] Freeview announced details of an agreement with Macrovision in July 2009.[26]

FreeviewPlus[edit]

Freeview launched the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV-based FreeviewPlus service in September 2014.[3] It consists of six Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV apps – one for each of the five major Australian free-to-air broadcasters (launched with the red button on the remote control) and a sixth cross-network electronic programming guide (launched with the green button). Each network offers access to its catch-up TV library via its apps, plus it is possible to scroll back in time through the green button onscreen guide to view catch up programs. The service won Best Enhanced TV Service at the International Interactive TV Awards 2015.[27]

While Freeview runs a FreeviewPlus certificiation program, any Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV-compatible television equipment can display the apps.[28] Initially only televisions received official FreeviewPlus certification. The first certified set-top box was released in May 2015[29] and the first Digital video recorder is coming in August 2015.

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
  • When the TV networks start transmitting in MPEG-4, non-MPEG-4 capable boxes will not be able to receive those channels

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.[30]

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.[31]

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.[32] Plans for this video hub have been superseded by the FreeviewPlus service.

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[7]

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 [33] and then October for its secondary channel launch.[34]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Freeview Finally Rolls Out Its EPG". Lifehacker Australia. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Freeview announcement sunset MHEG" (Press release). Freeview Australia. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Turner, Adam. "Catch-up television service FreeviewPlus has lift-off". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "Freeview to launch 6.29pm Monday". The Spy Report (Media Spy). 21 November 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  5. ^ UNITES NETWORKS IN THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION 24 November 08.pdf "Freeview unites networks in the Digital Revolution" (PDF) (Press release). Freeview (Australia). 24 November 2008. Retrieved 24 November 2008. 
  6. ^ Turner, Adam (8 April 2009). "Half of Australia's first Freeview devices won't be Freeview compatible". Pcauthority.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Turner, Adam (9 April 2009). "Picture not clear on Freeview". The Age (Melbourne, Australia: Fairfax Media). p. 17. Retrieved 20 June 2010.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  8. ^ a b Turner, Adam (27 March 2009). "Nerds pay the price for One HD's 24 hour sport". Hydrapinion.com. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  9. ^ "FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions". Freeview – Digital Television. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "Freeview to Drive Digital Take-up in Australia". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Margaret Simons writes: (21 July 2008). "So who's really behind Freeview?". Crikey.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  12. ^ Meade, Amanda (26 March 2012). "Blow for Freeview as WIN pulls out". The Australian. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  13. ^ Healey, Nic. "SBS withdraws from Freeview service citing Federal budget cuts". CNET Australia. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  14. ^ Turner, Adam. "Freeview can't pull SBS off the air". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  15. ^ a b Turner, Adam. "Freeview relaxes ad-skipping restrictions". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  16. ^ Turner, Adam. "Freeview Australia's FUD campaign turns on Dvico". Hydrapinion.com. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  17. ^ Turner, Adam (11 December 2009). "Freeview infects PlayStation 3's PlayTV". Hydrapinion.com. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  18. ^ Familari, Peter (16 March 2009). "Clock ticks for plasmas, LCDs". Herald Sun. p. 4. Retrieved 20 June 2010.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  19. ^ "Battle over TV future". Herald Sun. 17 March 2009. p. 19. Retrieved 20 June 2010.  |chapter= ignored (help)[dead link]
  20. ^ Turner, Adam. "Australia embraces MPEG-4 digital TV with new racing channel". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  21. ^ "IMPALA announces Freeview Australia's selection of MHEG-5 as its iTV middleware". Impala.org. 20 July 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  22. ^ a b c Turner, Adam (28 June 2010). "Freeview launches auto-updating EPG". Smh.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  23. ^ Turner, Adam (6 February 2009). "Freeview confirms new Aussie EPG is backwards compatible... coz it's nothing but a skin". Pcauthority.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  24. ^ "IceTV cracks Nine - a win for viewers". Hydrapinion.com. 24 April 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  25. ^ "Freeview To Cut EPG Deal After IceTV Win". Smarthouse.com.au. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  26. ^ "New Freeview Coming In April 2010". Smarthouse.com.au. 5 April 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  27. ^ Knox, David. "Freeview wins interactive award". TV Tonight. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  28. ^ Turner, Adam. "FreeviewPlus works with non-Freeview gear". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  29. ^ Griffith, Chris. "Freeview launches set-top box". Technology Spectator. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  30. ^ "What is the purpose of Freeview? - CHOICE reviews Freeview - CHOICE". Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  31. ^ "FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions". Freeview – Digital Television. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  32. ^ "Freeview beats off US rivals". Businessday.com.au. 26 February 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  33. ^ "Leckie Hits out at Network Ten". News.ninemsn.com.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  34. ^ Sinclair, Lara (22 April 2009). "Foxtel unveils internet vision". The Australian. p. 26. Retrieved 20 June 2010.  |chapter= ignored (help)

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