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Rebuilding Freeview High Definition from 2019 onwards

There is a bit of a dip in the space available on Freeview HD for high definition channels once 5G mobile services start next year, but the capability will return.

Understanding the capacity on Freeview HD is very lego  Photograph: Shutterstock
Understanding the capacity on Freeview HD is very lego Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

As Freeview High Definition users in Cornwall already know, the number of TV channels being broadcast in the UK will be cut back in mid-2020  to make way for the fifth generation of mobile phone data services.

This is because the number of multiplexes being broadcast will be cut back to the original six.   The extra two were provided as a “interim service”.    A Freeview multiplex is a single broadcast of binary data that occupies a 8MHz frequency range.    In the UK each of these can carry 24.1, 27.1 or 40.2Mbps or of data.

Because older TV sets and set-top boxes can only work with 24.1 Mbps, it is only possible for the owners of the multiplexes to use the higher capacity modes when every home has switched to Freeview HD capable equipment.  This equipment is marked with “DVB-T2”.

As illustrated, the total bitrate (in a home that can receive all the multiplexes) will change over time.

Meet the multiplexes

Not all the multiplexes are the same:

  • only three are broadcast to the whole of the UK;
  • a different three are broadcast in the better DVB-T2 mode;
  • legally, only BBC channels may appear on BBCA
  • also, legally, only public service broadcast channels (ITV, C4, C5) can appear on D3&4
  • The HD mode multiplexes have more bits and use a more video efficient encoding system (MPEG-4)
  • The current license to broadcast have different end-dates

This can be summaries in this table.

Multiplex name

 

Expires

 

HD mode?

Coverage

Mode

Bitrate today

com7

 

21 June 2020

 

Yes

76%

6

40.2

com8

 

21 June 2020

 

Yes

76%

6

40.2

D3&4

 

15 November 2022

 

No

100%

3

24.1

ARQA

 

15 November 2026

 

No

90%

8

27.1

ARQB

 

15 November 2026

 

No

90%

8

27.1

SDN

 

15 November 2026

 

No

90%

8

27.1

BBCB

 

16 November 2026

 

Yes

100%

6

40.2

BBCA

 

31 December 2027

 

No

100%

3

24.1

Freeview requires about 2.2Mbps for a standard definition channels and three times that for a high definition one (6.7Mbps). 

 

The Freeview HD EPG problem

One problem for people with Freeview HD receivers will note is that HD channels are grouped together in the program guide, rather than appear as replacements for the standard definition channels as viewers expect.    This is because the six channels on the BBCB multiplex (BBC One, BBC Two, CBBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) can only be seen on newer boxes, making channel number replacement impossible without breaking the oldest Freeview equipment.

Basically the UK-wide BBCA and D3&4 multiplexes can’t change mode until ALL homes can receive them.

 

 

The interim position

There is good news, however, for the SDN, ARQA and ARQB multiplexes.    They can switch modes to the high definition whenever they feel that it is commercially practical.   This might be at a lower level of Freeview HD box use, perhaps 80% or 90%.   

By switching to DVB-T2 mode, each of them can increase their capacity from 27.1 to 40.2Mbps and take advantage of MPEG4. 

So, of the 80Mbps lost when com7 and com8 close, half of that can be got back by SDN, ARQA and ARQB upgrading, which would be enough for an extra 6 full HD services.

 

 

The HD public service channels

This diagram explains what will happen to create space six more Freeview HD channels.

The gains for the BBC when everyone has a DVB-T2 receiver are larger.     It will:

  • No longer need half of the capacity on the BBCB multiplex (20.1Mbps) as it can move these channels to BBCA
  • Gain 16.1 Mbps on BBCA due to the mode change;
  • Gain 6.6 Mbps from not simulcasting three services in SD and HD
  • Use the “gained 22.1Mbps” Be able to supply all the BBC television channels in HD to all UK homes

For the D3&4 multiplex, the gains are similar:

  • No longer need the 20.1Mbps on BBCB, making it available for other UK-wide services.
  • Gain 16.1 Mbps on D3&4 due to the mode change;
  • Gain 6.6 Mbps from not simulcasting three services in SD and HD
  • Be able to broadcast ITV, C4 and C5 in HD to all UK homes

 

I hope that's as clear as possible!  Any qestions? 



Help with TV/radio stations?
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Can I receive DAB radio too?2
Can I get E4 with this service?3
Is sky|one going on Freeview?4
Can I watch for free Financial channels such as CNBC or Bloomberg?5
In this section
We will still need Freeview in 20421
Who is still watching TV?2
When will your favourite Freeview TV shows move to subscription streaming TV?3
How long will Freeview and Freesat continue?4
Just how free is UK television?5

Comments
Monday, 6 January 2020
J
John martin
10:57 AM

End of the day. BBC like NHS is funded by tax man so will never ever have enough money to keep you manners and self professed experts happy so live with it

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John martin's 2 posts GB
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_satisfiedGold

4:10 PM

John martin:

Um, don't really want to be nit-picking, but correction there, the BBC is funded by the licence fee payer, not the taxman.

link to this comment
Chris.SE's 978 posts GB
Tuesday, 7 January 2020
J
John Martin
sentiment_satisfiedBronze

3:05 PM

Nice to see the nick picker who does,nt want to still nit picks anyway.
Ok so we pay for tv fee even if we don,t want to but how else will they pay graham and garys wages?

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John Martin's 94 posts GB
B
Bob Billington
4:43 PM

Chris.SE:

I think SOMEONE should say something in the BBC's defence...!

They do their main job very well indeed.
Unfortunately, that main job seems to be to give us more and more new '"celebrities", so they can produce more "Celebrities Doing Useless Things" programmes.
Of course, these celebrities (who often have only been heard of by the BBC producers, it seems) need to be paid lots of money, so they haven't got a budget for making any improvements to the transmissions so we viewers can see their programmes reliably!

I suspect the BBC is rather like most big organisations, in that the top management are accountants, lawyers or similar, not technical people, and they decide how their budget is split up an some of them probably think it was a waste of money changing to 625 lines, so why spend more...?
This means that improving something that is working (most of the time) is a low priority, so the techies will have to carry on struggling.

Sorry, gentlemen - keep trying..!

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Bob Billington's 7 posts GB
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_satisfiedGold

11:23 PM

Bob:

Hi Bob. > I think SOMEONE should say something in the BBC's defence...!

Well I used to, and defend the TV Licence Fee, but not any more. Yes they do produce too many (generally overpaid) Celebrities! You are partly right in that it's the bean counters at the top that need to have their arms twisted. But it's middle management as well, and a lot of the editors, especially news.

Over the last 12-18 months or so, I've watched reports from other viewers on Points of View and News Watch about new reports they've either done badly, issues they've ignored, or some they've given prominence to which didn't deserve it. And before anyone here jumps on the bandwagon about supposed bias towards or against Labour or the Conservatives etc. I'm NOT referring to ANY of that.

The BBC is/has been known over the years for it's accuracy in News reporting and a source to be trusted, but many think that's no longer the case. Where Editors have appeared on NewsWatch for example, to answer the complaints about poor/incorrect reporting etc. I can't remember one that I watched where they've said "Sorry, we got it wrong". There's ALWAYS an excuse or a poor reason (IMHO) why they did it. Such arrogance is the problem. I have even taken to watching ITN news a lot more. Must make an effort to watch Sky as well (but they aren't always too clever!).

When significant numbers of people start to think they can no longer be trusted as an always accurate source of news, questions get asked. They waste money sending news & camera crews to locations where no-one official is either present or going to come out to speak to them eg. outside the MoD for some reason. They can do that from a studio with and electronic background inserted. There's plenty of similar examples.
No doubt others would sight plenty of other non-news issues as well.

I think its a great shame because we need a good reliable Public Service Broadcaster, but they can't be allowed to carry on the way they are. They've also lead the way on the technical front, that is also so important, but now ignoring things they shouldn't. People expect a lot from modern digital technology. eg. just look at the Ruckus over the last week about the weather related Tropospheric Ducting wiping out Freeview reception for 10's of thousands. Not the Beeb's or anyone else's fault, granted. We can't control that weather, but it clearly shows what people expect.

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Chris.SE's 978 posts GB
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_satisfiedGold

11:31 PM

John Martin:

As you appear to be so good at moaning or criticising, why don't you write to Gary (can't stand his arrogance anyway) and Graham and tell them they've got to take a pay cut as well as pay for a transmitter upgrade or two.

link to this comment
Chris.SE's 978 posts GB
Wednesday, 8 January 2020
J
John martin
10:25 AM

Sorry Chris e or whoever already done that to no effect so will have a moan on here to no effect as well. But still free to moan on here ok. Sorry to waste your valuable time and expert knowledge

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John martin's 2 posts GB
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_satisfiedGold

3:06 PM

John martin:

I don't/never did expect that having a "moan" on here would have any effect on the BBC! I was merely responding to some other comments, initially about HD transmissions, with a different point of view. Endof.

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Chris.SE's 978 posts GB
Friday, 10 January 2020
T
Tony Carter
9:53 PM

This information is great, although a bit hard for the quick reading novice to understand, but I think I now have an idea of why I can't get channel 78 from the Bluebell Hill Transmitter on my two older Sony TVs but can on a Samsung TV that is old but not quite as old.
I also know where to come to find more great information.
Thanks for putting it all together.

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Tony Carter's 1 post GB
Thursday, 30 January 2020
R
R Murchie
sentiment_satisfiedBronze

10:28 AM

Chris.SE: I agree with all your points here and it has been sad for me at a certain age to see the BBC decline into a celebrity-obsessed liberal propaganda outlet. The recent announcement that the BBC can shrink its news team by 450 people and still operate is a measure of how bloated it has become. There are signals from government that the hated licence fee has a limited life remaining.

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R Murchie's 21 posts GB
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