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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? 



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Comments
Tuesday, 12 March 2019
K
Keith
7:24 PM

Keith: Thank you for your reply it is what I expected. I have not changed my aerial not only because of the likely hood of even poorer signal quality on existing stations, but also because I believe that channels 55 & 56 are only a temporary measure and will shut down in either 2020 or 2021 and I am not sure what if any replacement has been planned. My present aerial is on a 20ft mast so without planning permission I cannot go any higher and would certainly not want to upgrade only to lose anything gained in the future. You are correct in your advice. I am currently pursuing the idea of purchasing a Panasonic Freesat Blu-ray recorder to replace my Sky box. Some of the programmes on BBC4 HD I like to archive to Blu-ray which of course cannot be done with Sky. I currently have two Panasonic Freeview HD blu-ray recorders which have given great service but I am concerned about the reduction in terrestrial signal quality from Freeview

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Keith's 3 posts GB
Tuesday, 26 March 2019
N
Neil
6:40 PM

Hi Sir/ Madam

A great little read that's well out together - that is for keeping us up to date in future events, we install aerials in Truro and surrounding areas so it pretty useful information! regards Neil

Aerial Installation And Satellite Repairs In Truro, Cornwall


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Neil's 3 posts GB
Saturday, 6 April 2019
H
HJ Roan
8:04 PM

I have lost some hd channels on freeview and now only have 6,since last week,l live in Devon,retuning hasn't helped.....thank you

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HJ Roan's 1 post GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:33 PM

HJ Roan:

PLease give your full poist code, there are many transmitters in and around Devon so we need that information to be able to check which transmitter you are likely to be using.

Meanwhile, please check all your aerial cables and connections, unplugging any coaxial plugs/sockets and refitting them. That will clear any corrosion/oxidation from the contacts - a common cause of loss of some channels. Retuning was a veryt bad idea as it never brings back missing channels unless there has been engineering work to move the channels used.



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MikeP's 2,931 posts GB
S
StevensOnln1
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:52 PM

HJ Roan: If you're in the Torbay area and have lost channels such as BBC Four HD, BBC News HD, 4Seven HD, etc then this is because the COM7 & COM8 multiplexes which carry these channels (and various others) have closed at the Beacon Hill transmitter.

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StevensOnln1's 2,598 posts GB
Tuesday, 16 April 2019
N
Nedbod
6:40 PM

When did the Glossop transmitter begin broadcasting on UHF (1973 would be my best guess?) or 1974 ?

link to this comment
Nedbod's 6 posts GB
N
Nedbod
6:42 PM

Just to summarise which HD channels will go from the Glossop mast and when (roughly) Many Thanks, Nedbod

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Nedbod's 6 posts GB
S
StevensOnln1
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

10:11 PM

Nedbod: There are no plans for any channels to be removed from the Glossop transmitter, which is a Freeview Lite relay broadcasting only the PSB1/2/3 multiplexes. The only multiplexes which are planned for closure are COM7 & COM8, which have never been broadcast from Glossop.

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StevensOnln1's 2,598 posts GB
Thursday, 18 April 2019
G
George Brown
2:16 PM

Interesting article, thanks.

I'm in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and in a small block of flats with a communal Freeview aerial. I think we get our signal from Ridge Hill, and we lost the com 7 and com 8 channels last year sometime.

It was more annoying than anything - it's easy enough to watch the BBC stuff via iplayer catch-up or live, and the others were mostly +1 and minor channels. It does irk me from time to time though and I was going to hassle the freeholder to try and upgrade the aerial, but from what you're saying even if that was done we would only have them for a year or so before they'd be turned off and we lose them again anyway?!

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George Brown's 2 posts GB
S
StevensOnln1
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

3:13 PM

George Brown: COM7 & COM8 will broadcast until at least June 2020. There has been no date set for closure, as Ofcom have decided that the temporary multiplexes can continue broadcasting in the 700MHz centre gap (UHF channels 55 & 56) until this spectrum is brought into use by the mobile networks, which may not be until some time later than the rest of the 700MHz band.

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StevensOnln1's 2,598 posts GB
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