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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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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 May 2019
S
StevensOnln1
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

10:30 AM

P. Kieran Ward: The Republic of Ireland have their own 700MHz clearance program, although I have no information on when changes will take place or what frequencies the Saorview multiplexes will move to, although it is being co-ordinated with frequency changes in Northern Ireland so you can safely assume that Clermont Carn will vacate UHF 56 before it come into use at Divis.

link to this comment
StevensOnln1's 2,484 posts GB
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
A
Alan Francis
9:18 AM

When will BBC transmit HD for local news as the need to change to non HD everytime local news comes on is a pain in the neck

link to this comment
Alan Francis's 1 post GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

10:19 AM

Alan Francis:

It appears that is a long way off yet. It needs a huge investment in local studios to have HD equipment that they currently do not have. It also needs huge investment in the lonks between the studios and the network traffic management systems, which are all set up for SD. Only the national services have any HD set up at present. A large investment would be needed - but how will it be funded?



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MikeP's 2,838 posts GB
Friday, 17 May 2019
J
jack
11:32 AM

Thanks for the info - and nicely presented.

However the statement when everyone has the new boxes/sets is an open ended waffle.
Some people still have CRT sets.

A date should be put on this upgrade and announced.
Freeview is a poor enough "service" as it is - statements like this just make me want to give up altogether.
(And it seems to be getting worse every year by the way)

This month we have lost 2 muxes entirely. (on both our boxes)
1 box is unwatchable on all one mux channels the other regists zero power on both.

i dont know what the problem is but just trying to watch TV is now a major undertaking
all the time. Couch potato's have never had so much exercise.

Funny how we never have problems over xmas or other major events though - why is that?






link to this comment
jack's 4 posts GB
Thursday, 23 May 2019
E
Elizabeth Wright
9:08 AM

As someone who lives in a mobile phone dead zone I am not happy that my TV/Radio service is being sacrificed at the altar of 5G phones. The TV service was limited compared to other rural areas of England and now reduced to about 10 watchable channels most of which have poor quality programmes. I am now questioning the validity of the payment for a TV licence in full when I am getting approximately 10% service

link to this comment
Elizabeth Wright's 2 posts GB
S
StevensOnln1
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

11:09 AM

Elizabeth Wright: You're still getting all of the channels funded by your TV licence. Also, no transmitter has had any reduction in the number of channels broadcast. From your other post, it sounds like you have a fault somewhere in your aerial system. You could also look at getting Freesat if you want more channels.

link to this comment
StevensOnln1's 2,484 posts GB
Friday, 24 May 2019
O
Oliver Taylor
4:36 PM

I'm at Sidmouth, East Devon. BBC Four HD and BBC News HD were two of a number of HD channels got removed from Freeview in March. Yet, I haven't had a reduction in my TV Licence!

It feels as if Freeview is tied up in masses of red tape imposed on it by License agreements and Operators meaning that they are not giving the best service available to us, the most important people, the viewers For example. I question why BBC 1 HD can't show local programmes. There must be technology allowing the material from regional news studios to be upscaled and shown on Freeview HD, understandably in SD quality?
ITV HD in my area shows local news from Central West, 200 miles away! (and not Meridian Southampton as your website states). Free-sat (and Sky I believe), now show ITV Westcountry HD on 103 in the SW, so why doesn't Freeview simply rebroadcast the same satellite signal that's available in order to offer benefit its Viewers?


Am I too tuned in to common sense here?


link to this comment
Oliver Taylor's 1 post GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:10 PM

Oliver Taylor:

The License allows you to watch live TV progreammes and the Catch-up services on the BBC iPlayer. That is irrespective of how many channels you can receive. Therefore there is no reduction in the License fee payable.

The technical organisation used by the BBC does not currently allow for local/regional programmes to be distributed in HD, most local studios are not HD equipped. Hence all local news and programming is in SD. That will be the case until the BBC find some way to obtain the necessary funding to upgrade all their systems - that will be extremely expensive to accomplish.

Note that you don't directly pay for the commercual channels as they are funded through the advertising that they carry, hence they are more able to fund the technical improvements they want to provide. You still need a TV License to watch their programming though.



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MikeP's 2,838 posts GB
Saturday, 25 May 2019
J
John Martin
sentiment_satisfiedBronze

4:22 PM

Why so much about hd if we are honest it is not a fantastic. But like all new toys the ones with money must have it. Now we have ultra and they must have it and before we all have hd the next one will be along.

link to this comment
John Martin's 88 posts GB
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
M
MikeB
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

6:48 PM

John Martin: An LG 4K 43in TV is ?309 (2018 model), if you can still get one. Ten years ago, a 32in HD TV, which wasnt smart and didnt have an HD tuner, was at best ?450.

According to the 1979 Autumn Argos catalogue, a 14in Pye colour portable TV was ?254. Thats equivalent to about a grand. Even a 12in B & W portable was ?70 then.

And yes, there is now 8k. But nobody is forcing you to buy it. In fact, nobody is forcing you to buy a 4K set. But if you want a new TV, its almost certainly going to be 4K.

And HD is better than SD.

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MikeB's 2,574 posts GB
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