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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
Sunday, 16 June 2019
M
MikeB
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

10:59 PM

StevensOnln1: Realistically, you cannot buy a TV that isnt smart these days - consumers expect (and manufacturers assume) that a TV will be smart. That means Iplayer, C5, likely C4, and possibly ITV Hub (always relatively problematic), plus Netflix and Amazon Prime (mostly) and You Tube, plus other services. Wifi will also be standard.

In fact, if a TV doesnt have at least those services, its likely not a very good TV.

Blu Ray players, PVR's etc will also generally be smart as well, and of course things like Chromecast /Amazon Firestick or games machines can be used to make an existing TV smart as well.

They are great to use catchup or access extra services.

And its via a smart TV that you are going to get 4K services (and 8K), at least for the meantime, unless you have Sky Q or Virgin - no chance of broadcast on terrestial, as you rightly point out.

Of course, I do get customers asking, even now, if TV's have freeview built in!

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,575 posts GB
Monday, 17 June 2019
S
StevensOnln1
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:12 AM

MikeB: Indeed. The last time I bought a new TV (2 1/2 years ago) I discounted anything that didn't have wifi and all the main catchup apps. All the TVs in our house either have inbuilt smart functionality or have smart boxes attached. I was thinking more that for those who aren't bothered about not having those things, there's no need to replace an existing TV or buy a smart box/stick just for the sake of it.

link to this comment
StevensOnln1's 2,598 posts GB
M
MikeB
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

2:05 PM

StevensOnln1: You did the right thing, but even if you just wanted a basic 24/32in Tv for the bedroom, they will generally have wifi and basic catchup. Its just more cost effective in terms of economies of scale.

And they are probably paying less in real terms for the TV etc, even if it does now come with wifi, etc (and an HD tuner). About 11 years ago, an HD Ready 32in Samsung with Freeview was about ?450, and that was for a 50hz screen. Solidly decent, but not top of the range.
Until about a month ago, I could get you an entry level (but decent for the money) 4K LG 55in, with wifi, smart, etc. for ?499.

A lot of my customers have no idea about smart stuff. Thats OK - they are buying a TV, and if they dont want to use all those functions, thats up to them. As long as it works well for them, has a decent picture and is the right size, everything is fine.

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,575 posts GB
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
J
John Martin
sentiment_satisfiedBronze

3:13 PM

DUH just give a box and stick a coat hanger in it. Yeah Mike most of us are so thick we can be sold anything. I just love these self proclaimed experts on here. No wonder people are looking around and learning more before we buy now. But give me an extra coat hanger free and I will probably buy it HA HA

link to this comment
John Martin's 90 posts GB
Monday, 1 July 2019
J
John Grayson
9:05 PM

Hi There,

I have a 'standard' aerial in my loft that has been there since the house was built back 1995. I have always been able to receive Freeview HD Channels BBC / ITV / Ch4 & Ch5, and occasionally BBC 4 HD / BBC News HD etc.

Just now, even after re-tuning, I have an issue with reception on these channels, normal Freeview is OK, but the HD Channels constantly break up.

I've been told that it's down to the aerial, that, due to its age, was only designed to receive the higher channels, but due to the 5G sell off, I will have to upgrade to a new aerial that can receive properly at lower channels???

We receive our signal from Winter Hill in Bolton, and I'm in South Cheshire, right on the border from the Central ITV area.

Is there any substance in this, have they started to reduce the power across Channel 49-55, in lieu of the 5G move next year?

This issue has only presented itself over the last few days.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated, and apologies in advance, if any of the above is inaccurate regarding 5G etc.

Thanks.

link to this comment
John Grayson's 1 post GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:23 PM

John Grayson:

Your old aerial is no longer suitable for reception of all the Freeview channels. You need to have wideband type fitted. There has been no reduction in transmitter power on any of the over 1100 transmitters around the country. The introduction of 5G means many transmissions are being moved to lower channels over the next several months. Check the Digital UK Coverage Checker (http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/coveragechecker/) and put in yiour full post code and house number, select the Detailed View option and press Go. Then scroll down to see the transmitters available at your location. The listing will give the current channels being broadcast and the planned future changes.



link to this comment
MikeP's 2,931 posts GB
Tuesday, 2 July 2019
J
John Martin
sentiment_satisfiedBronze

2:47 PM

I can get reception from 3 different transmitters in South Yorkshire. Maybe see if there are any other Txs in your area before paying out for new aerial. Unless of course you have got a super duper hd telly lol. As by all accounts all people will be forced to buy if they want hd or better in the future for free.

link to this comment
John Martin's 90 posts GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

8:23 PM

John Martin:

My reply to John Gregson was based on the fact that all transmitters will undergo changes of the channels used over the next couple of years to adjust for the forthcoming 5G services. Winter Hill, the transmitter he uses, has had some of the channges applied already and there will likely be more to follow, so having a wideband aerial now will mean he is ready for the future changes.

Going by hs stated approximate location, it is more than likely that he will suffer poor reception from other transmitters , which is less than ideal for enjoyable viewing.



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MikeP's 2,931 posts GB
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