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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
Saturday, 4 January 2020
T
TK
10:10 PM
Colchester

Why can't local regions switch in their regional SD or HD content in up-scaled if necessary trans-coded on the fly to replace the national HD regional content OR the national Regional content temporarily altered to a fixed bit rate for its duration of a slightly lower bit rate that will work with all other content on the HD multiplex so regional providers can encode their regional content to that spec for switching in when regional news items and other regional shows are broadcast rather than forcing viewers to either watch Meridian regional content or a stupid animated graphic for the duration of the regional slot... Most people would prefer up-scaled SD being inserted in the HD regional slots than having to either switch channel to a full SD local feed or suffer a completely pointless animation and sound track on BBC streams or an out of region program in commercial HD channels. Also Why does Freeview ALLOW BBC to waste CBBC & CBBC HD night time bandwidth when it is transmitting no content just a pointless animation and repeating filler audio stream? That bandwidth could be allocated to another HD channel or 3 to 5 SD channels or even some community run streams....

link to this comment
TK's 6 posts GB
Sunday, 5 January 2020
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

3:46 AM

MikeP:

I don't think I need to think anything more clearly. I think your remark is garbage. We are talking about broadcasting Local News and Weather bulletins on the HD channel instead of a stupid caption with child noises in the background telling us to change to BBC1 SD. Nor does the regulator have anything to do with this issue, this is purely a technical decision by the BBC, who will no doubt continue to claim they can't afford it and will have to cut services to pay for it. Well I'm not the only one who is now fed up with the way the BBC is run, and they are in for a big shock in the not too distant future.

TK: You've made some valid points there.

link to this comment
Chris.SE's 2,238 posts GB
E
EngineerM
10:46 AM

TK: The lack of regionality on the BBC HD is due to the way in which it is multiplexed, to create regionality is complex and expensive as it will require a complete set of multiplex equipment for each region. For commerical services this is worthwhile as they can sell commercials regionally and have an OFCOM requirement to provide it.

On the subject of wasted bandwidth for part-time channels such as CBBC when they are not on-air the services are converted to a data service where the graphic is sent to the reciever as an image and not a video stream, hence why you will find that some channels become available after others go off air (for example bbc3 and cbbc used to time-share space on the multiplex). Commercial or community streams cannot join the BBC multiplex as regulated by ofcom and limited by the same technical limitations as regional news.

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EngineerM's 1 post SE
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

11:25 AM

Chris.SE:

Read the posting immeditaely below yours.



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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

3:24 PM

MikeP:

You are clearly NOT reading what I've said. EngineerM's post is nothing new, nor have I said anything contrary to the primary content of that. Of course it's going to cost some money. The current situation has existed for far too long now and the BBC need to get their collective finger out and get on with it. Whilst there is arrogant opinions around as some of those that have been expressed, then things may not happen as quickly as they should.
However, I can assure you that the pressure on the BBC to stop wasting money in other areas and invest money into things like this, is going to increase markedly over the next 12 months.

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Chris.SE's 2,238 posts GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

8:37 PM

Chris.SE:

Obviously the BBC priorities are totally different from yours.



link to this comment
MikeP's 3,056 posts GB
C
Chris.SE
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:24 PM

MikeP:

Arrogance at its best. Precisely. Not only me but a lot of others as well think they have not only their priorities wrong but they continue to waste money. And the BBC are going to learn in the next twelve months or so that they are answerable to the licence fee payers.

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Chris.SE's 2,238 posts GB
Monday, 6 January 2020
P
Peter J. O'Reilly
10:07 AM

Dear UK Free TV .
I have noticed that channel groups 55 and 56 (Coms 7 & 8) are not being received by some including myself on our tv sets. since the middle of 2019 and when we do get them the signal is poor at best.
How can I fix this with just an indoor aerial and booster?

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Peter J. O'Reilly's 1 post GB
MikeP
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

10:35 AM

Peter J. O'Reilly:

We need a full post code so that we can check which transmitter (of the over 1100) you should be receiving from. Only then can we determine whether it transmits COMs 7&8 - not all transmitters provide them.

You will need to be within a very few miles of the transmitter to successfully use an indor aerial (in the room with the TV set). you would do better with an external aerial, or possibly one in the loft - but that depends on your exact location relative to the transmitter.



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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB
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
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