Why would you want Freeview?

Freeview products deliver HD Digital TV, but so do many other non-Freeview branded products.
 
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01 .Introduction

LEAD_FREEVIEW

Owners of digital video recorders (DVRs) may not be aware of the Freeview promotional campaign, as they’ve probably skipped through the ads while watching their recorded shows. These campaigns offer little in the way of information but promise a new digital world that Freeview can deliver for free, which sounds a lot like the current roll out of digital TV.

Do you get any more stations with Freeview?

Many people have been asking exactly what channels a Freeview box will be able to receive. Freeview boxes will give you the same digital channels you will get from a non-Freeview High Definition (HD) digital box. Every FTA channel will be available to both types of equipment. Boxes that only receive a Standard Definition (SD) digital TV signal can’t get a Freeview sticker. However if you make a clear enquiry before you buy your digital TV product that you want a HD product, whether it be a set top box, TV or DVR, there should be no issue getting all the available HD channels.

Freeview has said that up to 15 new channels will be introduced. However most of the new channels are already here (if you have a HD digital box). Until recently most TV networks had 1 SD channel (a simulcast of the analogue version) and 1 HD channel (sometimes offering unique content, but usually just a HD version of the SD channel).

Networks are currently providing 2 SD channels and 1 HD channel. New channels such as One HD (24 hour sports) and GO (an entertainment channel for 20-30 year olds) deliver some added content and you also get new TV content on ABC2 and SBS2.

Testing on a selection of older digital TV products from past CHOICE tests has found no problem at all capturing the latest ‘Freeview’ channels.

There is no doubt that you will have more new content to watch when you switch from analog TV to HD Digital TV. However you don’t necessarily need a Freeview sticker on the product to enjoy everything HD Digital TV has to offer.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


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Below are the Freeview aims, as outlined in their charter - and CHOICE's take on these claims.

Aim: Inform Australians about the upcoming analogue shutdown.

CHOICE view: While a commendable aim, surely this campaign could be carried out without forcing people to purchase Freeview labelled products?


Aim:
Encourage Australians to buy digital capable equipment for watching Free to Air.

CHOICE view: Australians are already buying a huge amount of digital TV product and the introduction of another buzzword like Freeview only adds to the confusion already felt by many Australians.


Aim:
Include future technologies such as MPEG4 support in current boxes to ease the next digital transition.

CHOICE view: Industry experts say many of these features will take several years to filter through to the mainstream broadcast channels, by which time current equipment would be up for renewal, so why pay extra for technology that may not be available for the majority of the life of the product?


Aim:
Ensure broadcast recordings cannot be made if networks flag a show as such.

CHOICE view: What is the benefit for the viewer?


Aim:
Limit ad skipping to FF and REW only (x30 speed) and ensure ads cannot be skipped if networks flag an ad as such. In theory a user will be able to FF through a 3 minute block of ads in around 30 seconds on a Freeview branded machine. However it has been suggested that some ads may be flagged as 'unskippable' so that users will have to watch the ad before FF resumes.

CHOICE view: What is the benefit for the viewer?


Aim: The introduction of a common Freeview EPG

CHOICE view: At the moment, companies do not need to provide this EPG or be MHEG5 compliant to earn the Freeview label. MHEG5 is a programming language that allows interactivity within a digital TV device and is required to support the proposed Freeview EPG. However, who is to say that the Freeview EPG is any better than the EPGs available now?

03.Our tester looks at what Freeview has to offer

 

screen_allMany people are still not clear as to what exactly a Freeview product has to offer over a non-Freeview branded product, so our CHOICE TV tester, Antonio Bonacruz, looked at two digital video recorders (DVRs) that are technically the same - except one has a Freeview badge and one doesn’t.

The Beyonwiz customer sales support suggested the DP-P1, a model about to be discontinued, is virtually identical to the DP-V1 except the Freeview box has a larger hard drive. So we bought both and tested both to see what differences and similarities existed.

Compared to the Freeview badged Beyonwiz FV-L1 (shown top right), the The non-freeview DVR, Beyonwiz DP-P1 (below), offers a more versatile playback skipping capability. All other aspects of the machine seem identical. So having Freeview on the front of your digital TV product might offer peace of mind, however we see no reason to look out for a Freeview product over a non-Freeview product.

To check the claim of a common, easier to use Freeview EPG, our tester compared the EPG of the non Freeview DP-P1, the Freeview Beyonwiz FL-V1 and a selection of Freeview Set top boxes including a Grundig GSTB4100FV and Topfield TBF-7110. He found the EPGs to be different on all models despite having a Freeview designation.

On further investigation, it seems that it isn’t mandatory for the first phase of Freeview products to have this high quality EPG, only the second phase which should be available sometime in the future. Additional features which may or may not be available include detailed show information and series links to record multiple shows.

Of most concern with the current range of Freeview products is that they promise a lot of potential features but so far the only guaranteed function common to all recording devices with a Freeview sticker is the inability to skip ad breaks.

 

A potentially significant issue that may affect future development of digital products is the need for Freeview certification applying to a specific make or model, including the software version. If a model carries out a firmware upgrade, it ceases to be the same model and may have to go through the whole Freeview certification process again. This would be prohibitively expensive and would discourage makers from developing additional features or bug fixes for existing products.

MPEG4 is touted as the broadcasting protocol of choice for digital TV in the future as it delivers arguably better image quality in a smaller bandwidth than MPEG-2. However many non-Freeview boxes currently have or will have MPEG4 capability anyway.

CHOICE Verdict

The most important thing to look for when buying a TV, DVR, Set top box etc… is that it has a HD digital tuner. Other issues such as features, reception performance or service quality can not be guaranteed merely because it has a Freeview sticker.

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