Big Screen Blog

Media Center, Windows Phone7 + Silverlight Goodness..

‘Australian freeview’ vs the EPG

with 7 comments

The introduction in 2009 of the Australian ‘freeview’ system could either be a blessing – or a really bad thing – for existing Australians television users (of which over 50% are now using DVB-T hardware to access digital TV).

The TV Broadcasters / and Freeview organization have so far been tight lipped about exactly how it will be implemented – but what we do know is that each of the 5 major broadcasters will be allowed an additional channel (which is not restricted to only showing duplicated content). 

The picture below (from freeview site) shows the 15 unique channels that will be offered both with/without freeview. Note that for Channel TEN – this picture is wrong – and the three channels are actually going to be Ten SD, One HD, and ONE SD (with ONE being the brand name for a new sports only channel) – and the existing TEN HD channel being ditched (so standard shows on TEN will no longer be broadcast in HD much to the dismay of many viewers).

image

Unlike the freeview systems in the UK and NZ where ‘freeview’ introduced a new MPEG4.h264/DVB-S2 based system – all these channels will be delivered over the existing DVB-T system (which is locked down to MPEG2 content only). As with UK/NZ freeview – manufacturers will need to pay a per unit fee in order to have the official ‘freeview’ logo on their packaging, rumoured to be around $10 at manufacturing point (and potentially a lot more by the time it hits retail).   Keeping in mind that you can pick up DVB-T Set Top Boxes (STB’s) from the supermarket down here for as little as $30 a pop – this might raise the prices significantly. Additionally – in order to get the freeview badge on PVR equipment – features like ad-skipping will be banned as will ability to seek through recordings (with maximum of 10x speed allowed).

While Australian’s will welcome the new channels – the major point of concern is what will happen to the current 7 Day Electronic Program Guide (EPG) – which is transmitted unencrypted and for viewable for free (without upgrading to any ‘freeview’ approved devices). The existing 7 day EPG metadata is viewable on the large majority of STB’s and HDTV’s on the market now – as it conforms to open standards (where the actual guide metadata can be parsed and understood).  This conformance also means both hardware and software based PVR systems like Vista Media Center (as of TVPack2008) can read in this EPG – allowing users to search the EPG, schedule recordings in advance and do automated series recording.

Again – while no concrete evidence is yet available – it’s starting to very much appear like the freeview ‘EPG’ might be delivered using MHEG5 (Interactive TV Technology) – which means a small iTV application will be transmitted over the air and run on the local STB/HDTV/PVR system. (much like a java application is downloaded and run in your browser). While this will give end users a consistent looking User Interfaces for viewing the EPG (some of the existing devices out there have woefully bad inbuilt EPG viewers) – it puts up a brick wall between the device and the MHEG application – meaning that the device will no longer actually be able to access the raw EPG metadata. (and hence tight integration with PVR systems like Media Center etc will no longer work).  

It may also mean that the hundreds of thousands of DVB-T capable devices out there will be rendered obsolete (if the viewer actually wants to get the EPG) – as none of the existing devices support MHEG5. There was a single MHEG capable STB released for the Australian market back in 2002/2003 by TEAC (priced at over AUD$450) – and due to poor sales – and there only being the odd token Interactive program being broadcast (that utilized MHEG) – it was discontinued shortly after. (and no MHEG content has been shown in Australia DVB-T since).

*If* this MHEG guide is implemented for freeview – the big question will then be  :

1) Will EIT and MHEG guides be transmitted in future in tandem..

2) Will the EIT guide be switched off altogether (or only now/next info be transmitted) – and users forced to buy freeview approved devices to see an EPG.

If it’s 2 – then it’s a really bad thing – and the entire freeview system is really just a nasty way of tricking the public into paying extra for a DRM protected EPG system offering absolutely no additional benefit (and more than likely taking away features they used to have).

There’s also been no mention whatsoever of any ‘additional’ interactive services being made available – which could have actually been a real compelling reason to upgrade to a MHEG compliant device.

It also will be hugely expensive for consumers to upgrade their equipment – many having just spent $1000+ on new HDTV’s with inbuilt tuners (which no doubt will either not be upgradable to support MHEG5 or require the associated costs of getting a firmware upgrade). Right at the moment of course – ‘freeview’ badged equipment is not available for sale anywhere (sometime in 2009) – so many users buying new equipment for Xmas are likely to end up with outdated goods very quickly (with no manufacturers committing to free upgrades/etc).

We won’t know of course the full extent of what freeview brings us (or takes from us) until more announcements are made over the coming months.

Stay tuned…

Advertisements

Written by mobilewares

December 9, 2008 at 5:25 am

Posted in Entertainment

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Just a quick one chap, ‘Freeview’ in the UK is DVB-T only, and ‘FreeSat’ is the DVB-S system, also TV Pack and Win7 both have support for MHEG5 built in as this is how the ‘Red Button’ services in the UK work, and that works fine. The problem will be that the MHEG5 version of the guide will not be visiable by VMC/Win7 and therefore cannot be used to populate the system guide data (unless it’s broadcast in the clear as well).Also VMC-TV Pack was given the ‘Freeview’ certification in the UK at least, so perhaps Win7 will introduce MHEG5 guide scraping? you never know 😉

    Ashleigh

    December 9, 2008 at 11:08 am

  2. Hi – thanks for the info on the UK system – and I think I phrased it poorly (was referring to the NZ implementation which is DVB-S2/H264 if you want the HD channels). Currently in NZ because the S2 channels are H264 – they don’t work with TVPack (only Win7) – and as you mention the MHEG5 does work – but because the raw metadata isn’t exposed in a known format it can’t be used by Media Center at all. Luckily you guys have the web service based EPG provided via Microsoft (so it probably doesn’t matter that the ota version is MHEG) – however in both NZ and Australia MS don’t supply this service (and hence it’s a lot more important we can process the EPG data ota).

    Niall

    December 9, 2008 at 11:22 am

  3. Great post! Very interesting reading.Do you think that, once Freeview is properly implemented (whatever the EPG delivery format), the EPG data could be provided via Microsoft for the Australian market? I’m sure you know how many hoops you have to jump through to get the guide data in Vista MC!It’s my understanding that the reason we don’t currently get EPG from Microsoft is due to copyright complications, is that correct?

    Cameron

    January 5, 2009 at 3:58 am

  4. just get ice tv. it gives you a guide

    mitchell

    January 5, 2009 at 5:38 am

  5. IceTV is a bit of a joke. Try http://www.epgstream.net – it’s a little more complex, but runs on a donation system. The guys that run it are really awesome, too; the forum is very active and they’re always there to help if you have some issues.

    Cameron

    January 5, 2009 at 11:39 pm

  6. Cameron – It would be great to see MS hookup with Freeview Aust to bring some ‘official’ (and cleaner) guide data – but I think the Australian ‘Freeview’ logo can only be awarded to MediaCenter if it disabled ad-skipping etc from the UI. (Not a scenario which would be desirable for MS or the public). Would agree epgstream.net are really good – and really deserve more community support/donations. Icetv offers a reasonably good service too (if you arent as technically minded and want some better quality data) – but I think they are bit overpriced for what it offers and appear to be quite lacking on the customer service side of things. Currently for me (I’m now using Windows 7 + TVPack 2008 on my machines) – neither of these options can be currently used – and EIT data is the only option right at this moment. (but will change in future for Windows 7 when the 3rd party epg integration is sorted out).

    Niall

    January 12, 2009 at 1:27 am

  7. Hi Niall, I was just reading this story (http://tinyurl.com/arl8dl) on cnet.com.au – looks like you were right with your Second Scenario, above!

    Cameron

    February 3, 2009 at 10:45 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: