‘Digital TV’ Category
» posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013 at 11:39 by Nigel
When I visit other people’s homes, one of the things that often amazes me is how badly their TV is set up. To be fair, it’s often not their fault – they simply use the settings it arrived with, selecting ‘Home’ rather than ‘Shop’ if they’re prompted, and perhaps tweaking the brightness, and nothing more.
But modern TVs have loads of options to set things up properly, and if you don’t tweak settings like sharpness, contrast and saturation, you can end up with images that don’t do justice to the screen, and make some of the channels look a long way from HD.
I’ve written here before about how to set up your TV using test patterns, and if you do want a test card then this weekend is more or less your last chance to grab one of the most iconic ever. The BBC HD channel is closing soon, and the space will become BBC2 HD. You may well wonder what that has to do with anything. Well, because BBC HD doesn’t broadcast 24 hours a day, there’s a loop of preview material shown, and that loop includes both a testcard and some audio signals that can be used to help set up your surround sound system.
According to BroadbandTV News, When BBC HD shuts down at around 0130 on March 26th – that’s next Tuesday – the test sequence will be shown in a loop until BBC 2 HD launches at 0630. So, I’d strongly advise anyone with an HD recorder to record at least part of the sequence to ensure that they have a readily available test pattern and audio signals, to enable their TV to be set up for a better picture and correct surround sound sync.
The BBC’s Andy Quested has more details over on their blog; the test loop is ten minutes long and will include some old historic test cards too. He recommends that you set your PVR for a thirty minute recording any time between the end of the last BBC HD programme and the 0600.
» posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 at 11:39 by Nigel
On the Ofcom website today is a set of documents about award of the 600MHz spectrum, with a request that stakeholders notify Ofcom of their intention to apply. The headline news from this, which you’ll probably see elsewhere, is that the proposals will provide two more HD multiplexes on Freeview, with coverage of up to 66% of the population.
Think of it as doing something a bit like the original HD trials and early roll-out, using additional bits of spectrum where available, to give some more channels to people in certain parts of the country.
All well and good, and lots more HD will be appreciated by many people. But don’t get too excited, because a read through the document reveals that this is very likely about something else entirely – a ‘secondary switchover’ that will leave many people with equipment that won’t be much use at all.
Picking apart the proposal
The summary of the proposal makes it clear that this is an interim use of the space – which may be needed for existing services from as early as the end of 2018. Licences will run at least until the end of 2018, but that could still mean only five years of a service, if it were to start at the beginning of next year.
It’s mentioned in the proposal that there could be up to ten HD channels provided in the space, if DVB-T2 and MPEG4 (the technologies currently used on Freeview HD) were used, using two multiplexes – though the space will be awarded as a single lot. At least one stream will be visible to consumers within 12 months of the award of a licence, reaching 10% coverage, with 50% within two years.
That could be superficially appealing to, say, Sky; space to offer ten HD channels, covering a big chunk of the population. But in fact, with only a five year guarantee, it’s likely not enough for anyone to make a good return, especially when with NOW TV they have another way of getting paid for content in front of people, without expensive transmitters.
The real clue is in the phrase
the new services in the 600 MHz band using DVB-T2 and MPEG4 could encourage consumer take-up of receiver equipment which makes use of these more efficient technologies
And that’s what this is really all about. The longer term sell off of the UHF bands to satisfy the needs of mobile operators means that the space available for Freeview will be squeezed tremendously as time goes on; and some experts believe that there simply won’t be the space to provide all the existing services in the amount of spectrum that’s available, when things are shifted to 600MHz.
T2 to the rescue
One way of conserving spectrum is by using what’s called a ‘Single Frequency Network’, where all the transmitters in an area use the same channel, rather than the situation now where to provide coverage across the south of England, for example, there are transmitters on the Isle of Wight, Midhurst that both send out the same programmes, but need different frequencies to do so. Digital TV is supposed to make it possible to just use the same frequency, and leave the receiver to sort it all out, but for very technical reasons, that simply won’t work well in the UK using the first generation of terrestrial receivers, or DVB-T.
That problem is largely fixed in DVB-T2, which is used by the Freeview HD mux in the UK, and allows for very large areas with a single frequency network, which can be much more efficient. Add in the fact that T2 is more efficient anyway – about 50% more capacity than the older version – and you’re some way to solving the bandwidth squeeze.
When Freeview HD launched, it used T2, and also the more efficient MPEG4/AVC (H.264) video codec. The two don’t have to be used together, but it made sense to switch to both at the same time, for even greater efficiency. And while at the moment, the combination is used exclusively for high definition channels in the UK, it doesn’t have to be. You can transmit an SD channel using T2 and H.264 if you want – but no one does that right now, because older SD only receivers won’t be able to pick it up (though of course, some of the IP TV channels on Freeview do use it in SD, just not via broadcast).
Long term, the only way to keep the level of service we have on Freeview, with the decreasing amount of spectrum, is likely to be to move all the channels to T2 and H.264, and to use more single frequency networks (which, of course, will mean some more aerial readjustments for many).
But before that can happen, there need to be many more homes with equipment that will be able to receive it. While the current bundle of HD channels is nice to have, it doesn’t really represent a startling reason for everyone to decide to upgrade their set top box or buy a new TV set.
Make more HD content available, even if only for a short while, and perhaps you can create the conditions where people will decide it’s worth investing in equipment to watch whatever it is.
On that topic, my suspicion is HD versions of more of the main channels, frankly; very likely a pair of muxes operated by the BBC, with space given to other PSBs. Who’s got the money to launch an expensive temporary commercial operation that will only last five years, just at the start of another recession?
So, I think we can expect to see a BBC-backed mux providing HD versions of existing channels, with perhaps a bit of new stuff in the mix, but not much. And the real reason this is happening is not just about bringing more HD into your home. It’s about making sure your technology is up to date, so that a wholesale switch to DVB-T2 and H.264 can happen in time to ensure that most people don’t have their Freeview service drastically reduced when mobile phone networks take up the freed parts of the spectrum.
» posted on Friday, January 25th, 2013 at 15:51 by Nigel
My article on this has just been published over on The Register. I hope it’s an interesting read. One nugget I’d like to pull out of it is regarding Acetrax, the pay per view service found on quite a few smart TV sets.
The Acetrax website proudly proclaims them to be an “independent pan-European VOD operator” and that’s true to an extent. Buy in fact, since last spring they’ve been owned by Sky. So Sky now has the ‘Sky Go’ service for their subscribers, NOW TV for those who want movies (and soon, sport and entertainment) without a dish, and also Acetrax, for pay per view stuff.
There is, of course, a certain type of person who doesn’t like the thought of paying Mr Murdoch for anything; I wonder how they’ll feel about Acetrax now?
Also worth wondering about is the extent to which the Acetrax service may be affected by this. At the moment, NOW TV is a flat rate ‘all you can eat’ affair, but they tell me that pay per view will be coming back to the service soon; it will be interesting to see if the availability of films on NOW TV follows through to Acetrax. And, indeed, whether or not the Acetrax app found in some smart sets can be updated to provide access to some of the NOW TV material.
» posted on Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 at 15:26 by Nigel
I’ve recently done a roundup of smart TVs for ComputerActive (the 8th November issue, no 384) together with an article explaining to CA readers what ‘smart’ sets can do for you.
In the course of my testing, I actually became pretty disenchanted with some of the interfaces, as I’ve mentioned in another recent post here. As a result of that, I’ve written a piece for The Register, which is now online, and it turns out I’m not the only one who thinks TV makers are failing. Take a look and join in the discussion.
» posted on Monday, October 15th, 2012 at 12:26 by Nigel
I’ve just been reviewing smart TV sets for Computeractive – the results will be in Issue 384, on sale on 8th November. There are some clever things out there; Samsung and LG, for instance, are both experimenting with ways of going beyond the traditional remote control. And whatever you think of their current efforts, at least they’re doing something.
I’m not going to go into too much detail here about the sets I reviewed – though I have plenty to say about some of the manufacturers, which I’ll post after the review in Computeractive hits the streets.
For now, I’ll keep to more general ideas, and say I really do wonder if many of the smart TV makers are going in the right direction. They’re throwing as much as they possibly can into their TV sets, and frankly the results aren’t always pretty. Sometimes, they’re a complete dogs dinner.
If you read about online TV, you’ll probably have come across this article last week. iPlayer is one of the biggest online video services around, yet while there’s a lot of viewing from the iPad – an expensive, premium device – there’s very little from connected or ‘smart’ TV sets. Other research has suggested that a lot of smart TVs aren’t even connected to people’s home networks.
There are various reasons for that; some people won’t connect a set if it doesn’t have WiFi, because they don’t want to mess about with more wires. Others will try WiFi and find that it’s a horrible experience, entering passwords, and then discovering there’s so much congestion and interference that you can’t watch reliably.
And others will, frankly, try the experience of using a so-called smart TV and run screaming in horror from the room. Some of those specific horrors I’ll address next month, but for now let’s just say that there are elements in some smart TVs that make Symbian look like a paragon of good UI design.
They want control
I think one of the problems is that many of the TV manufacturers have realised that smart TV might give them a chance to be the ‘gatekeepers.’ Instead of people relying on what they get through their TV, or the content they watch via a DVD player, with smart TV, there’s a chance for the TV makers to push people in certain directions, by choosing which content they put on the TVs.
And so they believe they can be deal makers, pushing some catch-up services here, and other film on demand offerings there. Somewhere in the deranged minds of the people who make marketing decisions, there’s money to be made by foisting certain choices on the people who buy their TVs.
I think that’s a load of crap, frankly; it’s the same short sighted nonsense that saw Panasonic TVs saddled with adverts in the EPG for years; those have thankfully now gone – not even people at Panasonic UK seemed to like them, but it was a decision made elsewhere.
When it comes to smart TV, too many TV makers are trying to get between you and what you want to watch. Want to link your TV to flickr? Just create an account on the TV maker’s web site, link that to your flickr account, and then link the TV to the manufacturer’s web site. I’m sure they have a marketing wonk to explain that this makes things much easier; but I don’t think it does. Instead it gives them control, and information, and they think that will bring them money.
What I think it does is turn people off using smart TVs. We don’t want to jump through unnecessary hoops to access content, and we don’t want TV makers to be the gatekeepers of what we watch. Some of them have tried this sort of stuff before – with exclusive periods for some Blu-Ray releases on certain brands of player – and I don’t think there are many people who are desperate enough to fall for it.
And, in doing all this, the smart TV makers are pushing people to their own interfaces, with their own registration systems, and making it much fiddlier and complex to use services like iPlayer than it really needs to be.
Every set that I’ve just tested had Freeview HD on board; the latest Freeview HD specs mean that they were all IPTV capable. All could show, for example, the ConnectTV streams like CCTV. And that means that they could all, if they wanted, have BBC iPlayer on the red button, just like my Digital Stream Freeview HD recorder does.
That would mean that, to get to iPlayer, you’d do it in the same way on any capable device – on a BBC channel, press the red button. If the box detects that it can do iPlayer – as well as the technology, it needs an authorisation key from the BBC – then the service is the first option highlighted on the red button menu, so just press OK, and you’re at the iPlayer start screen. Two button presses, and that’s all it would take.
But none of these TVs does that. They all insist on adding iPlayer to the list of ‘content’ available via their smart TV portals. So it’s different on every brand; and on some, it’s downright quirky; on none is it as straightforward as ‘Red button, then OK.’
And they call that smart?
» posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 16:35 by Nigel
According to a tweet from a516_digital, transmitter operator Arqiva has bought IP TV outfit Connect TV. This might sound like dull corporate shenanigans to many but it’s potentially quite interesting for Freeview. First, though you need to know who these people are.
Arqiva operates the terrestrial transmitter network in the UK. They have their fingers in other pies, but that’s the important thing here. They play an essential role in bringing Freeview to your home, and anyone who wants to get on air will likely find themselves dealing with them.
Connect TV operates some channels that are available over the internet and specifically via Freeview HD. They don’t broadcast traditionally, but instead have a channel number from 110 and up, which effectively launches an app on Freeview HD kit, telling the box where it can find the stream on the internet, as long as the box has an active net connection. So, it looks like any other channel on the platform, but is actually delivered via the internet.
Right now, ‘low rent’ might be a charitable description of the channels in that part of the EPG, but that could all change following the purchase by Arqiva. Companies that want to get on the EPG will now be dealing with one of Freeview’s major players, which may give some more confidence to take the plunge.
And it’s a shrewd move for Arqiva too; with Freeview potentially going to be affected by 4g phone signals and little extra capacity available post-switchover – in fact, some of my sources suggest a loss of capacity over coming years – this gives Arqiva a way to ensure a presence on the Freeview programme guide for more people, even if broadcast spectrum is scarce.
Of course, little will change overnight, but to me this strengthens still further the case for only considering kit that has Freeview HD on board when you’re buying, and up to date software.
For the less technical, I’d say that amounts to “if it won’t give you iPlayer on the red button, don’t buy it” – if you can get iPlayer that way, the box will work with Freeview HD’s IPTV channels.
update: now confirmed at Broadband TV News
» posted on Thursday, July 5th, 2012 at 09:51 by Nigel
I hadn’t planned on writing about YouView again so soon, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are some elements of the tech press and other savvy folk who are writing it off, and a bit prematurely, I think.
I overheard some people at the press launch talking about how easy it is to plug your PC into the TV set, to watch catch-up content; some folk commenting on the RegHardware article have talked about how you can do most of the stuff with XBMC.
And honestly, people, I think that’s completely missing the point. You might be able to connect a PC up to the television set, whether via HDMI or the VGA port on the back of the telly, but an awful lot of people can’t. And even if you hook it all up for them – hands up who’s installed Freeview or another digital TV service for parents or relatives – will they be able to find their way around it?
How many times have you had someone call to ask you what button it was they have to press to get the digibox? Or why there’s no sound, when the TV’s turned up full, or how exactly they find the programme they’re sure they recorded yesterday?
Of course, not everyone has these problems; but you’d be surprised by how many people do. How many of them just expect TV to work in more or less the way it always used to, but might still want to have access to something like iPlayer for a programme they’ve missed. Without having to remember which input the PC is connected to, and wait for it to start, and then phone you up and say “There’s a message here about installing updates; what should I click?”
It’s very easy, especially for those of us in the tech world who get to play with cool new gadgets every day, and can find our way around new technology in an instant, to forget that for a lot of people this is still bewildering. One web site I run occasionally elicits cries of “it doesn’t work” from people who can’t describe a PC problem in any more detail – ask them what browser they’re using and, honestly, I’ve had people ask me what a browser is.
Put simply, this shit is too complicated for the living room.
YouView, by contrast, makes things a lot simpler; now, I’ve not had hours of hands on time – hopefully I can get that soon – but it’s clear that it really does integrate everything seamlessly. And while it might be fashionable for the tech press to sneer, or to point out that you could do all this with a few different boxes, and remembering what’s available on which input to your TV, for a lot of users that’s not the point.
One box, one remote, and one way of doing things. The actual technology under the hood of YouView may not be massively ground-breaking, but the way it’s pulled together really is.
And if the tech-obsessed want a metaphor to explain why that’s so important – and why YouView will appeal to people – remember Symbian and iOS.
Long before the iPhone, Nokia made smart phones with Symbian. You could install third part apps on them, you could play back media, you could take photos, and share them via email or online services. You could do lots of great stuff. But all too often you had to jump through hoops.
And then along came iOS. You didn’t have to jump through hoops. Sure, it wasn’t (and in some areas still isn’t) as full featured as a Symbian handset. But what it did was ensure that ‘ordinary’ people, rather than techies, could get most of what they wanted, easily, and without fuss.
Sure, you can carry on plugging your PC into the TV because you find it easy and convenient, just like I can carry on using my Symbian phone because some things just can’t be done on iOS.
But while you’re doing that, remember, that for many people it’s not just the technology that’s important. It’s making it simple and straightforward. To paraphrase the Chatterley trial, you might be technical, but would you want your wife or servants to use Symbian?
Perhaps, with the launch of YouView, old style connected TV is having its Symbian moment.
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