Freeview HD launched late last year in the London and Manchester areas, with rollout set to continue around the country. 50% of the population are expected to be able to receive the service by the start of this year’s World Cup, and over 98% by the end of the digital switchover in 2012. As well as the standard definition Freeview channels, the Freeview HD service should offer up to five subscription free High Definition channels by the end of 2012.
Freeview HD currently transmits the BBC HD Channel and ITV1 HD, with Channel 4HD (with S4C in Wales) set to launch soon. Five HD was expected to launch on Freeview in late 2010, but recently had it’s license removed by Ofcom, as they continually failed to commit to a launch date or provide more details of it’s schedule. Reports suggest that the BBC will now take up this vacant slot, so there’s the possibility in the future of BBC1 and BBC2 being simulcast in HD, perhaps. ITV1 HD (previously known as ITV HD) has up until now only been available as an interactive ‘red button’ service for a limited number of shows, but launches as a fully fledged channel (and appearing in TV listings) on April 2nd, showing much of it’s evening ouput in native HD, with the rest upcaled from Standard Definition.
Earlier this year I cancelled my Sky+ HD subscription when it expired, so was looking for something to replace it’s recording features. A friend set me up with a Play TV Tuner for the Playstation 3, which I’ve been very impressed with. The picture quality is excellent, and better than the free channels on satellite (Sky/Freesat) that I was receiving, and the response time on the Electronic Programme Guide is very quick (and can be controlled by the PS3’s Bluetooth remote control). However it has one major flaw, to date, in that it lacks a ‘Series Link’ feature, which is something that has become very hard to live without. The makers promise that this feature will be added at some point in the future, but there’s still no sign of exactly when that might be. It’s other disadvantage is that it will not be able to pick up any of the Freeview HD channels in the UK, as this country opted to transmit them using a newer technology called DVB-T2, with the Play TV built using the older DVB-T standard.
So a Freeview HD PVR (Personal Video Recorder) is starting to look like it might be the solution, and the first ones are set to hit the market next month. A couple of Freeview HD Receivers (with no recording features) are already available to buy, and will also come built in with some new models of Sony Bravia TVs, but among the early models of PVR announced, one that really stands out to me is surprisingly not from one of the familiar brand names in this market, but from newcomer 3view.
3view will have a 500GB hard drive, dual tuners (enabling you to watch one channel whilst recording another), an eight day EPG, pause and rewind live TV, and all the features you’d expect from a normal PVR. It also offers many other exciting features too, including Opera Web Browser supported internet connection (delivering YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on your TV) and networking capabilities allowing it to play video files (including AVI, MPEG-4 and MOV) stored on external devices, such as a PC. BBC iPlayer integration (a very useful feature starting to be implimented on Freesat PVR’s) is also promised as coming soon (as are many other features), but it should be noted that a minimum broadband speed of 2Mb will be required for that and all other internet features. The box is due to be launched at the end of May (in time for the World Cup) with a RRP of £299, complete with cables. The company have also since announced a dedicated controller to launch shortly after that will work in a similar fashion to a Nintendo Wii controller, pointing it at your TV screen in a directional fashion.
Also of interest to some might be the recent launch of the Freeview HD TV Guide on iTunes, a free app for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. It offers access to the full programme guide for Freeview, including the HD channels. You can customise the listings to your personal preference, and perform searches by genre, title, or even by ‘Twitter Picks’, as well as being able to see if a programme is actually made in HD.
To see if you live in an area that currently picks up Freeview HD signals, you can perform a post code check on the official Freeview HD website.
The cheapest entry point to the Freeview HD platform is the new Bush DVB680 coming out on March 31st, available to pre-order from Argos at £99.99 (usually £149.99).