What is Freeview?

Posted: April 15, 2009 in science & technology, society
Tags: ,

freeview_1

At the moment nothing else but a big marketing campaign to confuse consumers and create demand for future features that will benefit commercial broadcasters and take away options for consumers. And right now, everyone seems puzzled, bewildered and mystified: consumers, manufacturers, and even the Freeview consortium doesn’t have a clear understanding yet which of their planned technology will be available. Yet the marketing machine, heavy on rhetoric and light on details, is running at top gear – for good reasons.


This in short is what has been emerging so far:

  • The promised “next generation of free-to-view digital television” will not happen any time soon.
  • Freeview is not an exciting new service but the same old digital television that has been talked about for years.
  • Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters attempt to create consumer demand for TV gear that has their Freeview logo on it.
  • Freeview therefore is nothing more than a brand establishment campaign with a double purpose: to defend against Pay TV and, even more important, to force manufacturers to remove new technologies such as add-skipping.
  • These changes will disadvantage consumers in two ways: Freeview-badged gear will:
    • become more expensive (because manufacturers have to invest in new technology and license Freeview features)
    • take options away, eg people won’t be able anymore to skip ads or copy recordings
  • To trick consumers into demanding the Freeview logo carrying equipment, the commercial broadcasters not only create confusion but also fear: they make people feel their digital TV might not work anymore or that they might miss out on the promised 15 new channels or not be able to access the electronic program guide; the latest gig is that the broadcasters might change their broadcasting format in May (from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4). By and large almost all of these claims are false:
    • digital TV will continue to work as it always did
    • any current TVs and recording equipment will continue to have full access to all channels
    • the program guide feature won’t be available till at least the end of 2009, and even then we’ll have to see whether they might be partly accessible without Freeview approved technology (leave alone whether it is a worthwhile MUST-HAVE feature)
    • the industry has said repeatedly that the change from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 is years away
    • to get the Freeview logo, TV gear must be MPEG-4-compatible, but so are already some non-Freeview devices
  • The 15-channel claim is bogus, at least in the short-term: so far extra channels tend to simulcast what’s already on the main channel. And if the TEN Network is setting the trend, there’s little room for excitement: in March this year it introduced its ‘three’ new channels: one HD 24-hr sports channel, the same channel in SD (standard definition) and its mixed program SD channel – which also sometimes broadcasts sports.  (What are the 15 channels by the way? Each broadcaster has three; so far, the ABC and SBS already have three channels while the three commercial broadcasters will join them this year – which in theory will make 15)
  • Having whipped up consumer concerns and confusion, Freeview badged equipment will become available in May 2009 to soothe people’s fears. BUT: because Freeview hasn’t decided some final standards yet, people buying gear with the Freeview tick of approval now might end up with obsolete equipment by December; by then it might not be compatible with upcoming new Freeview features. Buying Freeview components now therefore will not necessarily provide peace of mind, not for the next few months, leave alone six to seven years as promised:
    • the potential incompatibility relates to such services as a standardised on-screen electronic program guide
    • reason for uncertainty: the Freeview consortium has not made a decision yet on the technology for its advanced features
    • this technology might be based on the MHEG-5 standard (or might not be)
    • the features will be launched by the end of the year if a decision has been made by then
    • despite the lack of clarity, Freeview is already handing out its logos and creating consumer demand through their advertising campaign (!)
    • manufacturers selling the early devices will not be required to indicate whether they are feature compatible
    • despite the possibility that non-MHEG-5 devices might not be upgradable, manufacturers are allowed to sell them for another three years (!)

Conclusion:

Right now the whole Freeview hype represents a rip-off. The campaign is deceptive, misleading and creates a fog of confusion. Freeview will benefit consumers little but deliver the broadcasters major benefits: more secure advertising revenues and possibilities to sell TV programs by limiting copying. I doubt that the future features will outweigh the detriments for consumers.

As for right now: don’t buy any Freeview devices before the end of the year, and after that only if there is a guarantee that whatever you buy is compatible with all then available and planned services. But make sure you really want or better, NEED these services. After all: remember that if you don’t want to loose options such as ad-skipping and program copying, keep looking for devices without the Freeview logo – at least as long as you can.


[Source: Picture not clear on Freeview]

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