Freeview HD boxes in shops by year-end
Monday, July 20 2009, 14:18 BST
By Andrew Laughlin, Technology Reporter
The Digital TV Group has revealed that at least two Freeview HD receivers will become commercially available by the end of the year.
On March 6, the DTG published its D-Book 6 technical specification for manufactures to produce set-top-boxes to receive the forthcoming DVB-T2 signals.
Speaking to Digital Spy, the industry body's director general Richard Lindsay-Davies said that the development process is "going really well".
"We anticipate seeing two or three receivers in the market at the end of this year," he said. "But then again this is an engineering project so we have to believe that when we see it. However, everything is looking good for the product to go into the market by the end of 2009."
This will come into line with the BBC's recently announced date of December 2 for high definition digital terrestrial television broadcasts to commence from the Winter Hill transmitter, which serves Manchester and Liverpool.
The corporation has pledged to work towards around 50% Freeview HD coverage in the UK by the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
DTG technology director Simon Gauntlett revealed that it has been "dead easy" to outline the technical fundamentals of surround sound audio and HD vision as these are "already specified for other markets".
However, other initiatives such as MHEG interactivity and adding return channels to improve the experience of red button interactivity have proven rather more complicated.
"All those things have required a quite detailed discussion and specification writing," he said. "They are now in the hands of product developers and us to ensure that the consumers get a consistent experience at the end of the day. So they are the main areas that have been keeping us busy."
In terms of the primary market for Freeview HD, Lindsay-Davies said that the service is aimed at households with HD ready TV sets that are not currently watching in HD, which would represent around 12.5 million homes by the time the service launches.
"My personal view is that at some point, it would make sense for all TVs to have Freeview HD receivers in them. But we are a long way from that because of the cost of the technology and because of the number of models that manufactures are able to launch," he explained.
"I guess another influence on that is how quickly other markets adopt the DVB-T2 technology. We are already seeing indications, particularly in the Nordic regions, Italy are also looking at it, some Eastern European countries. But ultimately, the UK is leading the way on this.
"We will be the first to deploy the DVB-T2 receivers so we are not going to see a flood of products as it's just the UK market. But I think that it would be a brave TV manufacturer not to have a Freeview HD product in its lineup by Christmas 2010 because I think we are going to see quite a growth in that market.
"We are also heading very quickly to the [London 2012] Olympics in which most of the output will be in HD. With the increase of HD adoption, the market for Freeview HD will also most likely grow by around four million homes each year. I think it's the perfect time for Freeview HD to be launching with the World Cup as once you've seen a couple matches in HD, you won't want to go back."
The director general also said that "clearer messaging" about Freeview HD will come out later in the year to inform consumers about what they can expect from the service.
He added that there is a "clear plan" being developed around building the Freeview HD brand, including working "very closely" with retailers to get them organised for the launch.
"I guess that it's only a matter of months before this stuff gets a lot clearer. It's a bit of a chicken and egg at the moment when with no product on the market, its rather pointless telling consumers about it," he added.
"But as we get towards Christmas, we'll see some quite significant commitment from the broadcasters about promoting this service. So we are very much in the project delivery mode at the moment but there is an awful lot of work going on behind the scenes."
Finally, the DTG believes that most people upgrading to Freeview HD will most likely reuse their old equipment rather than throw it away.
As there is "no indication" that the DVB-T signal will be turned off, Lindsay-Davies believes that existing Freeview boxes will most likely be "recycled into other rooms".
"Many regions have not even gone through switchover yet so those people using their second or third TVs on analogue will be forced to use them on digital and so the boxes will be re-used," he said.
"Therefore, I don't think it's a matter of the boxes being recycled in terms of their core components, as we are more likely to see them recycled in other uses, be that second or third TVs or to friends and family. This is what research in the past has shown."