Freesat is a free-to-air digital satellite television joint venture between the BBC and ITV plc., serving the United Kingdom.
The service was formed as a memorandum in 2007 and has been marketed since 6 May 2008. Freesat offers a satellite alternative to the Freeview service on digital terrestrial television, with a broadly similar selection of channels available without subscription for users purchasing a receiver.
The service also makes use of the additional capacity available on digital satellite broadcasting to offer a selection of high-definition programming from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, NHK and RT.
It is possible to receive Freesat outside the UK and Ireland, although a larger dish may be required as the Astra 2E and Astra 2F footprints are mainly focused on the UK and Republic of Ireland. Freesat receivers ask for a postcode during installation, though this is just to determine which regional services to select.
The Freesat platform aims to provide a managed service with an Electronic Programme Guide and interactive features similar to that of Freeview.
Channels on Freesat
All the main terrestrial channels are available on Freesat together with many not available on Freeview, Likewise, some channels on Freeview are not available on Freesat and are only available through Sky on satellite.
BBC HD was the only high-definition channel available on Freesat from launch day, with ITV HD added as a “red-button” interactive service from 7 June 2008.
On 2 April 2010 ITV HD changed from an interactive service to a full-time channel called ITV1 HD, simulcasting the main ITV1 channel. The name was changed back to ITV HD on 14 January 2013.
BBC One HD, a high-definition simulcast of BBC One, was made available on Freesat and other platforms on 3 November 2010.
Channel 4 HD also became available on the platform on 19 April 2011.
NHK World HD was added to Freesat on 9 May 2011.
On 14 February 2013, RT HD was added to Freesat, sharing its channel number with its standard definition simulcast.
On 26 March 2013, BBC HD was replaced by a high-definition simulcast of BBC Two.
The five channels HD simulcasts of BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies and BBC News) launched on 10 December 2013.
UTV HD launched on 4 November 2013, it is only available with a Northern Ireland postcode.
STV HD launched on Freesat in April of 2014 and is available with a Scottish postcode.
Some channels (notably BBC One and ITV) are transmitted in regional variations and the appropriate services are selected by the Freesat receiver from the user’s postcode. In March 2010, ITV altered several of their regions from free-to-air transmission to free-to-view (because they were moved to a satellite from which transmission covers a much larger area than just the UK and content licensing means that they had to be encrypted). As a result, many Freesat viewers (who cannot receive free-to-view, encrypted content) were moved to regional variations not corresponding to their actual location.
Video On Demand (VOD)
The BBC began launched BBC iPlayer for Freesat devices in early 2010. BBC iPlayer is an internet based service with around 400 hours of television being available on demand. ITV Player is available for Humax, Manhattan, and some Sagemcom receivers.
The <freetime> guide also features a backwards EPG and a Showcase section offering recommendations. HTML versions of BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, both services use MHEG-5 on first generation devices. YouTube launched on <freetime> receivers on 7 March 2013, the first deployment of YouTube’s HTML app in a Western European TV service.
4oD launched on Freesat’s <freetime> receivers on 27 June 2013, making Freesat the first UK TV platform to host the HTML5 version of 4oD. Demand 5 launched on Freesat on 6 August 2013.
Freesat Reception Equipment
At the launch of the service, there were two types of Freesat receivers available —standard definition-only receivers and high definition-capable receivers. As of July 2010 there are eleven companies licensed to produce Freesat boxes and televisions. Humax launched a Freesat recorder, Freesat+, which became available to the public in November 2008.
On 17 October 2012, Humax released the first <freetime> receiver, the Humax HDR-1000S.
Following the initial launch, Panasonic introduced three plasma televisions with integrated HD Freesat receivers. At the end of October 2008, Panasonic brought out 2 more sizes which are the 32″ and 37″.
In April 2009 LG launched 4 LCD TVs with built-in Freesat receivers. The LG series is the LF7700 (discontinued mid-2010), with screen sizes of 32″, 37″, 42″ and 47″.
Sony have released two televisions with Freesat receivers, the W5810 and Z5800 series, available from sizes 32″ up to 52″ and in 100 Hz and 200 Hz alternatives.
Freesat Technical Details
Freesat broadcasts from the same fleet of satellites (Astra 2A, Astra 2F, Astra 1N (soon to be replaced by Astra 2E) at 28.2°E and Eutelsat 28A) as Sky. Channels are broadcast using DVB-S and DVB-S2.
The Freesat electronic programme guide is broadcast from the Eutelsat 28A satellite situated at 28.5° east. Freesat’s role is not broadcasting or availability of channels (although the BBC and ITV are substantial broadcasters in their own right) but instead providing a platform for receiving the channels and the EPG.
All of the standard definition channels broadcasting to date are broadcast using DVB-S, ITV HD, NHK World HD and RT HD also use DVB-S.
Standard definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-2, while high definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-4. Since the channels are broadcast in-the-clear, they can also be received by non-Freesat receivers and, most commonly, Sky Digiboxes.
Interactive television is done using MHEG-5 rather than the proprietary OpenTV platform used by Sky.
The specification for Freesat boxes includes having an Ethernet port on the back. This is to allow on demand programming from services such as BBC iPlayer or ITV Player to be viewed directly on the customer’s television.
Open standards and technologies form the basis of Freesat’s second generation Free Time receivers, including those from the Open IPTV Forum (OIPF), the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) project and HTML5 browser technology, with the majority of the <freetime> user interface built using the latter.
It is possible to receive Freesat outside the UK and Ireland, although a larger dish may be required as the Astra 2E and Astra 2F footprints are mainly focused on the UK and Republic of Ireland. Freesat receivers ask for a postcode during installation, but this is just to determine which regional services to select.
The ITV HD channel is currently not made available to receivers set with a postcode in the STV, Grampian or UTV regions.
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