Freeview Australia

Freeview AustraliaFreeview is the brand given to the Digital terrestrial television platform in Australia. It is intended to bring all of the free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters on to a consistent marketing platform to compete against subscription television, in particular Foxtel, and coincides with the expansion to 3 digital channels for each FTA network. Important services from Freeview includes its free over-the-air channels with an enhanced EPG (Electronic program guide) across all channels. Freeview also certify televisions, set-top box and personal video recorders (PVR) which meet their requirements.

The Freeview brand was launched in November 2008 with teaser commercials promising 15 channels in 2009. The first new “Freeview” channel started on 26 March 2009 with Network Ten’s One sports channel. Further advertising began on 26 April 2009, with the first Freeview certified devices appearing in retailers from May 2009. In June 2010, the second phase of devices, marked as “Freeview EPG” devices, became available in retail stores, designed to work with the newly launched interactive EPG built on MHEG-5.
This Freeview EPG will cease operating on November 24, 2017, and Freeview is now focusing on its new Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV-based FreeviewPlus service which was launched in 2014 and incorporates an onscreen guide.

The non-profit Freeview organisation comprises the free-to-air licencees; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service, Seven Network, Nine Network, Network Ten, Prime Media Group and Southern Cross Broadcasting.

An ABC release stated these groups are shareholders of Freeview, though a company search revealed all shares are owned by the Nine Network.

WIN Corporation were previously a member of the Freeview organisation, however left in March 2012 with complaints over the organisation’s role in the television industry and the cost of operations. SBS withdrew from Freeview in May 2015, citing Federal budget cuts, though Freeview can not disable SBS’s HbbTV app or remove it from the airwaves.



Freeview Certification

Part of the Freeview initiative is to certify set-top boxes as capable of receiving free-to-air digital television broadcasts (both standard and high definition). Although certification requirements have not been formally released, Phase 1 Freeview devices will be high-definition, and capable of more advanced video encoding (MPEG-4). Recorders will not be able to skip over ads, and must enforce digital rights management. Skip features were initially limited to a minimum of 10 minutes, but these restriction was eased to 3 minutes in 2015 in response to a request from a hardware manufacturer supporting FreeviewPlus.

Phase 2 required Freeview devices to feature the MHEG-5 technology, which Freeview used to support its interactive electronic program guide and proposed future enhancements.

The Freeview advertising for their 17-channel platform and certified products, combined with the Australian government’s commercials warning of the closure of analog TV transmissions, is intended to help consumers buy appropriate devices.

Freeview has threatened PVR manufacturers such as DViCO with legal action if they include the Freeview (UK) logo (which looks very similar to the Freeview Australia logo) on their Australian packaging.

Digital TV Labs, is an Officially Approved Test Centre for Freeview Australia conformance testing, where manufacturers wishing to deploy devices with the Freeview Australia logo and EPG can obtain pass reports.

Sony Computer Entertainment Australia added Freeview compatibility to the PlayStation 3’s PlayTV digital television tuner in October 2009 with the 1.21 firmware update.
The update disabled ad-skipping, reduced fast forward and rewind speed to 30x and removed the ability to copy recordings to other devices.
Unlike other Freeview-endorsed devices, these restrictions can be easily bypassed on the PlayStation 3.

High Definition
To obtain Freeview certification, devices must include at least one high-definition digital tuner, supporting the HD formats of 576p, 720p and 1080i.

Video Decoding
Freeview devices must be capable of receiving and decoding H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, a far less data hungry standard than current MPEG-2. The standard allows higher quality transmissions or more television channels in future, and Freeview has said that the television networks will not broadcast with this codec until the majority of the population has a device that can receive it.

The federal government has not approved any change in television broadcasting standards, and Australian broadcasters have not announced a timetable for switching to MPEG-4 broadcasting. There have been MPEG-4 trials but the Seven Network’s Channel 78, rebroadcasting Racing Victoria’s video feed, is Australia’s first permanent MPEG-4 channel.

Digital video Recorder Restrictions
Freeview devices can not skip an ad block. Initially they could skip 10-minute blocks, and fast forward and rewind at 30x speeds, but these were changed to 3 minutes and 32x in 2015.
Hard drive-based recorders must offer a minimum of 160 GB internal storage, with Digital Rights Management applied to recordings copied off the device. Restrictions must also be in place to ensure recordings can not be accessed if the hard drive is removed from the recorder.

Enhanced EPG (MHEG-5) – Phase 2
Freeview Phase 2 certified devices use an MHEG-5-based electronic programming guide (EPG) which will be decommissioned in November 2017.
Phase 1 Freeview devices were not required to feature the MHEG-5 technology that Freeview to use to support its Freeview EPG. From April 2009, Freeview was still negotiating an MHEG-5 licensing deal. and it was not signed until July 2009.
Freeview agreed that manufacturers can sell Phase 1 devices without MHEG-5 for another three years, until 2012, and was not required to label such devices as Phase 1.

Freeview announced details of its EPG on 28 June 2010, with plans for a consumer launch in September 2010. The new EPG was based on the same EPG data available to all digital TV devices via the broadcast signal, but also monitored Content Reference Indicator (CRID) data embedded in the broadcast signal. The CRID data allowed recorders to detect when a program is running over schedule and continue recording.

After initial confusion as to whether non-Freeview devices would still have access to the EPG, Freeview chief executive Robin Parkes confirmed the broadcast EPG would remain.
Only Freeview-endorsed PVRs featuring the “Freeview EPG” logo have access to the new Freeview EPG, although the Freeview-endorsed TiVo recorder will extract CRID data from the broadcast signal to update its own EPG (with permission from the networks), rather than relying on Freeview’s EPG data.

Australian EPG provider IceTV’s high court victory over the Nine Network, securing its right to supply a third-party EPG service, may influence Freeview’s long term plans for the broadcast and MHEG-5 EPG services. The ruling may also affect whether third-party EPG providers have the right to extract CRID data from the broadcast signal without permission from the networks, as the CRID data will not be encypted according to Freeview marketing director Chelsea Wymer.

Freeview has finalised its license to use MHEG-5 but initially lacked a license to use the traditional information grid pattern EPG which is covered under patents under owned by Macrovision.
Freeview announced details of an agreement with Macrovision in July 2009.

Freeview launched the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV-based FreeviewPlus service in September 2014.It consists of six Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV apps – one for each of the five major Australian free-to-air broadcasters (launched with the red button on the remote control) and a sixth cross-network electronic programming guide (launched with the green button). Each network offers access to its catch-up TV library via its apps, plus it is possible to scroll back in time through the green button onscreen guide to view catch up programs. The service won Best Enhanced TV Service at the International Interactive TV Awards 2015.

While Freeview runs a FreeviewPlus certification program, any Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV-compatible television equipment can display the apps.
Initially only televisions received official FreeviewPlus certification. The first certified set-top box was released in May 2015 and the first Digital video recorder – the Dish TV AerialBox T2200 – was released in August 2015.

Australian Government Labelling Scheme
As well as Freeview labelling, the Australian Government has its own scheme for identifying digital ready televisions and set top boxes.
Freeview branded set top boxes are labelled as ‘High Definition Ready’ under the government scheme, however non-Freeview boxes can also be labelled in the same way, leading to viewer confusion as to whether the Freeview channels will be receivable on those set top boxes without the branding.


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