Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Freesat for free HD TV in the UK

If you haven't already heard about Freesat then you should look into it, I'm not referring to the free satellite service from Sky, but the new not-for-profit organisation set up by the BBC and ITV to help distribute digital TV to areas of the UK where Freeview signals are not strong enough.
If you also own a new high definition capable flat screen TV or are looking to buy one you should also investigate Freesat. Not only will it allow a greater percentage of British population to receive digital TV for free, it also carries free high definition content. Currently BBC HD and ITV HD channels, which are far superior to their standard definition channels.

Essentially you need a satellite dish and a new set-top box or Freesat capable TV to receive the broadcasts. The Freesat service uses the same satellite as Sky, so it is apparently possible to use a Sky dish and plug in a Freesat tuner instead of a Sky box.

According to a sales assistant in my local Richer Sounds every retailer stocking Freesat equipment has to be a registered Freesat installer and they charge a set fee of £80 to install the service for you. This install price is set by Freesat and should be the same for each registered installer.

Panasonic have announced the first TV with a Freesat tuner built-in which should be launched in time for the Olympic games, which should be broadcast in HD on the BBC HD channel.

Can Freesat and Sky Co-exist?

What I'm wondering is, can Sky and Freesat be picked up with the same dish simultaneously? If you have a quad LNB on the dish and a additional run of coaxial cable to the Freesat box?

If so, you could have high definition TV in more than one room and you wouldn't have to pay Sky's multi-room fee, you also get to keep Sky in one room so you can pick up those channels not available on Freesat, like Living TV etc.

I asked this question to the sales guys at the Panasonic stand in the Bluewater shopping centre who were demonstrating the new Freesat capable panels and although they'll admit that you can use a Sky dish to receive Freesat, they're not sure about the 2 services co-existing.

If they won't co-exist maybe they can be switched? After all how many people want a second dish stuck to their house?
Personally, I could make do without the garbage US TV shows Sky broadcasts, but it might upset my girlfriend if she's unable to watch her shows :-)

High Definition DVD War: Good for Consumers in the Long Run?

To get the best out of your high definition TV you'll quite possibly want to invest in a next generation DVD format, but the manufacturers' unfortunately for us (the consumer) couldn't agree on a single disk format, so we are currently watching the HD-DVD and Blu-ray camps fight it out.

The consumer doesn't really care what format wins, all the consumer cares about is being able to watch high definition content. What makes matters worse is that the film studios are not releasing their movies on both formats. So no matter which one you choose, you'll only be able to get a selection of the current movies available. That is unless you purchase an expensive dual format HD-DVD and Blu-ray player.

The possible outcomes of this battle are:

  1. HD-DVD wins, we throw out our existing Blu-ray players and buy HD-DVD, but continue to pay for Blu-ray when we buy a Playstation 3.
  2. Blu-ray wins, we throw out our existing HD-DVD players and buy Blu-ray.
  3. Neither win, we all have to buy dual format machines.

One Good Outcome of the High-Def DVD Battle For Consumers

One point that Oliver Van Wynendaele, a manager at Toshiba made on a recent episode of BBC Click, is that the next-gen DVD war is causes the prices of players to drop far quicker than the cost of current standard definition DVD players did when they were first released.

"Last year we launched our product at 600 euros (£428), I knew the price would go down within a year but I didn't expect it to be so fast."
"We are half the price of where we were one year ago. The DVD took three years to cut the price in half," ~ Oliver Van Wynendaele, Toshiba

Choosing a Flat-Screen TV: Built-in TV Tuners

Continuing my series of posts about choosing a High Definition TV (HDTV), I read an article today that could potentially make some people put off making an HDTV purchase for the time being.

In the UK there are 4 ways to get TV (excluding via broadband):

  1. Terrestrial
  2. Freeview (Digital Terrestrial)
  3. Sky (Satelite)
  4. Virgin Media (Cable)

Currently only Sky and Virgin Media have HD channels that allow you to enjoy television broadcasts that exploit a High Def TV. Both services require you to have special HD set-top boxes to receive these broadcasts, you also get charged more than the standard definition (SD) package cost for the privilege.

Terrestrial analogue signals are gradually being phased out between (2007-2012) to clear up the spectrum for HD over Freeview. Ofcom published a news release on 21 November 2007 detailing the Freeview upgrade.

Built-in Tuners

Now back to choosing an HDTV. It is becoming more common for HDTVs in the UK to come with built-in Freeview tuners. This means you don't need an external set-top box top get Freeview broadcasts, this is good since analogue terrestrial tuners won't be much use to us for too much longer. The problem is that HD Freeview will require a set-top box upgrade, it also uses a more advanced coding standard which isn't compatible with the current coding standard.

So unless current HDTV built-in tuners can be upgraded via a firmware upgrade at a later date, then you'll be needing to add an HD Freeview set-top box to your set-up when they become available.

Here's the paragraph from the Ofcom new release:

"Viewers who wanted to access the new services on offer would need to buy a new DTT set-top box or integrated television, which was compatible with MPEG4 and DVB-T2."

"However, viewers with existing DTT set-top boxes or integrated televisions would still be able to access Freeview services with their current equipment."

Choosing a Flat-Screen TV: Screen Size

It's coming up to Christmas time again, and lots of people are thinking of splashing out on a new flat screen TV. Prices are becoming cheaper all the time which is a good thing, but the sheer range available can make it a daunting task. Even though prices are falling each month, deciding which make, model and size is one thing, but what about resolution, high-definition (HD) readiness, connections, built-in tuners, plasma or LCD etc?

I'm going to start by finding the most suitable screen size.

What HDTV Screen Size Should I Buy?

Choosing a suitable screen size will depend on where the television will be going, and how far away from the screen you'll be sitting. Obviously for a home theatre set-up you'll be wanting a big screen, whereas for a bedroom or kitchen you'll want a smaller size.

You don't want to give yourself eyestrain, or be so close that you can see individual pixels on the screen, but on the other-hand you don't want to be so far away that you don't become immersed in the content. Luckily there are size charts available on the web that can help determine the appropriate size for different rooms and TV placements.