Freeview is the United Kingdom's digital terrestrial television platform. It is operated by DTV Services Ltd, a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and transmitter operator Arqiva. It was launched in 2002. The service provides consumer access via an aerial to the six DTT multiplexes covering the United Kingdom. In April 2014 it had some 60 DVB-T TV channels, 26 digital radio channels, 10 HD channels, six text services, 11 streamed channels, and one interactive channel. A number of new HD channels launched in 2014, from a new group of multiplexes awarded to Arqiva. The new HD channels were launched in selected areas on 10 December 2013 with a further roll-out during 2014.
DTV Services' delivery of standard-definition television and radio is labelled Freeview, while its delivery of HDTV is called Freeview HD. Reception of Freeview requires a Freeview tuner, either in a separate set-top box or built into the TV set. Since 2008 all new TV sets sold in the United Kingdom have a built-in Freeview tuner. Freeview HD requires a HDTV-capable tuner. Digital video recorders (DVRs) with a built-in Freeview tuner are labelled Freeview+. Depending on model, DVRs and HDTV sets with a Freeview tuner may offer standard Freeview or Freeview HD.
The technical specification for Freeview is published and maintained by the Digital TV Group, the industry association for digital TV in the UK which also provide the test and conformance regime for Freeview, Freeview + and Freeview HD products. DMOL (DTT Multiplex Operators Ltd.), a company owned by the operators of the six DTT multiplexes (BBC, ITV, C4, and Arqiva) is responsible for technical platform management and policy, including the electronic programme guide and channel numbering.
Since the completion of the digital switch-over on 24 October 2012, there is no terrestrial analogue television being broadcast in the United Kingdom, and all broadcast terrestrial TV is delivered through digital terrestrial television.
Freeview officially launched on 30 October 2002 at 5 am, when the BBC and Crown Castle (now Arqiva) officially took over the digital terrestrial television (DTT) licences to broadcast on the three multiplexes from the defunct ITV Digital. The founding members of DTV Services, who trade as Freeview, were the BBC, Crown Castle UK (now part of Arqiva) and British Sky Broadcasting. On 11 October 2006, ITV plc and Channel 4 became equal shareholders. Since then, the Freeview model has been copied in Australia and New Zealand.
Although all pay channels had been closed down on ITV Digital, many free-to-air channels continued broadcasting, including the five analogue channels and digital channels such as ITV2, ITN News Channel, S4C2, TV Travel Shop and QVC. With the launch of Freeview other channels were broadcast free-to-air, such as: Sky Travel, UK History, Sky News, Sky Sports News, The Hits (now 4Music) and TMF (now Viva) were available from the start. BBC Four and the interactive BBC streams were moved to multiplex B. Under the initial plans, the two multiplexes operated by Crown Castle would carry eight channels altogether. The seventh stream became shared by UK Bright Ideas and Ftn which launched in February 2003. The eighth stream was left unused until April 2004 when the shopping channel Ideal World launched on Freeview. There are now 14 streams carried by the two multiplexes, with Multiplex C carrying 6 streams, and Multiplex D carrying 8. It has recently been announced that more streams are now available on the multiplexes, and that bidding is under way.
The Freeview service underwent a major upgrade on 30 September 2009, which required 18 million households to retune their Freeview receiving equipment. The changes, meant to ensure proper reception of Channel 5, led to several thousand complaints from people who lost channels (notably ITV3 and ITV4) as a result of retuning their equipment. The Freeview website crashed and the call centre was inundated as a result of the problems. The change involved an update to the NIT (Network Information Table), which some receivers could not accommodate. Many thousands of people could not receive some channels. This included 460,000 fed from relay stations who lost access to ITV3 and ITV4. Updates were broadcast to enable firmware changes, but in some cases the receiver must be left on and receiving broadcasts to accept the updates; not everyone was aware of this.
The Freeview service underwent a major upgrade on 3 September 2014 which required 18 million households to retune their Freeview receiving equipment. The changes included a reshuffle of the Children's, News, and Interactive genres.
The Freeview service broadcasts free-to-air television channels, radio stations and interactive services from the existing public service broadcasters. Channels on the service include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 terrestrial channels, as well as their digital services. In addition, channels from other commercial operators, such as Sky and UKTV, are available, as well as radio services from a number of broadcasters.
The full range of channels broadcast via digital terrestrial television includes some pay television services such as BoxNation and Racing UK. These channels, although available only to subscribers with appropriate equipment, are listed in the on-screen electronic programme guides displayed by many Freeview receivers but cannot be viewed.
To receive Freeview, either a television with an integrated digital tuner or an older analogue television with a suitable Freeview-branded set-top box is required.
An aerial is required for viewing any broadcast television transmissions. For all transmissions indoor, loft-mounted, and external aerials are available. In regions of strong signal an indoor aerial may be adequate; in marginal areas a high-gain external aerial mounted high above the ground with an electronic amplifier at its top may be needed.
Aerial requirements for analogue (the old standard) and digital reception in the UK are identical; there is no such thing as a special "digital aerial", although installers and suppliers often falsely say one is necessary. As the signal degrades, the analogue picture degrades gradually, but the digital picture holds up well then suddenly becomes unwatchable; an aerial which gave poor analogue viewing may give unwatchable, rather than poor, digital viewing, and need replacing, at a cost of typically £80 to £180, most of which is fitting cost.
The Digital TV Group, the industry association for digital television in the UK, is responsible for co-ordination between Freeview and other digital services.
The original Freeview was later expanded with additional facilities (Freeview+), high-definition channels (Freeview HD), and Internet connectivity (Freeview Play). All services remain available; the original Freeview equipment will work (unenhanced) in the same way it always did.
The original Freeview service allowed a large number of digital television channels to be received on a compatible television receiver, set-top box, or personal video recorder. An electronic programme guide was available. Freeview channels are not encrypted and can be received by anyone in the UK. There is no additional charge to receive Freeview but it is a legal obligation to hold a current television licence to watch or record TV as it is being broadcast.
A subscription-based DTT service, Top Up TV, launched in March 2004. The Top Up TV service was not connected with the Freeview service, but ran alongside it on the DTT platform and was included in the Freeview EPG; programmes could be received on some Freeview set-top boxes and televisions equipped with a card slot or CI slot. Top Up TV was replaced in 2006, by a service that did not run on Freeview equipment.
Freeview HD comprises a number of high-definition versions of existing channels. It requires a different high-definition tuner, and does not supersede or replace standard Freeview.
With two channels (BBC HD and ITV HD) Freeview HD completed a "technical launch" on 2 December 2009 from Winter Hill (as a full power service) and Crystal Palace (as a reduced power temporary service). It operates on multiplex BBC B (aka Multiplex B or PSB3). The service was broadcast to all regions by the end of 2012. Channel 4 HD commenced test broadcasts on 25 March 2010 with an animated caption, ahead of its full launch on 30 March 2010, coinciding with the commercial launch of Freeview HD. S4C Clirlun launched on 30 April 2010, in Wales, where Channel 4 HD did not broadcast. STV HD launched in Scotland, where ITV HD does not broadcast, on 6 June 2010. S4C Clirlun closed on 1 December 2012, allowing Channel 4 HD to begin broadcasting in Wales.
Five HD was due to launch during 2010 but was unable to reach 'key criteria' to keep its slot. Spare allocation on multiplex B was handed over to the BBC, two years from the date when it was anticipated that further capacity on multiplex B would revert to the control of the BBC Trust. On 3 November 2010, BBC One HD launched on Freeview HD. Initially it was available in addition to the existing BBC HD channel, which continued to show the "best of the rest" of the BBC in HD. However, BBC HD was replaced by BBC Two HD on 26 March 2013.
Until 17 October 2011, the Commercial Public Service Broadcasters had the opportunity to apply to Ofcom to provide an additional HD service from between 28 November 2011 and 1 April 2012. Channel 5 HD was the sole applicant, with the aim of launching in spring or early summer 2012. On 15 December 2011, Channel 5 dropped its bid to take the fifth slot after being unable to resolve "issues of commercial importance". Subject to any future Ofcom decision to re-advertise the slot, the capacity will remain with the BBC and can be used by it for BBC services or services provided by a third party via a commercial arrangement. The BBC temporarily used the space to broadcast a high definition simulcast of their main Freeview red button feed for the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympics, followed by a channel from Channel 4 for the 2012 Summer Paralympics. On 13 June 2013, the BBC temporarily launched a high-definition red button stream in the vacant space.
On 16 July 2013, Ofcom announced that up to 10 new HD channels would be launched by early 2014, using new capacity made available by the digital switchover. This provided additional spectrum in the 600Mhz band for additional DVB-T2 multiplexes, reaching up to 70% of the UK population. At the same time, the BBC announced that they would provide five new HD channels due to the newly available capacity: BBC Three HD, BBC Four HD, CBBC HD, CBeebies HD and BBC News HD. BBC Three HD and CBBC HD launched to all viewers on 10 December 2013 using the capacity released by the Red Button HD service, and the other BBC channels launched in some regions, expanding to 70% UK coverage by June 2014.
The Digital TV Group publishes and maintains the UK technical specification for high-definition services on digital terrestrial television (Freeview) based on the new DVB-T2 standard. The specification is known as the D-book. Freeview HD is the first operational TV service in the world using the DVB-T2 standard. This standard is incompatible with DVB-T, and can only be received using compatible reception equipment. Some television receivers sold before the HD launch claimed to be "HD-ready", but this usually implies that the screen can display HD, rather than that DVB-T2 signals can be received – a suitable tuner (typically built into a STB or PVR) is additionally required. Freeview HD set-top boxes and televisions are available. To qualify for the Freeview HD logo, receivers will need to be IPTV-capable and display Freeview branding, including the logo, on the electronic programme guide screen. The Freeview HD trademark requirements state that any manufacturer applying for the Freeview HD logo should submit their product to the Digital TV Group's test centre (DTG Testing) for conformance testing.
On 2 February 2010, Vestel became the first manufacturer to gain Freeview HD certification, for the Vestel T8300 set top box. Humax released the first Freeview HD reception equipment, the Humax HD-FOX T2, on 13 February 2010.
It was announced on 10 February 2009, that the signal would be encoded with MPEG-4 AVC High Profile Level 4, which supports up to 1080i30/1080p30, so 1080p50 cannot be used. The system has been designed from the start to allow regional variations in the broadcast schedule. Services are statistically multiplexed – bandwidth is dynamically allocated between channels, depending on the complexity of the images – with the aim of maintaining a consistent quality, rather than a specific bit rate. Video for each channel can range between 3 Mbit/s and 17 Mbit/s. AAC or Dolby Digital Plus audio is transmitted at 384 kb/s for 5.1 surround sound, with stereo audio at 128–192 kbit/s; audio description takes up 64 kbit/s, subtitles 200 kbit/s and the data stream, for interactive applications 50 kbit/s. Recording sizes for Freeview HD television transmissions average around 3 GB per hour. Between 22 and 23 March 2011, an encoder software change allowed the Freeview version of BBC HD to automatically detect progressive material and change encoding mode appropriately, meaning the channel can switch to 1080p25. This was extended to all of the other Freeview HD channels in October 2011.
To ensure provision of audio description, broadcasters typically use the AAC codec. Hardware restrictions allow only a single type of audio decoder to operate at any one time, so the main audio and the audio description must use the same encoding family for them to be successfully combined at the receiver. In the case of BBC HD, the main audio is coded as AAC-LC and only the audio description is encoded as HE-AAC. Neither AAC nor Dolby Digital Plus codecs are supported by most home AV equipment, which typically accept Dolby Digital or DTS, leaving owners with stereo, rather than surround sound, output. Transcoding from AAC to Dolby Digital or DTS and multi-channel output via HDMI was not originally necessary for Freeview HD certification. As of June 2010 the DTG D-Book includes the requirement for mandatory transcoding when sending audio via S/PDIF, and for either transcoding or multi-channel PCM audio when sending it via HDMI in order for manufacturers to gain Freeview HD certification from April 2011. Thus equipment sold as Freeview HD before April 2011 may not deliver surround sound to audio equipment (some equipment may, but this is not mandatory); later equipment must be capable of surround sound compatible with most suitable audio equipment.
In early February 2011, it was announced that one million Freeview HD set-top boxes had been sold.
In August 2009 the BBC wrote to Ofcom after third-party content owners asked the BBC to undertake measures to ensure that all Freeview HD boxes would include copy protection systems as required by the Digital TV Group's D-Book, which sets technical standards for digital terrestrial television in the UK. The BBC proposed to ensure compliance with copy-protection standards on the upgraded Freeview HD multiplex by compressing the service information (SI) data, which receivers need to understand the TV services in the data stream. To encourage boxes to adopt copy protection, the BBC made its own look-up tables and decompression algorithm, necessary for decoding the EPG data on high-definition channels, available without charge only to manufacturers who implement the copy-protection technology. This technology would control the way HD films and TV shows are copied onto, for example Blu-ray discs, and shared with others over the internet. No restrictions will be placed on standard-definition services. In a formal written response, Ofcom principal advisor Greg Bensberg said that wording of the licence would probably need to be changed to reflect the fact that this new arrangement is permitted. The BBC had suggested that as an alternative to the SI compression scheme, the Freeview HD multiplex may have to adopt encryption. Bensberg said that it would appear "inappropriate to encrypt public service broadcast content on DTT".
On 14 June 2010, Ofcom agreed to allow the BBC to limit the full availability of its own and other broadcasters' high definition (HD) Freeview services to receivers that control how HD content can be used. Ofcom concluded that the decision to accept the BBC's request will deliver net benefits to licence-holders by ensuring they have access to the widest possible range of HD television content on DTT.
Freeview HD Recorder
All recorders are required to include the following features in addition to standard Freeview:
- At least eight-day electronic programme guide (EPG)
- Series link (one timer to record whole series)
- Record split programmes as one programme
- Offer to record related programme
- Record alternative showing if there is a time conflict
- Schedule changes updated in standby (e.g. scheduled recording starting early)
- Accurate Recording (AR, equivalent to PDC) – programmes are recorded based on signals from the broadcaster rather than scheduled time. (Since this is based on signals from the broadcaster, the broadcaster can prevent recording by sending nonsense signals as a form of copy protection, as already happens on music channels. However, this can be circumvented by specifying a timer recording instead of a programme recording or by connecting the receiver to a traditional videocassette recorder.)
Freeview Play adds Internet connectivity to the existing services.
It combines catch-up TV (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, and UKTV), on demand and live television on a variety of TV and set-top boxes, via the users standard broadband Internet connection. The technology is an open standard, but with prominent Freeview Play branding. The service launched in October 2015 on compliant equipment, initially 2015 Panasonic TV receivers and Humax set-top boxes, including existing models with a software update. Other manufacturers were announcing new models "later this  year". The 2017 specification for Freeview Play includes support for HDR video using Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), when playing on demand broadband content.