C4HD Satellite Capacity Delays Launch

Speaking with Channel 4 today, we have found out that C4HD is free of its original contract with Sky but lack of space on the appropriate satellite beam is the cause for the high-definition service not being available on the Freesat platform at this time.

As a UK broadcaster, restrictions mean that Channel 4, along with BBC, ITV and Five can only offer their channels in-the-clear if they are broadcast from the tighter 2D beam on the Astra2 satellite; either that or by means of restricted access such as ITV HD.

The high def simulcast is currently available to subscribers of Sky HD and Virgin Media HD, but will also be made available on other platforms including Freesat in future; unfortunately, there is no satellite capacity for our HD channel on Freesat at present.

Unfortunately the 2D beam transponders are already full, with some broadcasters such as BBC reducing the quality of their HD offering in the hope of gaining more space for potential future channels and services. Channel 4 currently lease two of the transponders but are already at full capacity using them for their range of channels already FTA (free-to-air), such as Channel 4, E4, More4, Film4 plus the 1 hour time-shifts and regional variants.

Unless more space can be made available, or channels are moved around, it will be extremely difficult for C4HD, as well as Fiver and Five US to launch FTA on the Freesat platform. The channels currently filling the 2D beam include the following, no surprises that Sky have encrypted/subscription channels taking up valuable space, but they lease it, so are entitled to it:

At The Races (encrypted)
BBC 1 (all regions)
Channel 4 (all regions)
Channel 4 +1 (all regions)
Channel TV
Current TV
Disney Channel (encrypted)
Disney Channel +1 (encrypted)
Disney Cinemagic (encrypted)
Disney Cinemagic +1 (encrypted)
E4 +1
Film 4
Film 4 +1
FX UK +2 (encrypted)
ITV 1 (all regions)
ITV 2 +1
ITV 3 +1
ITV 4 +1
Men & Motors
More 4
More 4 +1
NDTV 24×7
Playhouse Disney (encrypted)
Playhouse Disney +1 (encrypted)
RTE One (encrypted)
RTE Two (encrypted)
Scottish TV (all regions)
Sky Box Office
Sky Real Lives (encrypted)
Sky Real Lives +1 (encrypted)
Sky Real Lives 2 (encrypted)
Sky Sports 2 (pubs – commercial) (encrypted)
Sky Sports Active
Sky Travel Shop (encrypted)
Sky Travel Shop (encrypted)
TG4 (encrypted)
TV3 (encrypted)
Ulster TV

Channel 4 are working to resolve this matter, and have been carrying out tests over the past few weeks since we believe their contract with Sky ended in July 2009. Lets hope that something can be sorted and C4HD can be fairly distributed across all platforms, especially given they are a UK public broadcaster.

Update (24th August 2009)

Official response from Freesat:

Although capacity on the Astra2D satellite is currently in short supply, the situation can change. Other capacity is available although it may not be suitable for some broadcasters depending on the rights they hold with content owners.

Freesat continues to talk with broadcasters about bringing HD content onto the platform and is confident of being able to offer more HD in the future.

176 thoughts on “C4HD Satellite Capacity Delays Launch”

  1. Going back to an issue mentioned earlier which is BBC HD quality, does anyone know if they have changed anything with BBC1 as well. I am sat watching the Breakfast program and can’t decide if I am going crazy or not but the picture just doesn’t look as good as it did last week – it may be the hangover but i am not sure.

    Guess i wait for the F1 on Sunday because that has always looked great but its a big disappointment if they are reducing quality of broadcasts – surely thats a step backwards ?

  2. to DaveMurgatroyd who wrote:

    “Get real people, what you want and what you imagine you have been promised are totally different from reality. In this economic climate free TV is struggling to survive yet alone expand how you want it to. Where is the money going to come from to pay for all these hoped for channels when advertising revenue is sinking faster than the Titanic?”

    I just wanted to say I don’t really view them as ‘free’ channels since we pay a license fee and we buy products as a result of advertising. TV licensing has collected historically £3.4bn a year from 25 million licenses – it’s probably more now. I’d like to think together we could have some influence how the 3.4bn gets spent, and where the advertising money goes by saying what type of service we’d really like to have.

  3. To Jason

    Considering that HD households only amount to around 5 to 6% of UK households in total (on all platforms freesat, Sky and cable) that influence to both how the license fee and advertising revenue is spent would be very small taking into account that you can also view all the other FTA SD programming that is broadcast that is paid for from the same pot. Considering HD broadcasting (and initial setup) is considerably more than for SD I reckon in this present economic climate we are certainly getting a fair crack of the whip. You seem to delude yourself (along with many other posters here) that because you have spent a considerable amount on a set top box that you should have a greater influence than the other 95% of viewers.

    Until the HD freesat audience expands to a much larger extent (and the economy recovers considerably) then you are highly unlikely to see a large expansion in HD channels. At present the only way people will see a larger amount of HD is with pay TV (Sky or Virgin) which can fund their expansion from their subscription income.

    I personally believe that freesat will expand its channel lineup by a great deal eventually BUT this will almost certainly take two to three years. My own viewing consists approx 40% Sky subscription channels, 35% Freeview/freesat channels and 25% non UK channels. I have Sky HD, Freeview PVRs and a multi-satellite PVR.

  4. ** Off topic..
    Can we have a news article about the recent reduction in picture quality on BBC HD and ITV HD please?
    There may not be much new news to report as getting information out of the channels is like getting blood out of a stone, but at least it would give us a place to air our grievances.
    From reading above it sounds like there are a lot of us disappointed in what’s happened with respect to degrading picture quality in the past few weeks. Both ITV HD and BBC HD on Sunday night were awful. (Apart from the film which was letterbox so doesn’t need as much bitrate)

  5. Nat – I agree with you. I have a Panasonic Freeview TV but play a Goodmans Freesat HD box through it. The picture is fantastic and have not experienced any problems regarding a reduction in quality of HD pictures. SD pictures are also of a very high quality.

  6. Also off topic but agree with Scoobie.

    I was watching an old recording of South Pacific last night (pre coder change) and was blown away by the quality.

    With the new coder I am very very conscious of ‘flapping’ foliage – areas of high detail high contrast that seem to flash from frame to frame and some dreadful ghosting images in deep shadows. If you watch the same broadcast on SD you rarely see these effects.
    In fact how about a poll on what do you think of the New BBC HD encoder

    • It is fantastic!
    • Notice no difference
    • Disappointing drop in quality
    • Dreadful

  7. Brusselman – If there is a difference, it is not noticable to the human eye on my Panasonic TV.

    My son has an LG TV and have to admit any deteriation in picture quality is very obvious on that.

    I think because the Panasonic picture in general is so fantastic you just get lost in the programme and the quality is not an issue as you just take it for granted.

  8. Brusselsman – I agree with you, The Quality is dreadful compared to watching a recording of Later Live with jools that was recorded much earlier this year.

    My Pioneer Kuro Plasma is one if not the best plasma tv (except there Elite Range) there is for picture Quality, and compared to bluray 1080 the bbc hd and itv hd just look like standard dvd format.

    I watched The bill the other night, and the quality was dreadful from ITV, the only difference i noticed was dolby digital 2.0 instead of normal Linear PCM.

    Something needs to happen, as we cant live with this poor picture. BBC need to answer a few questions

  9. I think some people are just being very picky. I can just imagine them sitting there analysing the picture all night long without even having a clue as to the programme content.

    Yes the picture on my TV is great and I have no complaints. My first priority is the quality of the contents and it is in that area that I do have issue with some channels.

  10. Having written an email to the BBC with respect to the drop in picture quality of their BBC HD transmissions, one of the statements in their response left me amazed…

    “I raised your concerns with our Reception Advice team who advise that less bitrate is now required to transmit content due to the use of more modern and improved coders. The aim of this change is to keep the technical quality of BBC HD the same for less bitrate rate”

    If the aim is to keep the technical quality the same, then the BBC have missed the target completely!! To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe their ‘aim’ will improve over time and the picture quality will revert to that which we were used to receiving.

  11. Derek – I really don’t understand what you are grumbling about. I have not noticed any reduction in quality of my BBC HD picture quality. I think it is a case of because you know the have made some changes you are looking for problems.

    I would hate to watch TV in your household, picking up faults with the picture all the time. Just enjoy the programmes for what they are.

  12. @Denis
    You are in no position to comment on my household’s viewing habits, so I suggest you keep those thoughts to yourself. For your information, the deterioration in the HD picture quality reduction I and many other members of this and other internet forums have noticed, was being commented on by us well before knowledge of the reduction in transmission bitrate came into the public domain.

  13. I enjoy watching the regional ITV news items on Freesat and my Grundig box gives excellent HD pictures on BBC HD and ITV HD (especially the footie). Although I live in Granadaland I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Meridian South and seeing a fantastic traction engine rally at Blandford Forum in Dorset. All this on a box that cost only £99. I could spend that in 2 months on SKY!
    Freesat is a great platform and I am very happy with it at present and anticipate it will get better as time goes on. Stop knocking Freesat. Together with Freeview we have an abundance of channels and my Freeview PVR is great too. TV has never been so good and so varied.

  14. We have to remeber that diffrent programs in hd were sometimes bad and some times great . Its just the prgrams that differ as one program could be set in darker lits rooms eg the tuders.But if you watch wild life with the bright colours ,you see a big differents . Watch blu-rays and see how they differ.

    I agree with freeview sd channels are better, itv is the worse on freesat.
    Its a fact that freeview has better bit rates as in the home cinema mag they did a report into it with compared the two in a table.

    Why is freesat always a waiting game and we get to the date and its still waiting game.

    On a happy note i love the bbc hd channel and well done to them for this service i have not notice any drop in quality as watching on pionneer plasma. May show up more on cheaper brands of tv.

  15. One of the biggest selling points of Freesat is that you can’t get any of the Disney Channels, with their non stop pre-teen American crap. These are encrypted, kick them off!!!!!

  16. There are two main issues in play here.

    1: Regional Variations

    Since Digital Sattelite launched in late 1997, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have been broadcasting regional variations of their channels on the narrow-beam sat. They broadcast an entire channel for what amounts to a few hours of regional programming a week. While it might have made sense somehow in 1997 when bandwidth on Astra 2D was plentiful, today this practice is utterly ludicrous and an enourmous waste of bandwidth.

    The broadcasters and Freesat need to take a close look at how they provide regional programming on FTA as the current system is madness, especially as viewers already receive their own regional channels via Freeview.

    Removing these regional variations would allow at least a dozen HD channels to occupy the freed-up transponders.

    2: Sky broadcasting encrypted channels on Astra 2D.

    While the Satellite is partially owned by Sky they do have the right to do this, but really OFCOM should step in and demand they move all encrypted channels to a wider-band sat, on which there is more than enough available bandwidth to house their channels.

    Sky removing all encrypted channels from 2D would free up enough bandwidth for dozens of HD channels.

    Sadly Sky are just too big to be pushed around, so problem 1 is the most viable to fix.

  17. There are some ways in which space can be made. Here are my ideas…
    If the BBC, ITV and C4 can’t remove the regional variants, why not have BBC1, ITV and C4 England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland like BBC2? Also, Teachers TV is leaving very, very soon this month. If all this happens, around 30 channels will be removed, making space for more. Teletext is just a waste of space now because you can only use Teletext Holidays, however, jobsite is available on Teletext now.
    What do you think? Please do correct me if I’m wrong about anything…

  18. The fact that BBC has launched BBC1 HD on Freesat is proof that the lack of space issue that CH4 keep using is just an excuse. At least ITV were honest about it.

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