No News Is Good News?

Lets hope so, as nothing appears to be happening in the world of Freesat at the moment!

We just wanted to let you know we are still here, still pushing for little nuggets of information to share with you.

It would seem that Freesat are presently spending quite a lot of time assisting in the Digital Switch-Over (DSO), which happens this year in the Granada, West Country, Borders and Welsh regions. Freesat’s primary aim is to ensure that those areas without access to terrestrial reception via Freeview have another option to avoid a blank screen come the end of analogue.

BBC iPlayer continues in its development and an Autumn launch still seems likely, although we’d expect a late Autumn launch given that beta testing is expected in August; of which we are hoping to be part of.

There appears to be a lack of additional FTA (free-to-air) channels coming forward on the Freesat platform of late, with talkSPORT the last to be introduced back on the 19th May. BET HD made an appearance most recently but only for the BET Awards 2009; but it gave us an insight into the potential opportunities for broadcasters that don’t have permanent high-definition channels in the UK to showcase specific events.

We await the latest quarterly figures for Freesat sales, although it has been hinted that 500,000 has been surpassed which is a fantastic achievement in little over a year.

ITV HD appear to be retaining a fairly regular appearance of programmes in high-definition, although still far short of that of the BBC with 9 HD hours per day. ITV sadly continue to avoid wanting to make comment on our fairly conclusive poll of 94% of voters (2,130 to date) longing for a proper ITV HD channel rather than the current red button.

As soon as we get just a sliver of news on Freesat we’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, please do continue to visit other parts of our site including the digital box and television product pages, plus polls, channel listings and ITV HD schedule.

BBC launch Project Canvas proposal

The BBC has launched a public consultation on Project Canvas, the proposal for an online catch-up service, which would allow viewers to watch on demand content from the BBC, ITV, plus many more directly through their television sets.

The service, expected to roll-out in 2010 will be available through both Freesat and Freeview platforms, although it’s believed new equipment will be required, costing in the region of £100-£200. iPlayer, which launches in the Autumn for the existing Freesat customer base will require a new receiver for the full Project Canvas setup.

Project Canvas in many ways combines the efforts of multiple on-demand services all accessible through your television set, and is expected to be opened up to more than just the main channels such as BBC and ITV, but also NHS Direct, YouTube, plus many more web based video services, the possibilities may be endless.

Project Canvas is seeking to be transparent about what the service will deliver and how it is structured, in order to avoid the same fate of Kangaroo, the broadband pay-TV venture backed by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, which was scrapped earlier this month after falling foul of competition regulators.

The BBC has applied to the BBC Trust for its permission to form a joint venture partnership, which would set and promote a common standard for delivering on-demand TV and other internet content through a broadband connection. The BBC Trust, which will have the ultimate say on the proposal, will publish it’s interim conclusion by 8 June 2009 and final decision by 24 July 2009.

It is expected the project will cost partners £24m to get up and running, with the BBC expecting a four way equal split funding (assuming four partners) at £6m each. The proposal is for the venture to include the Freesat platform; the total cost including Freesat over a five-year period is around £16.6m. It’s believed ITV’s £6m contribution to the service has already been accounted for and will not represent a new outlay at a time when their finances are under severe pressure.

The project is expected to be run as a “not for profit” organisation, which is usually the case when the BBC are involved, same as BBC’s Freesat joint-venture with ITV.

On-demand programming, particularly catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer, has proven to be massively popular on TV services such as Virgin Media’s cable network, which could be part of the reason for such interest in combining television and Internet services.

Speaking about Project Canvas, Emma Scott, Managing Director of Freesat said;

Freesat is already fully behind the Canvas proposal and know from our own experience that its mix of free-to-air channels, HD, IPTV and EPG innovations will be an attractive proposition to consumers.

Our research shows that a third of viewers watch more programming once they see it in HD and we also know that the launch of iPlayer to Freesat this autumn is hotly anticipated.

Canvas now has the potential to continue the UK’s tradition of great free-to-air TV.

So what do you think, do you believe Project Canvas will get approval from the trust, or vetoed in the same way Kangaroo did?

What Should We Expect From Freesat In 2009?

With 2009 fast approaching, what can we expect from Freesat in the new year? Our poll which continues on the left hand side would suggest that more than 50% of you want C4HD as a priority, but in reality will that happen? We know that C4HD is currently tied into agreement (encrypted) with Sky so unless they can terminate early, or the contract concludes in 2009, can we expect this channel at all in the coming year! We will continue to try and find out the in’s and out’s of the contract, but if anyone knows linked to C4 or Sky, let us know.

So what is more likely to appear in 2009? Well BBC are still promising the on-demand iPlayer, directly linked to your Freesat digital box via the Ethernet port. This seems likely to go ahead around spring time, assuming no further delays. Kangaroo looks dead in the water at this point.

Will we see more manufacturers on board? Possible, talks are on-going with a number of large manufacturers although given the current economic climate, this could be a little longer than expected. It’s certain that Metronic will have their HD digital box out soon, although retailing at £150 wouldn’t result in many sales. Metronic’s PVR receiver is also due within the first quarter of 2009, although again, this could be delayed given that the HD receiver from them already has. Alba Group are said to be developing a PVR too, but no timescale as yet, and rumours of Panasonic working on a combined PVR and Blu-ray player/recorder just won’t go away, although the official PR release at this stage is that nothing is in the pipe-line.

So what about other channels? Well Freesat’s target of 200 channels has not yet been reached, so the remaining FTA channels can certainly be expected in the coming months, although will this include FTA channels such as Sky News, we are still awaiting confirmation (don’t forget Sky News and others can be added in non-freesat mode). Will channel Five manage to find space on 2D to bring us Fiver and Five US, lets hope so. As for other channels, well many still expect that the line-up should/will match Freeview, but that’s highly unlikely, as channels such as Dave, UK Gold etc are tied into subscription contracts on DSAT with Sky, so unless these channels/networks can find ways of raising revenue through advertising rather than subscription, it’s not going to happen unless Freesat’s viewing audience substantially increases.

Most will no doubt agree that ITV HD need to drastically improve the quality and quantity of HD programming, at the very least to match a constantly improving BBC HD. Would ITV HD benefit from having a separate channel than using the existing red button facility? Maybe, but the possible downside of this would be access to the channel via Sky, which in-turn could reduce Freesat’s potential viewing figures.

Rather than expected, we hope that BBC and ITV can improve the quality of sound on Freesat, with many, if not all programmes being broadcast in stereo, rather than Dolby 5.1 allowing us to enjoy films etc in surround sound quality. This must surely be a priority?

The platform thus far has been largely successful, but lets hope for an even better year ahead for Freesat, with increased popularity and exposure.

Happy new year from all involved with and thanks to all of you that have contributed over the past year.

BBC HD Now Transmitting DVB Subtitles

It’s been reported to us (thanks Michael) that DVB subtitles are now being transmitted on BBC HD. Up until now there were no subtitles at all available on BBC HD on a Freesat box and only teletext ones on the SD channels that provided the service. Now these SD channels also have a choice of DVB subtitles or teletext subtitles (via 888).

This was was a major complaint of the service on Freesat so will no doubt please many requiring use of subtitles.

C4HD, BBC iPlayer and Kangaroo

We had an interesting email this morning from a joinfreesat reader saying that they had been on a training roadshow with a Freesat member of staff who stated that C4HD, BBC iPlayer and Kangaroo would be available in Spring ’09.

Given that this information supposedly came from a Freesat member of staff, we wanted to check how official it was from Freesat directly. Unfortunately the news wasn’t good, but at least it’s further clarity at this stage. The statement said;

As Freesat has previously confirmed, iPlayer will launch onto the service in 2009. A launch date will be confirmed in due course.

Whilst there are currently no specific plans to launch 4HD and Kangaroo at this stage, Freesat is in regular contact with a wide range of broadcasters and service providers across the industry about joining the platform in the future.

BBC to reduce DOG useage

BBC have confirmed their intention to reduce the use of their DOG (digital on-screen graphic) on the BBC HD channel.

In an announcement today, Danielle Nagler, Head of HDTV at BBC Vision, said:

From this weekend, assuming no technical glitches in the areas responsible for implementing this, the BBC HD DOG will be removed from all films shown on the channel and the majority of the drama content. For other programming, we are turning down the DOG to the lowest level that we can while allowing it to remain visible.

In doing this, I’m aiming to make sure that at least some of the programming which really showcases HD quality and experience is DOG-free.

The BBC Internet Blog, where this news was published, often receive emails and messages from viewers requesting the reduction in logo opacity, as well as removing completely. A poll was also created on this very site, with 81% of you in favor of removing the DOG.

Good news all round and well done to the BBC for listening.

High Definition Olympics set for Freesat

Freesat have today announced the Olympics will be in high-definition on the BBC. Now of course we already knew this, but the fact that Freesat have made an official statement is a good indication that everything is set for the start of the games. Emma Scott, MD of Freesat said

The Olympics is the ultimate global sporting event, and viewers will be astounded by the quality of the BBC’s HD footage; every drop of water falling off the oars of a rower to the sand erupting from the long jump pit will be beautifully clear. At Freesat, we’re committed to bringing brilliant HD programming to as many UK viewers as possible, for free. The scope of BBC’s HD coverage of the Beijing Olympics is testament to the exciting future of HD broadcasting in this country.

Lets all get behind Freesat and the BBC on this one, it should be an amazing spectacle.

It’s expected that the first broadcasts will be of the football starting tomorrow (6th) and its been confirmed that all interactive channels will be standard-definition, with the exception of BBC HD of course.

Don’t forget to receive the Olympics in high-definition you’ll need a Freesat HD receiver from Humax, Grundig, Goodmans or Bush, or alternatively a Panasonic Plasma with Freesat built-in. More information on the receivers available, plus price comparisons can be found here.