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Freeview: HD/SD substitutions are coming

by RXTV-newsdesk
Freeview Play TV

Freeview HD channels will be able to swap with their standard definition counterparts. You’ll need a newer Freeview Play device to benefit.

It follows a pilot in the autumn, when CBBC HD and SD were swapped with each other on a small number of Panasonic devices.

Now more Freeview channels could promote their HD service up the list, following a recent consultation. But Freeview platform manager Digital UK has attached some conditions to the process.

To qualify for a promotion, HD channels must be broadly the same as their SD counterpart – differences in the on-screen logo, for example, is allowed. But channels carrying regional variations will only be able to swap if the relevant HD channel also carries the same regional services.

When a HD substitution occurs:

  • The HD channel will move to the channel number used by the standard definition channel.
  • The HD channel may be listed twice as a result: On its original number in the HD section and on the ex-SD channel number.
  • The SD channel will move to a channel number between 610 and 669.

Regional HD substitutions will be permitted, so that channels like ITV can make changes in areas where their HD service is identical to SD. Unlike via satellite and cable, some ITV regions are not yet available in HD on Freeview.

The new functionality will only be available on Freeview Play devices that support Channel List Management (CLM). This is only available on a small number of devices at the moment. Manufacturers do not have any plans to make the new functionality backward compatible on older Freeview Play devices.

Why will the HD/SD substitute function only be available on newer devices?

The new feature is based on the Channel List Management (CLM) function. It provides a different way of managing Freeview channel numbers.

Compatible devices are designed to follow instructions delivered by CLM to swap out a channel. Older HD devices don’t support CLM, so they default to the original system designed to tell TVs which channel number a service should go on.

If an HD swap was done using the original method of instructing TVs to allocate a channel number to a service, older non-HD TVs would have SD services moved down the list. The HD channel that substitutes the SD channel would not appear on older devices, so the channel number would appear blank. The viewer would find the channel somewhere below channel 610. If this happened to a public service broadcaster, it would be in breach of Ofcom’s rules.

Digital UK’s decision on HD/SD substitutions follows a consultation with stakeholders. As part of the same consultation, Digital UK has also introduced the following changes:

  • IP-fallback: Allows viewers to watch a channel via an IP-stream through their internet connection. Only on a compatible device and only in an area where that channel can’t be received through an aerial. Find out more here…
  • IP-only channels: channels delivered by a broadcaster with a Freeview Play app will be able to add their channels to the Freeview channel list. These will appear between channels 300 and 599 on compatible Freeview Play devices.
  • Rule of Six (Hours): New channels joining Freeview will have to broadcast for a least six hours a day. Or 42 hours a week. Existing channels, like ITVBe+1 are exempt…
  • Channel number trading: Broadcasters will be allowed to trade Freeview channel numbers with each other, as soon as Digital UK has published a rate-card. Digital UK plans to charge broadcasters for the privilege, due to the extra administrative cost. It may mean more retunes for viewers, as broadcasters make bids to take control of higher ranking slots.

Do all Freeview Play devices support IP-fallback and IP-only channels?

No. The new functionality is based on new standards added to Freeview Play devices in 2020. Even so, not all Freeview Play devices sold now will support the new features. It will become more widespread in the coming 18 months as new models reach the shops. The majority of Freeview Play devices around today will not support these features. Manufacturers are not planning to offer any upgrades. For users of these devices, Freeview reception will continue as if nothing has changed.

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