France plans to launch free-to-air UHD TV channels on its version of Freeview within months in time for the Paris Olympics. As broadcasters north of the English Channel celebrate migrating from standard to high definition, French broadcasters are thinking about HD switch off.
- Special multiplex will carry 4K UHD broadcasts across France in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
- A 4K UHD simulcast of France 2 and 3 will be available. Only France 2 UHD will remain after the Olympics.
- Advanced discussions to make the 4K UHD channels also available via satellite.
- Contrast to UK where broadcasters are only just completing migration to HD.
French media regular Arcom has given its approval to allow the French equivalent of Freeview – known as TNT – to carry two 4K UHD channels, free-to-air. It means viewers in many parts of the country will be able to watch UHD feeds of the Paris Olympics using a normal TV aerial.
Public broadcaster France Télévisions will broadcast a full simulcast of France 2 UHD, while France 3 UHD will be live from 10th July to 10th September 2024 to cover the Olympics and Paralympics in Paris. France 3 UHD is only temporary, as the regional structure of the channel makes its difficult to permanently migrate to UHD just yet.
This could be the start of more free-to-air UHD services, with commercial broadcasters in the country also expressing interest.
Ahead of the regulator’s announcement, Jacques Donat-Bouillud, head of distribution at France Télévisions indicated both channels will also be broadcast in UHD via satellite, with discussions with operators at a “very advanced stage”. In an online interview, he said the 4K UHD service would be subject to international coordination and agreement in some areas, such as the North of France.
France 4K UHD rollout and view to switching off terrestrial HD TV
The plan is for the first UHD broadcasts to go live within weeks, with major cities following. Around 70% of the French population should be within range of the service by next June. The antenna at the top of the Eiffel Tower will be among the first to broadcast the new UHD service. A UHD test multiplex has been on air for some time.
Donat-Bouillud admitted that there are insufficient frequencies to make the UHD service available to more of the population, but could imagine coverage increasing to 95% as HD services are switched off. At that point, UHD services would take over the frequencies currently used by HD channels.
A UHD simulcast descriptor is also planned. This will tell compatible TVs to switch to UHD in areas where the UHD service is broadcast.
Although UHD TV is only just getting off the ground, most TVs manufactured in the last five years are UHD compatible. And that would also be true in the UK if Freeview were to launch UHD broadcasts. That’s because UHD is delivered using the DVB-T2 broadcast standard and HEVC video codec. Both are standard in all new smart TVs.
No chance of overspill reception in the UK, yet…
The initial reduced coverage for 4K UHD channels means there’s little hope of any overspill UHD signal in Kent and Sussex nor in the Channel Islands. In these areas, localised reception of French HD channels remains possible instead. 4K UHD reception will have to wait until the service can be broadcast at high power across Northern France. But anyone with a TNTSAT or Fransat receiver will be able to watch France 2 and 3 UHD via satellite. Satellite reception is possible throughout the British Isles, but requires specific set-ups that differ to Sky and Freesat.
The response in the French media is largely positive. France 3 Grand-Est regional news said France was “adopting a standard which many countries in Europe and around the world have already adopted for years”. It highlighted that its German neighbours already benefit from around ten UHD channels, although RXTV notes none are broadcast terrestrially. The France 3 report said that watching terrestrial TV “consumes ten times less energy” than viewing a online stream.
Meanwhile, Télésatellite said it was “about time”, claiming France is “lagging significantly behind other countries in the European Union.” While it’s true France is behind with the adoption of the HEVC codec on terrestrial TV in Europe, it’s still one of few places where a full-time UHD service will be broadcast terrestrially.
Comparison to UK and Ireland
In the UK and Ireland, viewers can only dream of a free-to-air UHD service.
The main broadcasters behind Freeview currently have no intention of upgrading the platform to support UHD. It’s likely that any new developments may be reserved for Freeview’s streaming successor Freely. BBC funding cuts means it’s only just got round to completing the launch of all of its channels in HD. UHD content consists of a small selection of on-demand content. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have not indicated any desire to launch a UHD service. TNT Sports offers just one UHD service. Meanwhile, Sky is unique in offering multiple UHD channels to its subscribers. In the Republic of Ireland, none of the main broadcasters are openly talking about UHD.
For the Paris 2024 Olympics, Eurosport is expected to offer a UHD service. This is in line with what it has already done for other major sporting events in recent years.
France is backing the ongoing use of frequencies for terrestrial broadcasting. It is also looking at 5G Broadcast as a long-term alternative to the current terrestrial service.