Pat Pilcher: Freeview on NZ TV's future

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With the dust only just starting to settle after CES, AV enthusiasts world over are still abuzz about the TV technologies showcased this year.

As amazing as some of these technologies were, The big question I had was "when will all this cool stuff make it to New Zealand?". With this question firmly embedded in my gadget dazed brain, I caught up with Freeview general manager, Sam Irvine and Tim Diprose, Freeview's technology Manager to get their take on when cutting edge tech will come to NZ TV.

PP: Looking at CES there was a lot of TV tech being showcased, which ones grabbed your attention?
SI/SD: As well as 4K ultra high definition and foldable screens for mobiles the on-going development and recognition of connected TVs is important.

PP: Looking at technologies such as 4K ultra HD and 3D, are there any plans to broadcast in these formats?
SI/SD:
None of our broadcasters have plans at present to use these technologies. These use substantially more bandwidth and consumers have really only just started engaging with HD.

To put this in perspective most people still watch DVDs and broadcast HDTV is already far superior in quality. And the cost of the consumer equipment is still very high which will limit uptake of the devices in the short to medium term.

PP: So any ball-park ideas as to how far away it'd be?
SI/SD:
If you use HD as the model then you could be looking at 10+ years before there are enough devices and adoption of the broadcasting technology to make this a reality - HD still looks pretty good and the viewer experience when you add in surround sound for some shows is a big improvement on even just a few years ago.

PP: What are some of the technical challenges that'll have to be overcome if Freeview was to broadcast ultra HD or 3D?
SI/SD:
There is still a broadcast specification in development for 3D so that both channels don't need to be broadcast separately or side by side. This will use extra data to describe the difference between the left and right channels so that a single broadcast can be used for 2D and 3D.

The main issue for 4K is the extra bandwidth required. The first test broadcast in the world has recently started by Eutelsat and uses 40Mbit/s but is actually 4 HD streams which need to be combined so this is very much still at test stage.

PP: Ultra-HD and 3D aside, what other sort of technology developments can viewers expect with Freeview?
SI/SD:
We see the immediate future being the delivery of more content to viewers delivered over the internet directly to the TV.

This could be more free-to-air channels, catch-up TV or pay video on demand content like Quickflix. We believe having more content that people want to engage with will drive people to connect their TVs to the internet.

Our view is that Youtube, skype and Facebook are not really compelling enough a reason to connect for the main screen in the home.

Research has shown that people prefer the lean back experience of the big screen for catch-up TV if is available. This is also why smart TV apps probably haven't yet been widely adopted - what the viewer wants is to be able to access all their content from the EPG (electronic programme guide) they use for their main viewing.

PP: With online TV and downloading growing at a frenetic pace, what developments would Freeview like to see in the online space?
SI/SD:
We foresee a hybrid model of broadcast and internet based content which will hopefully encourage more providers and more content which will ultimately end up giving the consumer with a better deal with more choice.

PP: Are there any plans by Freeview to capitalise on the slow but inevitable growth of ultra fast broadband technologies such as fibre and VDSL?
SI/SD:
We see technologies like the MHEG interaction channel used to deliver internet video like Quickflix directly to Freeview TVs a key driver of uptake for UFB.

This will be especially true when this content is supplied in HD format. In saying that, the current broadband network is more than capable of delivering quality video to the majority of New Zealand homes .

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