Freeview Proposing Long-Awaited Big HD Channel Changes

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A major overhaul to Freeview channel numbers (HD vs SD in particular) might take place, in addition to a long-awaited capability of watching some live channels without an aerial – following a consultation published today by Digital UK.

Established in 2002, Freeview is the United Kingdom’s terrestrial television platform. It provides free-to-air TV channels and radio stations (via a Freeview aerial), including more than 80 standard and HD channels (See our full Freeview guide here).

Digital UK leads the development of Freeview, and holds Ofcom licences to provide an Electronic Programme Guide and its listing of Logical Channel Numbers (LCN). Those channel numbers are then used by Freeview, Freeview Play, BT TV, TalkTalk TV, YouView, EE TV and NOW TV.

Freeview Play EPG

This week, Digital UK published a consultation, looking to hear opinions and comments from the public, regarding a set of proposals that will bring some big changes to Freeview, especially on newer devices (This is unrelated to the big channel numbering shakeup that occurred last month).

Replace SD Channels With HD Versions

High Definition (HD) channels have been available on Freeview for more than 10 years. 

And yet, on the EPG, HD channels have been pushed back to the 101+ numbers. So BBC One (SD) is on channel 001, with the HD version – which most viewers will probably be more interested in – is on channel 101.

The same goes for BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, and all the channels that have both an SD and HD version.

Watching BBC on tv 1200

This used to make sense when HD televisions were not common – if someone with an SD-only TV tries to watch an HD channel, he would see nothing – so placing it on Channels 001 and onwards might have caused an outcry.

But these days, with 4K becoming the norm, HD-capable televisions are quite common.

Therefore, in their consultation, Digital UK is offering to finally change the old numbering order, and substitute SD channels with their HD equivalent:

“If a channel is available in both SD and HD, then the channel provider may choose for the HD version to appear in the LCN allocated to the SD version on devices that support Channel List Management.

“In the case of Public Service Broadcast (PSB) channels, where an HD version is substituted in the LCN for the SD version, all programming on the HD version must be an exact simulcast of the SD version in order to satisfy Ofcom’s PSB prominence requirements that are due to
come into effect on 4 January 2021.”

The older HD number (above 100) may be left in its place as well, meaning some channels will appear twice in the listing.

It’s important to note that this change, if implemented, would only work on Freeview devices that support Digital UK’s “Channel List Management” technology.

That technology was implemented on Freeview devices released in 2020 and onwards (though older ones may get it with a software update).

This may cause some confusion, as some older devices would still show the older channel numbers, while newer devices will show the new, HD-first numbering.

While Freeview tell us that this will be up to the channel providers to decide whether to implement or not, they would work with each channel provider to minimise any potential for confusion (assuming, of course, the proposals are passed into policy).

IP Fallback: Streaming Channels Without An Aerial

Another exciting change proposed on the consultation, would seamlessly let viewers without an aerial (or with a bad signal), watch the internet (streamed) version of the channel – if one exists.

Technically this is already possible today, but with some work: You can already stream live versions of some of the major Freeview Play channels via their apps (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, etc’).

Freeview Play on TV

However, with the proposed change, you would not need to manually run each app and look for the live feed. 

Instead, you would simply switch to a channel that is similar to a linear, over-the-air channel – but would broadcast its content over your broadband connection, instead of over-the-air. 

This can be implemented either by replacing the original channel, or with a set of dedicated, IP-only channels.

And, for the time being, this would only be supported on Freeview Play devices, which are already connected to the internet.

Additional Proposed Changes

The two first proposals are the most exciting, but Digital UK is proposing a few additional changes in their full consultation:

  • Remove the current restrictions on how many times channel providers are allowed to change their channel’s name (for example – when they change it to a Christmas-themed channel temporarily), or how many times they are allowed to change channel numbers within their own “batch”.
  • Remove the current restrictions on channel providers trading channel numbers (with the exception of Public Service Channels).
  • Implement a broadcast minimum of 6 hours per day or 42 hours per week for new channels.

All of these changes are not here just yet, and might change following responses to the consultation – but this sets a possible path to some long-awaited changes.

We asked Freeview about possible timeframes for these changes, but since this is still in the consultation phase, they can’t set any timetables yet.

However, since 2020 Freeview boxes already support the required technologies, the implementation should be a straightforward process, if and when it happens.

The public, and stakeholders, can send responses to the consultation until January 13, 2021. You can read the full document here.

28 thoughts on “Freeview Proposing Long-Awaited Big HD Channel Changes”

  1. When does it become real to scrap SD and Broadcast everything in HD .But more important when do we get Free view 4K Transmissions .I have sky and Amazon Fire stick I have a Cheap HD TV .It seems that the transmitter network is lagging behind internet streaming and satellite dishes Technology ,by a mile sorry make it 22 miles etc .I rest my Case.

  2. The main problem for me is SD quality pictures are grainy on an HD tv, compared to an old pre freeview tv you cant see the difference between HD and SD pictures. But we basically need everything in HD now cause who still has an old tv like thar? Its 2021 now for Gods sake, we need HD channels!

  3. Why are we still using SD, When HD been around for over 10 years , My TV support both DVB T and T2, Just shut down SD channels and replace with HD versions, Problem solved.

    • Because HD channels use up a lot more bandwidth. To ‘simply’ replace all the SD with HD we’d need to get rid of a lot of existing channels.

      • Why does HD use more bandwidth when the channels are in One group.

        Take for incident in my area from the Sandy Heath tv transmitter. The BBC ITV CH4 CH5 HD’s Channels are on Channel 21 UHF.

        101 BBC One HD
        102 BBC Two HD
        103 ITV One HD
        104 CH 4 HD
        105 CH 5 HD

        Just move the SD Verison onto the number above and put the HD Verison onto the SD Original numbers 1 2 3 4 5 and overtime slowly remove the SD channels from the EPG Menu and eventually other broadcasters will eventually follow suit. Problem solved

  4. Removing the restriction of having to have a TV/aerial signal in order to watch iPlayer, ITV Hub etc on Freeview Play would be more beneficial. It’s a stupid restriction in my opinion. If your signal is poor then that’s when you’re most likely to need to use iPlayer etc but no, Freeview Play doesn’t agree…

  5. SD needs to be scrapped and HD should be the minimum in broadcasting quality. TV’s are just bigger nowadays and SD looks horrible on anything above 40inch. These signals will still work on old CRT’s using an adaptor

    HD TV’s have been around 20 years, 4kTV’s almost 10 and now there selling 8k TV’s

    • You obviously don’t record anything because recording everything in HD eats up your storage like nobody’s buisness. I only record in SD to save space on my box. I have a 2 TB box and now have 20 %left . You don’t get many films on that kinda space

  6. The only way to transmit all channels in HD format would be to switch everything from DVB-T format transmission to DVB-T2 format transmission.

    Most Freeview HD equipment, (and new Freeview Play equipment) already has DVB-T2 tuners built in so it shouldn’t really be a problem.

    The only sticking point is that the transmitters (main high power and low power relays) use a mixture of both DVB-T and DVB-T2 equipment to shoehorn both types of transmission into the limited channel slots and would need complete replacement to purely DVB-T2 equipment, especially the relays as the main high power stations are already equipped for DVB-T2, to switchover completely to DVB-T2 transmission.

    Once this is accomplished, the majority of UK TV channels on Freeview HD can therefore be transmitted in HD format.

    There is another problem too, because many commercial channels can only be upscaled to 1080i resolution as they aren’t fully technically equipped to do full HD via Freeview ie Talking Pictures / Now 80’s / Pick / TBN UK / More4 / E4 etc and their +1 equivalents.

    If you watch upscaled channels from external equipment ie Freeview HD STB / PVR or Sky Q or older Sky HD boxes in 1080i res via HDMI connection, the upscaling problems become apparent i.e visible line structure, a rough noisy digital texture on strong colours / bright backgrounds etc,

  7. It’s annoying when you are watching BBC One HD on Freeview and you have to constantly change to a mediocre shimmering noisy MPEG-2 SD quality feed of your regional news programme i.e BBC North West Today / Tonight on Freeview Channel 1 when the typical red screen of boredom appears indicating that “BBC One HD cannot show programmes from your area as yet”.

    The Salford Dock studios are equipped for HD but are not in a position to offer it at present.

    In Sweden, your regional news is upscaled to HD and automatically switched in on your regional transmitter or group of transmitters, which would be an ideal solution work-around until such time as a full-time HD feed of a regional news feed becomes available as a reality.

  8. If more channels were broadcast in HD instead of hd and sd, this would narrow the band width. We have already lost channels to make room for 5G. Less doubles , would be no more loss of channels for 5G towers.

  9. Not sure how this will work when local news channels are only SD? I don’t want to have to change to another channel midway through the news every evening to view the local news!

    • This is one of my pet hates aswell. The ironic thing is ITV news at 6pm is HD. And BBC 1 news is HD until 6.30pm, so then I got to go view my local news in grainy SD channel. Its utter madness having to do this after HD has been around for years.

    • BBC 1 English regions and BBC 1 HD (England) will not change until the English regions get their own HD channels. PSB channels are not allowed to swap SD with their HD equivalent until they have completely identical programmes.

    • It says in the article that the HD version works need to be a simulcast if the SD version so to me that implies when it’s the local news you’ll get the SD version fed to you until it goes back to HD.

  10. At long last – more HD!

    It was annoying when all the C4 sister channels had their HD versions removed. It would be great to have HD versions of these back, plus extras. The quality of SD is really not up to scratch nowadays.

  11. More HD would be very welcome but also a review of the channels offered in HD. Who needs 2 QVC channels, Russian State propaganda station RT in HD? Why not deliver more mainstream, popular channels?

  12. Maybe it’s because i wear glasses but i dont see the point of High Definition. Looks the same to me as Standard Definition. I would never splash out on an expensive tv just for picture quality. Back home in West Wales the HD signal is too weak to be picked up.

      • I just don’t see the point of having a so called high quality picture when the the quality content of the the programme is absolutely dire. But then we Brits will watch any crap as long as it looks good. For me quality of content is more important the picture.

      • I disagree, I have a 55inch Sharp tv but watching SD channels is very grainy, bit like how VHS tapes used to look is the best way I can discribe it. HD is far superior viewing in my opinion, and I have compared watching SD channels via my Sky Q box and normal freeview, but HD comes out best via both ways.
        I really think it depends on what type of tv you have. My parents still have an old fashioned non digital tv, but relies on a freeview box to recieve anything, but on their tv I can see no difference in SD and HD, and even watching SD stuff via their freeview box seems less grainy ironically than my brand new Sharp tv.
        So putting it that way yes you are right it seems a complete swiss. Its as if the more modern tv you have the greater the need to watch nothing less than HD through them.


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