Freeview claims quashed as Nine 3D report issued to ACMA

MPEG-4 decoding more widespread than previously thought

Recent trials of 3D TV broadcasting by the Nine Network and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) have indicated more Australians are capable of receiving MPEG-4 based digital TV than previously thought.

The Nine Network’s report to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) about the trial - received after an initial delay and subsequent threat from the media regulator - confirmed that most modern televisions will be able to cope with the transition to MPEG-4 digital TV broadcasting, which it discovered after using the encoding to transmit 3D signals to capable televisions.

“Many existing digital television receivers were able to pick up and decode the 3D Trial on channel 40,” the Nine Network’s report reads. “This was confirmation that many of the recently released digital TV receivers in Australia were capable of receiving and decoding an MPEG-4 H.264 encoded transmission.

“The percentage of receivers was difficult to estimate, but we were able to conclude that a larger than expected number of HDTVs already have an MPEG-4 reception capability.”

According to Nine’s report, those televisions without the ability to receive an MPEG-4 signal “displayed aberrant operation whenever the tuning menu was activated”, causing some specific models to lock up. The report stated that personnel from the network had contacted those manufacturers whose models were affected, and that most issues could be rectified through a firmware update.

The new findings come in sharp contrast to the Freeview marketing campaign coordinated between commercial free-to-air broadcasters. Originally designed to differentiate between digital TV and competing pay TV broadcasters, Freeview’s use of differing signage and claims that only Freeview-branded television receivers would be compatible with future broadcasts has largely caused confusion and, as such, has not yet gained significant traction in the market.

Since launch, the official technical guidelines for Freeview have been changed to encompass those channels broadcast in high definition, stating that a high definition television tuner will be capable of watching Freeview channels.

However, Nine’s report indicates that televisions capable of receiving and decoding MPEG-4 signals have been more widely adopted than previously thought. The revelation could bring forward plans by broadcasters to adopt the new encoding method, which uses less bandwidth than the MPEG-2 codec currently used, and could potentially lead to greater use of spectrum for more channels in the future.

After public complaints by ACMA, both the Nine Network and SBS have since issues reports on their trials of 3D television broadcasting. In response, the media regulator has issued temporary licenses to Channels Seven and Nine to broadcast the AFL and NRL grand finals in the format, respectively.

The networks’ reports reveal that Nine Network received 362 enquiries during the trial, including complaints, while the SBS received 40 calls. Nine jointly held the trial 3D channel with the SBS during the May to August period, broadcasting the State of Origin matches in 3D. The SBS also used the channel to broadcast 16 select matches from the FIFA 2010 World Cup in the format.

The report from Nine also revealed that a total 16,700 3D-capable televisions had been bought by consumers throughout the trial from participating manufacturers Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and LG. Samsung TVs made up 12,000 of those models, reporting a backorder of 8,000 units to the Nine Network at the conclusion of the trial.

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