It’s interesting times for digital platforms at the moment. Both DAB Digital Radio and DTT (Freeview) have enjoyed much success with lots of boxes out there and lots of happy viewers and listeners. However, both systems don’t have a lot of expansion left in them. They’re filling up. This means its difficult to introduce new services and technical innovations.
The main issue Freeview is grappling with is HDTV. HD takes up much more space than a traditional SD (standard definition) channel so it’s very difficult to squeeze in any of these channels.
However, Ofcom, probably under pressure from stakeholders, have issued an interesting consultation where they try to find a way through these issues to find some space for some new HD channels. Basically they’re suggesting that one of the Freeview multiplexes (indeed, one of those owned by the BBC) is emptied with its services distributed over the others. The spare multiplex could then become an MPEG4 multiplex, which means there would be more room for HD goodness (though probably just three HD channels) alongside a couple of extra SD channels too.
However, none of the existing Freeview boxes will be able to pick up these MPEG4 services, so you’ll need to get a new box.
Coincidentally the main UK broadcasters have suddenly got together to plug HD on Freeview, who’d of thought!
DAB Digital Radio is facing similar pressures. There’s a new codec that will allow a stereo station to be broadcast in about a third of the capacity that an existing station broadcasts at, for roughly similar (though potentially better) quality. In theory this means you could triple the number of stations available on the platform. However, once again the majority of the existing radios won’t be able to receive these new DAB+ stations, not that any exist or are even planned to exist at the moment.
Now traditionally radio and TV devices have lasted for decades, the concept of a replacement cycle hasn’t really existed for them. Whereas with other consumer electronic devices it certainly has, with buyers changing things like mobiles every 18 months to be able to access new services. Will consumers be happy to replace their TV and radio more often?