Freeview|HD to Offer External Copying

New content protection rules soon will make it easier to archive MyFreeview|HD recordings.

Their application will give Freeview|HD DTRs the same advantage TiVo enjoys over Sky’s MySky HDi, whose users can’t burn their HD recordings to a hard drive or Blu-ray disc.

That’s because Sky’s subscription-only signals are encrypted whereas Freeview’s, which TiVo also receives, are free-to-air (FTA).

Sky’s told it’s considering an external archiving solution for MySky HDi subscribers but points out this is complicated by digital rights management restrictions preventing connections to non-proprietary hard drives.

In the meantime, expect Panasonic’s upcoming, second-generation Blu-ray recorder (with hard drive storage) to be one of the first Freeview-approved DTRs to capitalise on the content protection rules using Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP), for USB/hard drive storage and home network sharing; and Advanced Access Content System (AACS), for Blu-ray recording.

When HD broadcasters like TVNZ or TV3 transmit content in 720p or 1080i, they will be able to “flag” the content, as required by the content providers, as “copy freely”, “copy once” or “copy never”.

“There will be different levels of flexibility,” Freeview’s technology manager Tim Diprose says. “It is unlikely that ‘copy never’ will be used. We would imagine that most shows would be set to ‘copy once’ allowing a copy to be burnt to Blu-ray in high definition but with AACS no further copies could be made from that disc.”

He says even if broadcasters don’t flag each programme, Freeview will ensure everything on a MyFreeview|HD EPG can be copied at least once.

The external storage breakthrough comes on the eve of Freeview celebrating its third anniversary.

About 60% of the country now receives digital FTA reception, via satellite or terrestrial, edging NZ ever closer to the 75% needed before a switch-over date is announced. — which could be as early as 2012 or as late as 2015, depending on whether Freeview can convince the Government to extend the terrestrial HD roll-out beyond the initial nine major centres.

Diprose says Freeview|HD via satellite isn’t feasible because there isn’t the capacity and it’s not cost-effective. “Once a terrestrial network is built, it’s cheaper to run because you’re not paying an overseas company for bandwidth. You can pipe it around via IP [Internet Protocol], over fibre, then broadcast it.”

IP offers exciting possibilities for Freeview|HD next year, when it will introduce the capability for streamed on-demand viewing using MHEG-5. MHEG-5 is a public standard interactive TV middleware that’s used here, in Britain and in Hong Kong, and has been specified for Australia, South Africa and Ireland.

“Everyone’s using the same technology, which means very little development for the manufacturers, so there’s almost no hardware cost in adding this to the product,” Diprose says.

“We’ve put that in our spec. As yet, none of the broadcasters has decided to build an application but that could be quite exciting for wide range of applications – catch-up TV, any content really …”

But for this to succeed, telcos will have to improve broadband speeds – Diprose estimates 1.5Mb/s for reasonable quality – and remove data caps or lower data costs.

As for 3DTV, “it’s not something we’re doing anything about but we’re keeping a keen eye on it,” Diprose says.

The Freeview|HD platform is capable of delivering 3D reception as BSkyB is doing in the UK, where the left and right images appear side by side on the screen. They’re full-height but squeezed up, until the 3D decoder syncs them to the viewer’s 3D glasses.

“It gives reduced resolution, so we’re following the developments closely on proper 3D, full HD broadcasting,” Diprose says.

“We would love to see something happen but the numbers would need to stack up for the broadcasters and at this stage that may be some years away.”

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