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Next-gen Freeview telly won't be another disruptive 4Ker

Freeview Play finally breaks cover, but it’s left playing catch-up

Fashionably late

The Freeview Play specification was signed-off last autumn, and made available to potential partners in November. At its heart is the DTG D-Book and the HbbTV 2.0 (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV) standard. “This recognises the advantage for manufacturers in being able to develop their own innovations on the back of the central standard,” says Ilse Howling, MD of Connected TV at Digital UK, the group responsible for the development of DTT in the UK.

Howling confirmed that Panasonic would be the first brand to launch enabled TVs, with Humax providing set top boxes. OEM TV goliath Vestel will produce sets shortly thereafter.

Freeview Play

Catch Up TV on Freeview Play

The central metadata system powering Freeview Play has been developed by Arqiva. This is in the final stages of production and testing, says Howling.

At first sight, the Freeview Play user interface looks much like that of the familar Freeview EPG. But there are actually two key differences. A subtle Catch-up button takes the viewer through to the four catch-up services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5), which sit atop the regular EPG.

“We’re expecting additional Players from other Freeview channels to come on in due course,” notes Howling. There’s also a seven-day roll back EPG, which reveals what you’ve missed from those channels offering an on-demand service.

Freeview Play

Catch Up EPG shows past programming

There’s no doubt that Freeview Play is late to the Smart TV party. But it seems there are still plenty of consumers yet twig the benefits of a connected viewing experience.

During its CollaborVation session, market analysts Futuresource Consulting revealed that (only) 31 per cent of UK homes now have a connected TV, and just 68 per cent per cent of them connect “multiple” times a week. 62 per cent use a catch-up service at least once a week while 35 per cent use an SVOD service, such as Netflix. While the trend to increased connectivity is clear, there’s plenty still to play for.

Interestingly, despite a plethora of recording technologies and streaming options, live TV remains the most popular way of consuming TV, with 59 per cent of us saying it’s our prime source of viewing. More people watch shows time shifted on their PVRs than stream from catch-up services.

Freeview Play

Freeview Play expected in July

While Howling refused to commit to a launch date for Freeview Play, my chums at Panasonic said they expect the service to go live in July – not least because that’s when Freeview is scheduled to unfurl its biggest advertising campaign to date. Panasonic has five Freeview Play TVs ready to launch, sitting at the higher end of its range (up to and including 4K models).

Seasoned TV technologists will probably be underwhelmed by Freeview Play. I suspect the Man on the Clapham omnibus is going to love it. This is connected TV made simple, and then made simpler still. All of which makes Freeview Play pretty clever when you think about it. ®

Steve May is a veteran AV journalist and senior editor at Inside CI.

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