Why aren't Freeview boxes improving?

dynamic turtle

Novice Member
Hi there,

Just wondering, its been a few years since I purchased my first freeview box (the Pioneer DBR-TF100GB) and was wondering why it had not been supercedeed by something with more advanced video dacs, faster channel switching and improved features etc. The other highly regarded freeview box, the Sony D800U (or something) has also been around for a while now and hasn't been superceeded either (afaik).

So I'm just wondering why this level of "stagnation" is the case. Why aren't they being updated every year like dvd players, with faster processors and more ram and better PQ?

Is it becasue the manufacturers at this end of the market are more interested in providing higher feature count (ie hdd, twin tuners) than developing something that does freeview only, but to a higher standard?

I mean, this sort of thing happened to dvd players. In five years my £300 Sony NS300 with its non-PS, 10-bit 27mhz dac looks extremely crusty compared to a £50 argos jobby. Why aren't Freeview boxes subject to this rampant evolution?

I wouldn't mind paying £200-£250 for a high quality freeview unit, engineered and optimised for that purpose only - not interested in hdd recording or twin tuners etc. Any ideas?

Cheers,
DT
 

maldonian

Novice Member
Perhaps they are concentrating their development effort on integrating digital tuners into their TVs and recorders. In the grand scheme of things Freeview STBs will only be a temporary phenomenon, and the majority will be cheap units.
 

Starburst

Novice Member
dynamic turtle said:
I wouldn't mind paying £200-£250 for a high quality freeview unit, engineered and optimised for that purpose only - not interested in hdd recording or twin tuners etc. Any ideas?

Cheers,
DT




Alas the majority of the potential DTT customers both new and existing would not be prepared to pay that sort of money for a receiver which would only ever be fed over compressed video:)

The actual hardware development in regards to the twin tuner DVR solution is the logical development and probably more attractive to the masses than paying a similar amount for having a digital output, upscaling etc.

Freeview is cheap, that is it's big plus point.
 

PhilipL

Member
Hi

Alas the majority of the potential DTT customers both new and existing would not be prepared to pay that sort of money for a receiver which would only ever be fed over compressed video
Agreed, it is price that is the driving force. Also there is little that can be improved picture quality wise as decoding MPEG2 is easy, it was designed that way so that hardware costs would be less and easier to make, with the real effort and processing power going into encoding.

The Sony box is as good as it gets at around £90 for a basic freeview box, hard to image anyone could really improve on what that offers.

It's also quite nice buying something knowing it isn't out of date 2 months later!

Regards

Phil
 

dynamic turtle

Novice Member
PhilipL said:
Hi



Agreed, it is price that is the driving force. Also there is little that can be improved picture quality wise as decoding MPEG2 is easy, it was designed that way so that hardware costs would be less and easier to make, with the real effort and processing power going into encoding.

The Sony box is as good as it gets at around £90 for a basic freeview box, hard to image anyone could really improve on what that offers.

It's also quite nice buying something knowing it isn't out of date 2 months later!

Regards

Phil
OK, fair points there. I was just expecting freeview to be subject to the eternal laws of AV - I.e. ever increasing performance for ever lower prices. Well, it appears the prices of freeview boxes are falling, but the PQ has reached a plateau.

I'm also surprised that given the number of AV manufacturers in this world, that at least one would be offering an upmarket/videophile box by now. :(

And I do think there is massive room for improvement. MPEG2 may be "easy to decode/process" but every time I watch a fast action scene I see massive pixelation as the video dacs struggle to keep up. The effect is poor on a 32inch wega, let alone on a 50 inch plasma!

I think there really is a gap in the market that needs to be exploited. Also, manufacturers would do well to freeview boxes external - better revenue prospects from selling upgrades and "better" boxes every three years.... just like dvd players ;)

DT
 

gavan

Novice Member
dynamic turtle said:
OK, fair points there. I was just expecting freeview to be subject to the eternal laws of AV - I.e. ever increasing performance for ever lower prices. Well, it appears the prices of freeview boxes are falling, but the PQ has reached a plateau.

I'm also surprised that given the number of AV manufacturers in this world, that at least one would be offering an upmarket/videophile box by now. :(

And I do think there is massive room for improvement. MPEG2 may be "easy to decode/process" but every time I watch a fast action scene I see massive pixelation as the video dacs struggle to keep up. The effect is poor on a 32inch wega, let alone on a 50 inch plasma!

I think there really is a gap in the market that needs to be exploited. Also, manufacturers would do well to freeview boxes external - better revenue prospects from selling upgrades and "better" boxes every three years.... just like dvd players ;)

DT

As pointed out by another poster, the market for a hi-end box has got to be limited. The real money is in shipping out boxes to the masses wanting to make their telly get the digital channels. Plus, there isn't much that will make the general population rush out and junk their old box for.

What can the manufacturers offer that makes someone want to spend money on replacing a working Freeview box? PVRs are the only things that people are likely to want to upgrade to and there's a growing market for them.

Eventually digital tuners will be integral parts of flat screen devices like LCDs and plasmas and external tuner boxes will be a moot point anyway.


As for the problems you see when there's lots of movement - this is inherent with having too low a bitrate availalbe for encoding. It happens a lot on the DSAT channels too and even on some DVDs.

You don't see it on most DVDs because there is plenty of capacity there to support a good bitrate and the encoding process is done with much more care. ie. It doesn't have to be encoded real-time with a varying amount of available bandwidth as a result of statistical multiplexing.


Gav
 

dynamic turtle

Novice Member
I'm sure the sometimes poor PQ with freeview is as much to do with the encoding/bandwith side of things as you say.

Also, when IDTV's become the standard, what will the manufactuere be more concerned about, improving display quality or improving decoder technology? Given that signal quality & encoding is mostly "out of their hands", so to speak, I'm guessing the former?

I mean, how often dis you ever see a CRT advert/specs waxing lyrical about the quality of the onboard tuner? Never - its all about the latest "pixelplus" b*llocks :(

DT
 

unique

Moderator
i would have thought if someone wanted better quality picture and money wasnt such a hurdle that they would get cable tv or sky instead of free to air, whilst freeview is the cheap option of getting additional channels, with the cheapness/freeness being the main point. you can get freeview boxes for £25/£30 easily. it's normally the ariel/reception that dictates the quality of picture
 

gavan

Novice Member
unique said:
i would have thought if someone wanted better quality picture and money wasnt such a hurdle that they would get cable tv or sky instead of free to air, whilst freeview is the cheap option of getting additional channels, with the cheapness/freeness being the main point. you can get freeview boxes for £25/£30 easily. it's normally the ariel/reception that dictates the quality of picture

Sky isn't exactly a benchmark for quality either - some channels can look good but many are horribly over-compressed. In terms of the main 5 terrestrials, they look as good to me on Freeview.


Gav
 

maldonian

Novice Member
PVRs are the only things that people are likely to want to upgrade to and there's a growing market for them.
The window of opportunity for PVRs may not be much longer than it is for STBs if TV manufacturers start putting HDDs in mid-range TVs.

Sky isn't exactly a benchmark for quality either - some channels can look good but many are horribly over-compressed.
In addition to compression artefacts, I find contouring, caused by insufficient quantizing levels, can be quite distracting, and the plastic look of flesh tones can be too (but this may be caused by too much coring in the originating equipment).

But the thing I find most distracting of all has nothing to do with digital artefacts. It's the current fad for shaky and constantly moving cameras. I can't watch some programmes because of this.
 

PhilipL

Member
Hi

And I do think there is massive room for improvement. MPEG2 may be "easy to decode/process" but every time I watch a fast action scene I see massive pixelation as the video dacs struggle to keep up. The effect is poor on a 32inch wega, let alone on a 50 inch plasma!
That problem isn't to do with decoding, it is the encoding that introduces that. Freeview has quite a low data rate (quantity versus quality) and uses constant bit rate rather than variable so fast moving camera pans, complicated scenes or scenes with lots of movement means the encoder simply doesn't have enough data to encode it and all detail gets stripped off and replaced by large blocks. The decoder can't but back in what isn't there in the first place. Also Freeview was designed with 20" CRT TVs in mind and not 50" large screen TVs we have now and is already a technology that is out of date, and the rumour is a second switch off when everyone will have to move to MPEG4 and replace all their tuners again!

The only thing some Freeview boxes can add are noise reduction circuits that work by blurring the artefacts so you can't see the blocking, only a blur instead, but most LCD/Plasmas have these filters built in anyway.

I completely agree it is horrible to watch, but this can not be improved by the decoder, the only thing you can do is complain to the BBC and the Government.

If they took away the shopping channels, the channels that just repeat everything one hour later, the TopUpTV channels that offer poor value for money, and left us with say 8-10 channels they could up the bit-rates and quality will be super.

Regards

Phil
 

dynamic turtle

Novice Member
PhilipL said:
Hi



That problem isn't to do with decoding, it is the encoding that introduces that. Freeview has quite a low data rate (quantity versus quality) and uses constant bit rate rather than variable so fast moving camera pans, complicated scenes or scenes with lots of movement means the encoder simply doesn't have enough data to encode it and all detail gets stripped off and replaced by large blocks. The decoder can't but back in what isn't there in the first place. Also Freeview was designed with 20" CRT TVs in mind and not 50" large screen TVs we have now and is already a technology that is out of date, and the rumour is a second switch off when everyone will have to move to MPEG4 and replace all their tuners again!

Phil

Interesting Philip. Sad to hear the pixelation/blocking is an encoding/compression issue! Bloody typical!

I assume by mpeg4 you mean hi-def? Are they really plan this for terrestrial tv?? Wow! Believe it when I see it though.....
 

PhilipL

Member
Hi

I assume by mpeg4 you mean hi-def? Are they really plan this for terrestrial tv?? Wow! Believe it when I see it though.....
Can be standard or high definition. If they were designing the digital system now they would be using MPEG4. Of course that doesn't mean better quality necessarily and even high definition will like suffer the same blocking on complicated scenes. MPEG4 just means they can fit more into the same space. It could be used to give us 100 channels at the same quality level we get now rather than the existing 30 at much improved quality for example.

Regards

Phil
 

Starburst

Novice Member
dynamic turtle said:
I assume by mpeg4 you mean hi-def? Are they really plan this for terrestrial tv?? Wow! Believe it when I see it though.....




In time a mpeg4 based box will be as cheap as the current mpeg2 units so it's not out the question that mpeg4 products will be phased in over time and since they are backwards compatible with mpeg2 there should be no problems.
Of course a product or service on DTT that requires mpeg4 would hasten this process, perhaps a TUTV replacement (is such a thing ever existed) but more likely new channels come analogue switch off.

However given the mpeg2 userbase it's unlikely that the major broadcasters would not abandon mpeg2 on DTT (or Dsat) without major investment from some other body, the economics of a swap over would not make sense:)
 

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