Rules governing Freeview picture quality to be relaxed

Ofcom is consulting on whether or not the restrictions placed on Freeview broadcasters with regards picture quality can be relaxed.

The long-awaited move to change the terrestrial TV technical code, first mooted over a year ago, follows similar relaxations to the technical code governing DAB digital radio.

With no complaints received in the last three years about the quality of pictures on Freeview, Ofcom now proposes to drop the requirement that forces the main commercial channels including ITV and Channel 4 to broadcast their standard definition channels with a minimum resolution of 720x576 or 704x576 pixels. Other commercial channels on Freeview are already not bound by these rules, neither are services on satellite and cable platforms.

Ofcom stresses that despite these proposed changes, these channel operators will still be "subject to a requirement to demonstrate that they have procedures in place for maintaining high standards of technical quality, and Ofcom would retain the ability to investigate complaints or emerging issues relating to technical quality matters as necessary. "

Explaining the rationale behind the change, Ofcom said: "We believe that the PSB broadcasters are best-placed to make their own judgements about the picture quality they achieve on DTT, as they already do on other distribution platforms. While removing the resolution requirement will provide more consistency with these other distribution platforms, we expect that the PSBs will continue to be mindful of audience expectations of the quality their services."

The relaxation of the rules could allow additional standard definition channels to be launched on the ITV/Channel 4 Freeview multiplex, benefiting viewers in areas with a reduced line-up of Freeview channels, given the 98.5% coverage enjoyed by the multiplex, as it's possible to broadcast more channels on a multiplex if resolution is lower. These changes may come in handy when services are rearranged in the coming years as part of bigger changes to Freeview as services on the platform change frequency and migrates more services to the newer DVB-T2 standard used by Freeview HD and Freeview Play devices. HD services, which are being used by more and more viewers are unaffected by these changes.

Other proposed changes to technical requirements include adjusting transmitter fault reporting requirements and updating the technical code to remove references to analogue TV.

The consultation is available here and is open until 3rd June 2016.

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  1. I oppose this and any other relaxation of enforced picture and sound quality. All that will happen is ITV and C4 will reduce resolution, reduce bit rate, end up with a poorer picture, and then put another pointless channel on the mux as if there aren't enough pointless channels on Freeview already.

    I used to watch Agents of Shield on C4. It's now on E4 from series 3 onwards and the picture quality is so lacking that I'm watching downloads of it instead. Thus wasting both broadcast bandwidth broadcasting a crap picture, and internet bandwidth downloading the better copy that should have been broadcast in the first place.

    1. C4 and E4 both operate using the same resolution of 720x576 on Freeview and very similar ongoing bitrates. Unless you are comparing C4 HD with E4 SD, which is out of scope for this consultation.

      C4 HD is unaffected by the proposed changes and you already find E4 at 720x576 insufficient.

  2. With Freeview PQ at an appalling low already, im amazed OFCOM are not wanting atleast the PSB to maintain some level of quality enforced by a rule-set!
    Yet another damning reason why OFCOM needs serious reform!!
    Because with space at an absolute premium, it doesn't take a genius to workout the broadcasters WILL reduce the res to fit in more channels of shoddy quality for commercial gain!

  3. Ridiculous call by OFCOM. They shouldn't be doing anything that encourages more SD channels on the platform until a plan is finalised for switching more to HD and converting to DVB-T2.

  4. Great, and we all know how well the relaxation of the technical code governing DAB digital radio went...

  5. And their pushing 4K Tv's, what a joke!

  6. OFCOM your job should be to try and raise standards not push them to the bottom. Who decides that it is better to have 50 channels with terrible picture quality rather than 30 with a decent picture? With screen sizes increasing every year, the standards should be raised not lowered. I really don't understand it. Why is the maximum number of channels for both freeview and DAB always the driving factor? You don't need to be some kind of hi fi buff to expect a picture that is not pixilated and sound quality that doesn't sound like someone singing in the bath!