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Ninth stream testing on ITV/Channel 4 Freeview multiplex

updated The multiplex that carries ITV and Channel 4 on Freeview has been spotted testing a hidden ninth video stream across much of the UK, as part of technical changes to the multiplex encoders.

Freeview Tech News on Twitter reports that the service being tested is Film 4, giving rise to the possibility that Channel 4's movie channel might shortly be making the move to a new multiplex. Film 4 is currently broadcast via a commercial multiplex, with approximately 90% coverage. A switch to the ITV/Channel 4 multiplex would make the channel available to 98.5% of the UK's population, including all viewers receiving Freeview from a relay.

Film 4 already announced earlier this year that it was bringing back its timeshift service Film4+1 to Freeview. Speculatively, it is possible that Film 4+1 could take up the current bandwidth used by Film 4 if Film 4 switches multiplexes.

Until now, the multiplex has carried eight services: ITV (STV/UTV), ITV+1 (or STV/UTV+1), ITV2, Channel 4, Channel 4+1, More 4, E4 (S4C in Wales) and Channel 5.

As part of the changes to the ITV/Channel 4 multiplex - known in the trade as D3&4 or PSB2 - all TV channels have been upgraded to 720x576 resolution in tandem with the installation of new, more efficient encoders. Previously, some channels broadcast in 544x576 resolution. As a result, Freeview channels such as E4 and More 4 and S4C in Wales now appear slightly sharper than before.

The changes were first spotted in London. Now, the multiplex encoders have been upgraded across all of Southern England, Wales, the Midlands and Northern Ireland, with Northern England and Scotland being upgraded over the next few days.

D3&4 carried just 6 streams when Freeview launched in 2002. It has been able to carry eight streams since 2005, after a round of encoder upgrades allowed the ITV News Channel to make a temporary return to Freeview, having been booted off in late 2004 to free up a video stream for ITV3.  Extra capacity became available on D3&4 after the public service Teletext service closed in 2009 and ancillary text services closed at the beginning of this year.

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