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End of iPlayer support signals the end for first-gen Freesat

The BBC's decision to discontinue iPlayer support for older Freesat receivers has signalled the end for first generation Freesat receivers.

It comes four years after Freesat introduced a new range of set-top-boxes under the "Freetime" brand, which integrates catch-up services with free-to-air satellite TV using newer HbbTV technology. The boxes subsequently received updates allowing them to access new services such as Red Button+ and Netflix. 

Now it has been confirmed that from the end of September, coinciding with the ending of support for the iPlayer, it won't be possible to officially buy any first generation Freesat boxes in the shops, which means all new Freesat boxes will support HD and connected TV by default.

During the course of 2016, Freesat has dropped specific reference to Freetime in its communications, indicating that the company already views Freetime as the default receiver type and not requiring a sub-brand.

The BBC contacted manufacturers in late 2015 advising them of their intention to drop the version of iPlayer that relied on older MHEG technology from the end of September 2016. A major Freesat box manufacturer affected by the change told a516digital earlier this year that despite tens of thousands of receivers sold, BBC figures supplied to them confirmed only a few hundred of the receivers were actually being used to connect to the iPlayer. Upon learning of the changes, it added labels on remaining stock advising buyers of the imminent change and alerted retailers about the end of iPlayer support. 

However, the manufacturer told a516digital that most users they had been in touch with were understanding, realising that the manufacturer had ultimately little control over what broadcasters offered via the platform.

Since 2014, the BBC has been rapidly withdrawing support for what was a fragmented base with different versions of the iPlayer on different TVs and boxes in favour of a one simplified method of delivery, where new functions can be added across all supported devices. This has resulted in many first generation smart TVs and boxes losing the iPlayer. Older MHEG-based devices lack the ability to be upgraded to HbbTV in order to restore support.

First generation Freesat boxes were among those supplied to households during the digital switchover as part of the Help Scheme to eligible households in areas where terrestrial TV reception was poor. Affected Freesat boxes can continue to be used to receive free-to-air satellite TV services, but won't have any new features added. Ultimately, viewers are being encouraged to upgrade to newer devices.

Freesat isn't alone in making changes: Sky wants to phase out older standard definition only Sky boxes and all Freeview receivers will need to support HD and connected TV in order to display the Freeview logo, in a phased roll-out that completes next year.