back to article BBC Freesat tech switch zaps HD channels from 'old' boxes

The BBC has annoyed some early Freesat supporters by switching the technology used to broadcast its HD channels over the free-to-air satellite service. Today, the Corporation shifted BBC One HD and BBC HD from DVB-S to DVB-S2. If your Freesat box supports the latter - and many recent ones do - the worst you'll experience is an …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Great Digital Disaster

    It appears that you should aim to be the last adopter of this wonderful digital disaster. I made the mistake of being an early adopter when Freeview first came out and the boxes were fairly cheap but rather short lived remember SetPal?

    Since then the disasters have kept on rolling in.

    Perhaps HD might be worth considering, one day, but at this rate not in my lifetime, (I still have the headache that I developed seeing early HD test transmissions back in the 1990s! It appears that the headaches have moved from the head firmly into the wallet.

    1. prefect42

      These are non-adopters

      These people are complaining that non-Freesat HD compliant kit can't display Freesat HD content. There really isn't a case to answer here. The Humax you bought at the end of 2008 will merrily work just fine with DVB-S2. This really isn't hitting the early adopters.

      1. DrXym Silver badge


        I expect the only people who'll be burnt are those using non-Freesat branded kit or tuners. People with DVB-S PC cards for example who can extract FTA content from a dish and play it through their PC.

        DVB-S2 is a core feature of Freesat, not some kind of edge case and should work. I could understand if there were issues requiring a firmware update, but that's about the extent of the damage.

        Personally I think Sky & Freesat need to go a step further and declare an end of life for all existing listed DVB-S / MPEG-2 channels. Make it a generous end of life, e.g. 5 years say and another year to complete switchover. But at the end of the process all channels should be using DVB-S2 and AVC + AAC/AC3. It would free up a pile of space which could be used for more channels or for more HD content.

  2. prefect42

    That's why there's a specification

    If you don't meet the spec, you might not be able to see the content. DVB-S2 was always part of the spec. It's a better encoding that'll either fit more channels in, or give the option of higher bitrate for existing channels. Don't hold back the technology because some kit is broken or non-compliant.

    DVB-S tuners were cheap and DVB-S2 ones were not when I looked, so I bought neither. My FOXSAT HDR works just fine with S2. They've made noises (clearing out that group so they could move it to S2) along these lines for months and months, so it's really not like there's been no warning. People who want lots of HD content should be a fan of the change. People who are not shouldn't really mind losing the HD content...

  3. JDX Gold badge

    Shock News: Technology isn't static

    Who might have guessed it.

    1. prefect42

      even worse

      This is a technological change they'd planned and documented when they introduced Freesat HD...

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Who might have guessed it

      Anyone looking at the length of time between the launch of BBC Colour and ITV Digital might have expected the new technology to last a similar length of time.

  4. Giddy Kipper


    On some Panasonic Freesat TVs, Auto retune does not get the updated

    BBC HD channels. You have to set the TV to shipping condition then

    switch off then switch on. After retune, the two BBC HD channels appear.

    (Thanks to John Beniston for pointing this out.)

    If you have any other kind of satellite receiver, you will need to

    check that it is capable of receiving a DVB-S2 signal. If it can,

    then you can use the following parameters to tune manually into the

    services carried:

    Satellite: Astra 2D tp.50

    Frequency: 10,847MHz (vertical polarity)

    Modulation: DVB-S2, QPSK

    Symbol Rate: 23.0

    FEC: 8/9

    (Thanks to Denis Martindale for digging out this info.)

  5. Paul Shirley

    Most of us assumed it already used S2

    Big non story, I hadn't even realised they were using DVB-S for HD, since all the noise at launch time was about S2. I suspect only a few folk noticed it wasn't S2.

  6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Off topic...

    I just followed the link to the BBC blog, only to see that they in turn were linking back to

  7. Bob H


    If you have a receiver that can't get S2 then it can't be called a Freesat receiver, along with a host of other requirements which make the experience of watching satellite easy for consumers. If you've bought equipment which is substandard, perhaps to save a few pennies, then that is money spent unwisely. I was long suggested that the BBC might move to S2, I saw many people on the forums debating how they should spend their pennies and a few have now been stung.

    There is no 'freesat' equipment in the market that can't get BBC HD because the BBC doesn't make changes which adversely affect a population of recognised and standardised products. Simples.

  8. RachelG

    minor annoyances

    1: proofread your articles! :-P "Their set-tops don't support DVB-S." and "Some Sky HD users have been affected to," not what we expect of this august publication. ;-)

    2: My 2008-vintage Panasonic Viera freesat tv - one of the first freesat-enabled tvs available I think - just needed a retune and was fine.

    3: However, I had more problems with Elgato's EyeTV Sat and EyeTV Sat Netstream; both of which, on the retune, failed to pick up the new channels at all, despite certainly being able to work with DVB-S2 (eg: no problem with Channel 4 HD or ITV1 HD which both use that). However, entering the manual tuning information in the BBC HD post into the "Manually add channel" dialog worked just fine. So only a momentary hiccup there, but I'd guess there may be some other devices out there - probably sharing a chipset with Elgato's kit - that may have the same problem during autotune.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    for once...

    My panasonic freesat telly, one of the very first models with a built-in decoder actually works with BBC HD (now I've done a reset to shipping condition).

    Maybe panasonic will get iPlayer working as promised in September!

    1. David Adams
      Thumb Down

      Not promised

      From my Panasonic email - "However, I would stress that the above product was supplied to the market to satisfy a demand for HD content availability via Freesat and has successfully provided this. It was also always intended, albeit not promised, that Panasonic would make best endeavours to provide additional features and functions if possible.

      It is important to note that such additional features did not form part of any contractual obligation with third parties such as Freesat, or indeed the defined specification of the product ... Currently, we anticipate the provision of an upgrade for BBC iPlayer in September 2011. However, as always, this is subject to the testing required to ensure that it will not be detrimental to the product specification. "

      Which means it may never happen.

  10. Scott Mckenzie

    Computer Cards

    Not many cards available via USB, PCI etc that live in computers, either Mac or Windows support DVB-S2

    So that's a huge market screwed!

    1. John Sager

      Bought one 4 years ago

      S2 PCI cards weren't that hard to find even then. A quick Google just now threw up Hauppauge, Technisat & Terratec cards immediately for well less than £100. Dual tuner ones available too.

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Sounds like this will be the stimulus then

      I'm not sure why the BBC should find itself beholden to a minority of viewers coming in through unbranded satellite receivers. Sky and Freesat probably represent > 99% of users anyway. There was no obligation on them to stick with DVB-S and when they gain 30% of extra space, the reason for switching is compelling.

      You will still be able to watch SD channels for a long time to come thanks to the preponderance of old Sky boxes. It would be nice if they would circle a date to end of life DVB-S though. It's pretty stupid that the BBC has to occupy 2 slots to broadcast the same signal in HD and SD. Freesat and Sky should drop the SD only boxes so that all of them support S2, AVC & AAC and use upscaling / downscaling to serve any kind of TV. Then calculate a sensible switchover date based on natural attrition of older boxes.

  11. Peter Ford

    Good thing Dr Who has finished for a while

    I got a cheap satellite kit (primarily to see if BBC HD was worth bothering with), and although I haven't checked yet, I suspect it won't do DVB-S2.

    I'm not too bothered: I was considering getting some sort of FreeSat PVR soon anyway, and at least Dr Who is not on until Autumn now. Plenty of time to get something better :)

    1. Peter Ford


      Checked it last night, and I had to rescan the satellite to get the channels, but I've still got BBC HD channels, and Channel 4HD, so I guess my kit is OK...

  12. Mage Silver badge

    Get the facts right.

    "Freesat HD" gear that can't do DVB-S2 isn't compliant. over four years ago I bought DVB-S2 sat cards for HD, because ALL HD was going to be MPEG4 H.264 L4 DVB-S2.

    "Freesat" (non-HD) gear can't do HD no matter if it's on DVB-S or DVB-S2.

    Unscrupulous dealers, makers and wholesalers is the problem. Not the BBC.

    C4 HD was already DVB-S2.

  13. RachelG


    Just reading the comments on that bbc blog post. Lots of people having trouble finding the new channels on their early freesat panasonics. I just wondered if it worked for me because, being a computery sort of person, I routinely apply firmware updates...

  14. Mike Richards Silver badge

    'We put this on our blog'

    To be fair here, the BBC is blameless it's the set-top box people who might have to start forking out money for disgruntled customers now their boxes are not fit for purpose.

    BUT this excuse that a message on a web site amounts to a notification to customers doesn't really stick - but it's catching on with all sorts of companies. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I don't obsessively follow every company I deal with to find out what they're up to.

    It's the modern equivalent of putting the note on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.

  15. Blue eyed boy

    I know what Auntie can do with the freed-up space.

    Get BBC1 (note the absence of a country suffix) back to Wales. It hasn't been seen here since the 405 line service closed, only BBC1 Wales (then known as BBC Wales since nobody did any mucking about with BBC2 at the time) made it to the 625 line standard.

  16. karl 15


    My old foxsat hd get's the bbc s2 hd np, but it can't pickup c4 hd :?

  17. Grail

    A few Clarifications...

    1. You do not have to have a Freesat HD box to receive BBC HD Channels. Other HD receivers and PC cards work for the unencrypted service and the BBC have accepted this. It is, AFAIK, only Freesat HD systems that need to have DVB-S2 - not Freesat or Sky+ non-HD systems.

    2. BBC One HD and BBC HD together with unencrypted ITV HD and NHK World HD transmitted until last weekend using DVB-S. Unencrypted CH4 HD was the only one using DVB-S2. I believe all encrypted HD did use DVB-S2.

    3. The BBC did have a Statement of Direction about migrating to DVB-S2 but no date was given. The BBC announced the switch on Thursday evening to be taking place early Monday morning - leaving 1 working day to make any changes required.

    4. Although the BBC allegedly worked with Freesat and BskyB prior to the switch there was, apparently, no formal testing and some manufacturers were unaware of the change was taking place.

    5. As well as us poor sods who had DVB-S PC Cards and were planning to upgrade when needed; it was a some, not all, of Freesat kit that did not work with the "novel" parameters that the BBC had chosen.

    6. Whilst the DVB-S to DVB-S2 switch was made to increase capacity, the reason for the sudden implementation has not been announced yet. It was allegedly done to free up capacity for an experimental Wimbledon 3D service - later (I guess) to be used for 3D with the 2012 Olympics.

    The BBC needs to have much better notification of and testing of changes - perhaps providing overnight testing for vendors. If they are making changes that makes kit obsolete then they should give sufficient notice (perhaps 6 months) to allow people to make necessary changes. An undated Statement of Direction is not acceptable.

    For all of you in IT, the concepts of change management (user notification and signoff); user acceptance testing; system testing; alpha and beta test seem to have been totally ignored.

    This is the third such badly implemented change by the BBC affecting HD service. We had the halving of the BBC HD bit rate and new encoders in 2009. Last month they introduced dynamic 1080i<>1080p switching on Freeview which caused audio dropout on some TVs.

    I won't go into all the details of why I had to use DVB-S (rather than DVB-S2) when I built my Media Center PC in 2008, or what my plans had been for migration to DVB-S2 and how they have been scuppered by this change, but if you are interested head over to the Digital Spy Forums.

    I'm very pleased for all those who did not have problems with the change and kindly told us all about it!

    1. James Hughes 1


      But you seem to be blaming the BBC for your buying of a non-Freesat standard card. From what I have read, S2 is part of the freesat spec, your card doesn't do it, so why should you expect the BBC to be alpha, beta whatever testing of cards that don't meet the spec?

      I may have misread you post of course....

      1. Grail

        S2 for HD


        DVB-S2 is part of the Freeview HD spec, but until now they were using DVB-S successfully.

        The BBC did have a SOD saying they were going to switch HD to DVB-S2 in the future, but they never announced a date so that we could have a chance to purchase replacement hardware/software/receivers at a suitable time.

        Instead that just gave 1 working days annoucement via a blog which is just totally insufficient.

  18. Anonymous Coward


    I don't think the BBC can be blamed for switching to DVB-S2, but they can be blamed for only giving 4 days notice about it. At least they left it until after the first run of Doctor Who series 6 had completed. It's now a question of what will be done with the extra bitrate. Whose money is on them adding 2 more HD channels so all current SD BBC channels have HD equivalents rather than them increasing the resolution or bitrate? Do we really need a HD BBC4? It's probably one for the future in their minds.

    I'm glad I purchased a DVB-S2 dual tuner PC card.

    The Reg story contained an error, it should of said DVB-S2 rather than DVB-S at one point in the article.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Need DVB-S2 PCI Express card

    I can thoroughly recommend products from TurboSight see:

    They work well under liunx and windows.

    1. Anonymous John

      Re Need DVB-S2 PCI Express card

      I'm still waiting for one that officially supports the Freesat EPG though. I thought one would have arrived by now.

      I know there are some unofficial solutions but I don't need to switch to digital until next year.

      1. Jon Press

        EPG isn't a hardware issue... (@anon john)

        Availability of the Freesat EPG isn't an issue of hardware support it's a software/legal problem. The EPG is compressed in a half-hearted attempt at DRM - you're supposed to sign an agreement with Freesat to get the magic information to allow your software to uncompress it and that agreement simultaneously obliges you to respect the content management flags in the broadcast stream (disabling recording or the export of recordings to other devices).

        Manufacturers of generic DVB-S2 cards generally aren't going to see the point of doing that.

        1. Anonymous John

          I know.

          But a PC based PVR is my preferred solution. Freesat EPG software out of the box would be useful.

  20. bill 36

    does it matter?

    There must be many people who own "HD ready" sets that will never notice the difference anyway.

    Mine is full HD with HDMI connection, 5ms refresh, and the quality difference is noticeable but barely worth the effort. ITV HD "appears" to be better. Scaling?

    Channel 4 HD i love because its on a transponder that sprays all over Europe and does not become marginal or non existent when my dish gets wet.

    Playing Blu Ray dvd on the other hand is superb!

  21. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    In other news,

    BBC Scotland Freeview viewers from today (5pm launch, tomorrow not sure) have a new full Gaelic-language service, and nearly no "radio" reception any more (Radio 4 Extra and such) while that's on. Drat!

  22. Matthew Collier
    Thumb Down

    Nothing wrong with S2... has beeb said, it's part of the Freesat HD spec, but the stupidly short notice, on a Blog only, is crap! Not only did I not know about the change, but having an "older" Panasonic Freesat HD TV, I just got No Signal messages on the BBC channels.

    Of course if they had actually planned the release, they could have made announcements on the channels in question in the run up, warning people of the upcoming changes, and what actions they might have to take (a channel rescan in my case did nothing, I am also already on the latest firmware. I had to find via the 'net, that I needed to do a full factory reset (and spend ages putting all my settings and added non-Freesat channels back in)).

    BBC, I am a supporter, but you are your own worst enemy these days! :(

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