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Freeview EPG won't be compatible with current TVs

Freeview will be coming to a television near you from March this year, but the organisation's head has said that you may need to buy a new TV to get the most out of it.

Freeview will be coming to a television near you from March this year, but the organisation's head has said that you may need to buy a new TV to get the most out of it.

A Freeview education campaign is due to launch on all channels in the next couple of weeks, but Freeview CEO Robin Parkes said that the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) due to launch at the end of 2009 would not work with existing televisions: "It's not backwards compatible".

Parkes said Freeview was in talks with equipment manufacturers to have "co-branded equipment" available from April onwards to indicate which would be compatible with the new service and the EPG.

If customers have equipment that can receive digital broadcasts now then it will continue to work once the service goes live, said Parkes.

LG's category manager of TV, Warren Kim, said it was possible that current TVs could be upgraded to receive the new EPG via firmware. He also said Freeview hadn't spoken to him about specifications. "We'd prefer if they made comments after speaking to us. We have a lot of customers approach us and ask if we're compatible with Freeview and we can't say."

He said while some of the smaller players in the market could be able to offer Freeview-branded products by April, LG may miss the deadline as its new range of televisions (due in May) are already in production.

Freeview is the new catch-all term for digital television in Australia, and will boast 15 channels in metropolitan areas, most of which have been broadcasting for some time, with new channels such as Ten's ONE HD set to broadcast in the coming weeks.

Each metropolitan channel — ABC, Seven, Nine, Ten and SBS — will offer three channels each: two standard-definition channels and a high-definition channel, with the opportunity to offer different content on each.

"The channels will start rolling out with the new content from March through to June. It will be a progressive launch every couple of weeks with a new channel," Parkes said.

Controversially, Ten will convert its existing Ten HD channel to ONE HD in March and lose all of its current non-sports HD content, and instead broadcast it in SD. The third channel will be an SD broadcast of the ONE channel.

Parkes said the enigmatic campaign designed to promote Freeview wasn't well-received by the general public.

"It has caused some confusion and concern. We just wanted to let everyone know that it was coming, it's something we're working on. Those ads have now finished. They were just to say: 'Stay tuned, something's coming'."

LG's Kim agreed that the lack of information could be confusing for people unsure of what Freeview was and when it would be available: "There hasn't been much of a roadmap for customers apart from marketing hype".

However, Parkes said that a new campaign is about to start that should allay some customers' concerns:
"In the next few weeks, once we start finalising what date the product will be in-store with the manufacturers, then we're running a new campaign which will be much more educational about what you have to do, what you have to have to get it and how you'll get the channels."

In July 2007, the commercial stations announced the first free EPG, which is still in effect, and in some cases also required new equipment to operate.