Freesat has launched its next generation set-top box, effectively leapfrogging its terrestrial counterpart YouView through the use of a Broadcom chip two years newer.
At £279, free time comes in £20 cheaper than YouView, even though the two products share the same manufacturer in Humax. free time is built entirely on open standards including HTML5, OIPF and HbbTV. Boxes from Sagemcom, Philips and Manhattan will follow the Humax box that will be in retail by the end of the month.
The BBC-ITV owned platform is centering the new deployment around the free time EPG that provides access both to linear channels and the catch-up TV services of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
Speaking to Broadband TV News, Freesat managing director Emma Scott said 4oD and Demand 5 would be available before Christmas – Channel 4 is already running a promotional video – though Scott appeared less confident that the planned iOS and Android-based apps would make it before the holiday season.
“I went to DirecTV in the States and they had just launched their app. I was blown away by the concept. It is a magical moment when you see a non-traditional device being used as a remote control.”
Scott said there would be a short tail on the amount of available on demand services presented on the platform, some of which may be pay. “We’ve always indicated our interest in having pay services and that’s something that will launch in time. It is important that we offer optional choice.” She dismissed talk of Netflix joining the platform as “speculation”, adding Freesat was in discussion with a number of groups but there was no deal.
Freesat has adopted the latest version of the iPlayer (3.4), which ensures that when a viewer presses the backup button they are returned to the programme guide rather than the last piece of video watched.
In addition to a backwards EPG, free time also includes a ‘at a glance’ Now & Next view and a curated highlights section known as Showcase. Scott explained that viewer insight had formed an important part of what was previously known as project G2 and had begun some 18 months back. Linear navigation remains an essential part of the guide as viewers become educated in the latest trends.
The receiver has a 500 GB hard disk; although a LAN connection is required, Humax is separately introducing a Wi-Fi dongle that would bring with it wireless capability.
Scott would not be drawn on the relationship with YouView – Lord Sugar’s hybrid project backed by the BBC, ITV, Arqiva and ISPs BT and TalkTalk – but steered towards the manufacturers that had protested the UK was going it alone.
“We have great relationships with the manufacturers and they take the risk. I’ve had a number of them say you can’t create an island state. I listen, though I don’t always support everything they say. You’ve got to make sure they can at least pack the chassis [without our EPG] into another product.”
2.6 million Freesat receivers have been sold since launch.