From faster channel change to in-home streaming, Freesat’s next set-top box will be equipped with the latest technology to address the most pressing consumer demands, says Matthew Huntington. 

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Freesat is all abuzz right now – we’ve just issued the RFP for a new set-top box for our next generation of consumer product.

We think this will give manufacturers a big opportunity to develop a new range of innovative set-top boxes at scale, for use by Freesat’s growing base of subscription-free satellite TV viewers across the UK.

We’ve based the RFP firmly on what consumers have been telling us they want, together with detailed analysis of trends in the market, and then further surveys and studies of consumers. We’re really excited that the process is now underway for creating our next generation box – which will allow us to further develop our offer of brilliant subscription free-content as well as the latest players and pay-as-you-go services.

The product requirements have been based on an open technical spec set by the Free TV Alliance, which is helping to create common standards for free-to-view satellite TV services and technologies across Europe. Using this spec underlines, of course, Freesat’s ongoing commitment to continue expanding beyond the UK, through our collaboration with the Free TV Alliance, and partnerships with international TV companies through our Metaphor business.

A key requirement for our new box is that it be UHD-ready and enabled for encrypted broadcast and IP. Consumer interest in UHD is strong, as can be seen from growing sales of UHD televisions. We think that while HD services have been broadcast free-to-air in the UK, free-to-view UHD services will require some form of content protection – so we’re asking both RFP respondents and content security providers for input into what’s needed.

We’re also asking RFP respondents to enable our next box for in-home multiscreen streaming, so consumers can watch TV across multiple set-top boxes in the home as easily as possible. We think that enabling service distribution within the home over IP and Wi-Fi will be an improvement over needing connectivity from each TV to the satellite dish.

Additional tuners is another requirement for our new box. We want to support in-home streaming while still delivering the PVR experience which consumers enjoy today, but this will require extra tuners so more TV channels can be processed by the STB at once.

Also, there is growing consumer demand to record more than two shows at once, and we want to cater for this. Looking at the market, the number of tuners provided by operators in the UK has been growing as PVR functionality has become more widely used.

We also want our new box to allow faster channel change, as we think consumers would welcome this improvement to usability. Speed of channel change on digital TV is a recognised challenge, but one advantage of increasing the number of tuners for recordings is that they can also be used for other purposes, such as improving channel change speed.

A further requirement for our new box is that we want it to support HbbTV 2.0.1 applications – as across Europe and in the UK the key standard for on-demand and catch-up application is HbbTV. Using HbbTV will support greater interoperability of applications across devices, particularly for more complex areas of integration such as digital rights management, while opening up new service opportunities such as addressable advertising.

Taken together these requirements are very much about creating a new set-top box that very much has the customer in mind, as we continue to bring UK audiences the best subscription-free TV service and a fantastic alternative to pay TV. We’re expecting to announce manufacturing partners in the autumn, with a view to bringing our next generation set top box to market as soon as possible.

Matthew Huntington is Chief Technology Officer at Freesat