Exactly what is Freeview HD? Freeview is the direction New Zealand broadcast is taking for its free to air channels - those channels you can receive on any TV without having to subscribe to a service. Freeview launched sometime ago as a sattelite (DVB-S) service covering most of the country.
But now it is coming with a "terrestrial" version (DVB-T) which will be initially available in the major centres and brings an even bigger change: high definition (HD) broadcasting.
The service has been in test mode for a few months and you can now buy the set top boxes from major retail stores. The first HD programmes shown in New Zealand was Boston Legal, on TV3. Other TV shows will be coming in this format, and soon some local content will be producted in HD.
What do you need for Freeview | HD? First you will need a receiver. It can be a set top box you buy from retails stores, or a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) with appropriate hardware and software.
You only need a HD TV if you want to see the HD content in full glory - in practice any existingTV will work and show HD shows in standard definition. In the future TV sets will come ready for Freeview | HD so you won't need an external set top box.
As for HTPCs, a warning! Not every "Home Theatre PC" will work 100% and not all those DVB-T cards and USB sticks in retail and auction sites will work without appropriate software.
For HTPCs you will need a state of the art rig, including a good video card, fast CPU and plenty of memory. The video card is an important piece of this, because the best ones will process the decoding on its own hardware, freeing up the computer's CPU for other tasks. If you don't have this combination you might have stuttering sound, synchronisation problems or poor picture quality.
You will also need software and codecs. The software that successfully captured Freeview | HD so far is GB-PVR (free), Media Portal (free) and dvbviewer. These are all for Microsoft Windows and at the moment we don't know of any software for Mac OS that can work with the local DVB-T flavour.
When you buy a DVB-T card or USB stick you should have in mind that most of those don't come with the software needed and you might have to purchase some software to use it. Don't trust people that say the card is 100% DVB-T compatible. It might be compatible with the DVB-T and HD flavour used in the UK or France, or Hong Kong, but the New Zealand service is so new many (if not most) of these cards don't have the software to support this, yet.
Today is the official Freeview HD launch in New Zealand. I will be attending the event (thanks Throng!) and will have the opportunity to get even more information about the service.
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