Cast 109 (Mar 15)
Freeview boxes destined for landfill
250,000 Freeview boxes obsolete by July & August 2008.
At the start of 2008, during an upgrade to the Freeview transmitter serving the West Midlands, a number of Freeview set-top boxes stopped working.
After investigation, it was uncovered that Freeview boxes made by Bush, Daewoo, Labgear, Portland and Triax were unable to receive Freeview following this transmitter update. As a result, from the 28th of May 2008, households served by the Sutton Coldfield transmitter that owned one of these boxes, found they were left with a broken set-top box.
Since then, we started getting reports of these Freeview boxes "going dark" all across the UK, as the transmitter update has been rolled out to other regions, with the last round of updates completed in early August 2008.
Nov 2008: Faulty Freeview - story featured on BBC Watchdog. More
Which boxes are affected?
We understand that the following Freeview set-top boxes stopped working in 2008:
- Bush IDVCR01 - set-top box and video recorder
- Daewoo DS608P - set-top box
- Daewoo Sv900 - set-top box and video recorder
- Labgear DTT100 - set-top box
- Portland Dp100 - set-top box
- Triax DVB2000T - set-top box
Up to 250,000 boxes could be affected - Apparently, the affected boxes make up 1% of the boxes currently in the UK. As of December 2007, almost 10 million Freeview receivers had been sold (according to Freeview) - so that makes a potential 100,000 boxes that may end up in the bin, although SetPal reportedly announced that as many as 350,000 Setpal boxes had been sold, so that number could be higher.
Some of these boxes used something called SetPal technology from Novapal. Setpal boxes were popular due to their low price and decent reception quality. Some of these boxes were still on sale at the start of 2007 at high-street stores such as Comet.
- Top Up TV boxes: It also appears that the Top Up TV Anytime boxes made by Thomson are also affected by these upgrades - but this is only a problem if users perform a channel rescan. A fix appeared at the end of July to fix this - Top Up v2.93 patch.
- Sony TVs: We've also had reports that some IDTV sets (TVs with built-in Freeview tuners) are having problems, most notably some Sony models. Listener Brian H. tells us: "My TV is a Sony KD-32DX200 & it currently locks up when an update is tried. However, it does retain the previous configuration if you exit the update. Sony are promising an 'over air download' to correct problems sometime in September."
Update: Over-the-air fix for Sony TVs sent out from 08 Sept 2008 - detail here
Why did these boxes stop working?
When Freeview started broadcasting its digital TV service in 2002, there were only around 30 channels. Now, the Freeview channel line-up has grown, and it seems that the affected boxes don't have enough onboard memory to hold something called the NIT (Network Information Table).
DMOL (Digital Television Multiplex Operators Ltd) is responsible for rolling out the transmitter upgrades ahead of the Digital Switchover.
What happens next?
All of the UK regions have now received the update. Here's the timetable:
- 01 July 2008: Border, STV Central (Scottish), STV North (Grampian), Ulster, Tyne Tees.
- 15 July 2008: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire.
- 23 July 2008: Berkshire, Cornwall, Devon Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire.
- 29 July 2008: Cheshire, Greater London, Lancashire, South Yorkshire.
- 5 August 2008: Anglia, Meridian, Yorkshire, Wales, West Country and parts of Central and West regions.
Scanning for new channels appears to be the killer for these boxes - and some boxes do this automatically. You'll be left with a box that can no longer receive Freeview channels.
Listen to our podcast for more on this, and other Digital TV stories. Latest show
So, what do I do now?
Got a broken Freeview box? If you're affected by the changes - You could try contacting the box manufacturer to see if they'll help. We suspect they won't... but they might apologise. The phone numbers are:
- Bush: 0871 230 1777
- Daewoo & Portland: 0870 100 2525
- Labgear: www.labgear.co.uk
- Setpal: Went bust many years ago
Otherwise, you'll be wanting a new set-top box - hopefully one that won't become obsolete two years after you've bought it. You can get new Freeview boxes from around £25 from Currys and Argos. You may also want to consider the following:
- BT Vision - This TV service is available to BT Broadband customers. BT Vision offers all the Freeview channels, plus on-demand content and catch-up TV.
It also comes with a powerful set-top box that holds up to 80 hours of TV content. More details at btvision.bt.com
- Sky Digital - Satellite TV service available to 98% of the UK with the widest range of channels available. You'll have to pay a monthly subscription though - More at www.sky.com.
Don't landfill your box! Thanks to Daniel Temple for the following: "Under the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Act, all local councils must provide a solution for the responsible disposal of household electrical waste."
We'd encourage you to make enquiries of your local council recycling services, as opposed to adding your defunct box to landfill.
Got a thought on this? Add a comment to our blog
We discussed this in our July 2008 audio update
Q. Who's to blame?
A. A tricky one to answer. DMOL: is the company that's responsible for the transmitter updates - so it was them that pressed the button that broke thousands of boxes, however they're only implementing a change that's within the digital TV specification, so it's not their fault. Freeview's not to blame as they don't make the set-top boxes, or own the transmitters - they're the brand and content people. So that leaves the set-top box makers. They're meant to follow a specification, and it seems that some manufacturers have not followed the Digital TV specifications fully. Freeview certainly could have done a better job of publicising the issue and advising users of the service a little better.
Q. If I buy another set-top box, will Freeview guarantee that it won't suddenly become obsolete one day?
A. Sorry, but no. Freeview don't have any control over set-top box manufacturers, they don't control the transmitter networks, and they don't define the Digital TV formats and protocols. To get a "Digital TV Tick", boxes have to confirm to the agreed specification, so there's a degree of protection... but some of the boxes that have now become obsolete also claimed to be DVB-compliant... and are now landfill...
- FrequencyCast Show 23 - Our report on the death of the Birmingham boxes
- Have your say - comment on this story in our News Blog
What is FrequencyCast?
We're an online radio show covering digital TV in the UK.