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Freeview HD Copy Protection Update

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Graham Plumb Graham Plumb | 13:26 UK time, Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Some of you will have seen a blog post a few days ago from Tom Watson MP that suggested that the BBC intends to make millions of Freeview PVRs obsolete by encrypting the service information data of the DVB stream. Some of you may also not have seen his later updates. There has been a lot of confusion around this post and a subsequent one from boing boing that has resulted in a lot of conversations on Twitter and in the press. Some interesting posts can be seen on cnet.co.uk and paid content, but we thought it would be only right for you to get the information straight from the horse's mouth.

First of all, as we have already said publicly, no existing Freeview boxes will be affected by this whatsoever. So don't think that your current Freeview box is suddenly going to go off because that's not the case.

Secondly, and this is the difficult bit, the BBC is committed to ensuring that public service content remains free to air i.e. unencrypted. But a form of content management is required to enable us to launch Freeview HD to audiences in early 2010, so we have a simple choice; either we wait for a resolution to the copy protection debate or go ahead and launch Freeview HD and give UK audiences who can't or don't want to pay for subscription services a way to get HD.

The BBC is tasked to offer content on as many different platforms as possible, and with the other PSB partners, want to deliver Freeview HD before the World Cup in 2010.

We've said before that we are specifically avoiding encryption of the broadcast signal to ensure that the public service content remains free to air. Content protection gives content producers comfort to give consumers early and free access to more content, without jeopardising future revenue streams.

Our preferred content management approach (Huffman's Look-up tables) as stated in our letter to Ofcom describes how using this method will allow us to deliver Freeview HD on time, with the least disruption to manufacturers, and the least restriction to audiences. But it is important to stress that the technology places no restrictions whatsoever on copying standard definition content - nor recording and viewing any HD content stored on a PVR. Even in its most restrictive state it still allows one HD copy to be made to Blu-ray and unrestricted copies in SD (and for most content there will be no restriction whatsoever on the number of Blu-ray copies permitted).

We want to make our content as accessible as possible but we have to balance this with the amount of content we have the ability to show. We could have said no to the content owners' request and delayed the launch of Freeview HD, but we had to balance this with the fact that respecting the request for content protection should result in more programmes and hence a better viewing experience for our audiences.

We are confident that Freeview HD will be great, and you'll always be able to copy programmes for personal use. Most people will probably never know that any form of content management exists since they'll not be prevented from the normal home enjoyment or recording on PVRs, DVD and Blu-Ray recorders.

The only actions that may be prevented, and only for certain programmes, are retransmitting the content in HD over the internet or, in some cases, from making more than one digital copy of the highest-value content onto Blu-ray.

Graham Plumb is Head of Distribution Technology, BBC FM&T

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    “But a form of content management is required to enable us to launch Freeview HD to audiences in early 2010”

    That’s a point which is being hotly debated. Please don’t post statements of opinion as though they were fact.

    More to the point, encrypting the look-up tables is tantamount to encrypting the content, as the latter is relatively meaningless without the former. This is an attempt to wriggle out of the free-to-air obligations through a loophole, nothing more.

  • Comment number 2.

    "That’s a point which is being hotly debated. Please don’t post statements of opinion as though they were fact."

    What part of that would be an opinion?

    Phazer

  • Comment number 3.

    “What part of that would be an opinion?”

    That content-management is required to launch Freeview HD services in early 2010, which would be the part I quoted. I’m not sure which part of that was difficult to follow.

    Sure, the BBC may not be able to launch _the services it’s currently in discussions with content rights-holders about launching_ in early 2010, but that’s quite different.

    A two week consultation (not even published _as_ a consultation) is a ridiculous way to approach deciding whether it’s in the public’s interest to shun the spirit of the FTA obligations in return for getting some extra content, or whether those obligations should be maintained as they are and rights-holders can either play ball or take it elsewhere. Worse, stating it as a matter of fact when there’s much still to be decided, does the BBC and the general public a huge disservice.

  • Comment number 4.

    "Sure, the BBC may not be able to launch _the services it’s currently in discussions with content rights-holders about launching_ in early 2010, but that’s quite different."

    No it isn't. Creating an entirely seperate programme schedule from the existing satellite HD channel would require a seperate service licence from the BBC Trust (since it'd be a new channel), which would take at least six months, and hence create a considerable delay.

    It's a simple matter of fact.

  • Comment number 5.

    “Creating an entirely seperate programme schedule from the existing satellite HD channel would require a seperate service licence from the BBC Trust (since it'd be a new channel)”

    and yet, unless I missed a trick (…and consultation document)… BBC HD is broadcast today to a noticeably larger geographical footprint than Freeview HD will be incarnation without anything but a bit being toggled as its “protection” along with a promise from a few manufacturers that they’ll faithfully honour the flag in return for sticking a logo on their kit. Hardly “content management” in any meaningful sense.

  • Comment number 6.

    So what does this mean in laymans terms? Will I be able to watch Freeview HD on my current HD TV with built in digital tuner?

  • Comment number 7.

    So, you admit that you were wrong on the timescale then since you're trying to change the subject. Jolly good. Research has never been a strong point of the content protection is evil lobby.

    Bluntly, the Freeview and Freesat reciever markets are two very different things.

  • Comment number 8.

    All drm systems are crackable. If copies can be made to blu-ray it is relativly easy as I suspect Slyfox would soon demonstrate. But the issue is whether it is worth the effort. It is debatable as to whether the terestrial transmissions can be called "HD" and viewers may get a better pictures with upscalled SD.

    So what is happening to satellite transmisions.

    The BBC is playing a dangerous game here. Technially it would be fairly easy to turn such a system into full encryption not allowing any copying. This would make it fairly easy for the Government to sell off the BBC and make it a subscription channel. According to Greg Dyke the main reason the BBC has supported free to air was to make it impossible to for Government to get rid of the licence fee.

    At the moment I am totally fed up with the BBC because of the fantastic drop in picture and sound quaility on BBC HD. There is very little original programming as well so I find I am now rairly watching BBC and so I think the licence fee should be abolished.

  • Comment number 9.

    “So, you admit that you were wrong on the timescale then since you're trying to change the subject.”

    Are you reading different posts to the ones I’m writing or something?

  • Comment number 10.

    “So what does this mean in laymans terms? Will I be able to watch Freeview HD on my current HD TV with built in digital tuner?”

    Probably not. Most “HD ready” TVs don’t include DVB-T2 receivers (though that’s not universally true). Even if yours did, the BBC plans to encrypt the information which would make watching the “free to air” programmes possible, so you’d have to buy a STB or new TV.

  • Comment number 11.

    (following up on my own post)

    …if you were one of the few people who happened to have a DVB-T2-capable receiver, given that the PSI/SI specification is still in draft, it’s likely that you’d be able to get a firmware update for it to handle the decoding.

    Chances are, though, that you won’t have a T2-capable device anyway, and so will need an STB to receive Freeview HD services.

  • Comment number 12.

    In reply to Alexbennee you will need a new box. Terestrial HD uses DVB-T2 and H264 encoding. No current boxes or televisions support these standards.

  • Comment number 13.

    I honestly don't see any type of encryption or DRM stopping anyone determined enough to want to record something from doing so. If it's stopping people recording and putting online your trying to stop, there are endless means and ways of recording and those people in particular probably know more tricks than most.

  • Comment number 14.

    "and yet, unless I missed a trick (…and consultation document)… BBC HD is broadcast today to a noticeably larger geographical footprint than Freeview HD will be incarnation without anything but a bit being toggled as its “protection” along with a promise from a few manufacturers that they’ll faithfully honour the flag in return for sticking a logo on their kit. Hardly “content management” in any meaningful sense."

    Having read this again this makes even less sense - Freesat also "encrypts" their EPG using Huffman and only gives the key out to licenced manufacturers. It's exactly the same.

    "Are you reading different posts to the ones I’m writing or something?"

    Certainly if you're writing different ones to those being posted on this website it would explain why you've changed arguement three times already in this thread.

    First the timescale was "hotly debated".

    Then the timescale was right but the content could be changed.

    Then I pointed that was wrong and the timescale was right and the content couldn't be changed but Freesat already transmitted without this proposal.

    And even that's not right! Want a fourth go at the point?

  • Comment number 15.

    “Having read this again this makes even less sense - Freesat also "encrypts" their EPG using Huffman and only gives the key out to licenced manufacturers. It's exactly the same.”

    Do you have a reference for this? The BBC’s own posts on this blog on the subject don’t indicate anything to this effect, and I can find no other reference to any specifications, license agreements, consultation documents, or other or links which suggest such things exist, stating that the SI on Freesat HD is encrypted in the same way as the BBC is proposing Freeview HD be.

    “First the timescale was "hotly debated".

    Then the timescale was right but the content could be changed.

    Then I pointed that was wrong and the timescale was right and the content couldn't be changed but Freesat already transmitted without this proposal.”

    Yes, in retrospect, I suppose it is quite easy to read changing viewpoints when you pick and choose which bits of sentences you want to pay attention to or make inferences which simply aren’t there.

  • Comment number 16.

    How do I get access to my the decryption keys? I want to build my own FreeViewHD receiver.

    Serious question - or are hobbyists and small manufacturers going to be excluded? Will I be able to watch FreeViewHD on MythTV?

    You and I both know that "allows one HD copy to be made" is false. Once one copy can be made, so can another and another and another. There has never been a copy-protection scheme that hasn't been cracked.

    We all know this - so why haven't the people who insist on "Content Protection" understood this simple point?

    I'm in two minds... Go ahead, put on some weak copy-protection, give us a month to crack it and we can go back to normal. Or should we make a stand now against the thin end of the wedge?

  • Comment number 17.

    Keep it civil please.

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks for this,

    I note the use of 2010 in this article, does this mean that 02-Dec-2009 for Winter Hill is now no longer the launch date?

    Now can we have the roll out details please?

    Hopefully on Content Protection the BBC (and other broadcasters too) will once HD is more commonplace be able to remove the restrictions over time. I really fancy being able to establish a many Terrabyte archive of programmes for reviewing at my own pace.

  • Comment number 19.

    AlexBennee wrote: "So what does this mean in laymans terms? Will I be able to watch Freeview HD on my current HD TV with built in digital tuner?”

    No, but you wouldn’t be able to do that anyway. In any case, that’s not the issue here.

    The issue, or at least one of the big ones, is what this will mean for those wishing to implement Freeview HD receivers with open source software. Basically, an open source implementation will not be able to successfully, reliably and *automatically* tune to a Freeview HD channel. The video and audio streams that make up the Freeview HD channels will be in the clear, but the data which enables them to be associated with channels will be protected by the “lookup tables”.

    To watch a Freeview HD channel without the lookup tables (or an alternative source of SI-equivalent data), the view could, for example, be presented with the “elementary streams” in turn, choosing the video stream then the audio stream for the channel they want to watch. Viewing a recording would work in much the same way, but all ~36Mbit/sec (or around 16 gigabytes per hour) of the multiplex would need to be recorded. Idents and (ironically) DOGs will help here.

    All in all, I believe that this represents an unacceptably substantial level of inconvenience to license fee paying, legitimate viewers.

    Now lets consider those “teams” of people who take content—from DVD, Blu-ray, broadcast, wherever—and make it available on file sharing networks. These teams consist of dedicated, often highly skilled people—those who are willing and able to bother with decrypting a Blu-ray disc, for example—who are very unlikely to be particularly inconvenienced by a system that doesn’t even encrypt the audio and video streams! I don’t expect this to have any real impact on the availability of content on file sharing networks.

    Finally, let’s look at the people who actually download and consume this content. Will they be at all inconvenienced by any of this? NOT ONE BIT—they’ll do what they’ve always done, because the aforementioned “teams” will have already done all the hard work.

    The only people this is really going to affect are license fee paying, legitimate viewers who just want a little bit of choice. Please explain to me how that’s right…

    Sam

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with the previous posts - I thought some regions would be launching Freeview HD in late 2009? Also, if the launch of Freeview HD was delayed (as the article is suggesting might need to happen for a resolution to the copy protection debate), does that mean there is more chance that 1080p50 could be added to the Freeview HD spec and that all Freeview HD boxes released would be compatible with this?

  • Comment number 21.

    "The only actions that may be prevented, and only for certain programmes, are retransmitting the content in HD over the internet or, in some cases, from making more than one digital copy of the highest-value content onto Blu-ray."

    I was just curious about this. It sort of implies that posting BBC programmes to the net won't be prevented. Now, is this an inevitable result of the open approach we hope the BBC will take, or a tacit approval of the free dissemination of the BBC programming?

  • Comment number 22.

    In reply to #20 I don't think freeview will ever support 1080p50 as freeview HD is specified to H264 Level 4.1. It would also require a higher bit rate.

  • Comment number 23.

    If it was delayed, they could alter the current specs to the ones they wanted to use. The project manager of the EBU says it will not require a higher bitrate than 1080i.

  • Comment number 24.

    @HD1080: 1080p50, or more specifically AVC 4.2, was ruled out by Ofcom for Freeview HD for the current generation of receivers back in February:

    http://blog.wotsat.com/page/whatsat?entry=freeview_hd_won_t_have

  • Comment number 25.

    Because, to add it would have delayed the launch. Isn't this BBC blog saying that waiting for a resolution to the copy protection debate may delay the launch of Freeview HD? If so, I'm all for delaying the launch if it means that when they launch Freeview HD it has the specs the originally intended/the best specs (AVC 4.2, 1080p50).

  • Comment number 26.

    @HD1080: The Wotsat blog post I posted the link to quotes Ofcom's reasoning:

    'Ofcom said: "If AVC level 4.2 were to be adopted, manufacturers reported that they would then feel compelled to bring only 1080p50-compatible products to market. This would have the effect of delaying availability of DVB-T2 / MPEG-4 products by at least one year, possibly more, and would probably result in a material cost uplift.

    "We now feel that while the setting of an AVC level of 4.2 at this point is desirable, its adoption would also represent a significant risk to the early launch of the DVB-T2 platform."'

    It seems pretty clear to me that Ofcom has decided that the cost of delaying Freeview HD by a year (or more) and making the receivers considerably more expensive is not justified by the benefit of having 1080p50-capable Freeview HD receivers. Ofcom has made its decision, and what the BBC does on copy protection won't affect it.

    Also, I think you have misread the BBC blog above. Graham Plumb is arguing that it was a choice between delaying the launch of Freeview HD or launching Freeview HD on schedule with a copy-protection hack (encrypting the look-up tables). He is clear that they have chosen the latter option to avoid delaying the launch (although he confusingly says that Freeview HD will launch in 2010, whereas before we had been given the date on this blog as 2 December 2009, which is when the Granada region completes its switch to digital: http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/when_do_i_switch/granada/winter_hill ).

    Finally, I just wanted to say that I agree with all the previous commenters who said that this won't affect the availability of unauthorised content on the Internet at all; that it will however inconvenience (at the very least) those wanting to build their own Freeview HD tuners (especially in open-source software); and that it is a worrying development that the BBC is putting the interests of content owners before the interests of the licence fee payers and the BBC's commitment to free-to-air television.

  • Comment number 27.

    Just about any car can be stolen but this does not mean you should just leave the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition. The content providers require the BBC to show intent to stop programmes being ripped off. Whether this is effective is nether here nor there unless you somehow manage to get the content providers to change their minds. They want some sort of protection in place or they will not let the program be shown. The BBC can't say 'No we will just show it anyway without constraints'. They are not putting the interests of the content providers above their commitment to FTA television but they do HAVE to play within the rules laid down by the content providers or they would loose a lot of the programming people enjoy on their FTA television.

  • Comment number 28.

    @pedgington

    If your car is going to get stolen, whether you leave it unlocked or not, why bother locking it?

  • Comment number 29.

    "If your car is going to get stolen, whether you leave it unlocked or not, why bother locking it?"

    Because, to extend the bad analogy, your insurance company would not pay up if you left it unlocked. Similarly we know that the content provider still want to see some protection in place, even if in reality that protection is useless. No lock, no insurance, no money. No protection, no content, no channel.

  • Comment number 30.

    OK this is the bit I don't get

    "Secondly, and this is the difficult bit, the BBC is committed to ensuring that public service content remains free to air i.e. unencrypted."

    So if your have to encrypt something surely it's not public service content and so shouldn't be funded by the license fee.

  • Comment number 31.

    Isn't this just a repeat of the US broadcast flag debate from a few years ago ?
    Why does the BBC feel they have to accept DRM conditions from the content owners when those content owners have failed to get the same conditions accepted in other countries ?

    Personally, I'm only concerned with the rights for open source hardware and software to continue receiving HD content. I've been a user of MythTV to record all my TV for the last few years (as I find it superior to commercially available PVRs).

    If FreeviewHD is launched with DRM, will I be able to continue recording TV as I choose or will I be forced to buy a commercial PVR that's been blessed by the BBC ?

    In short, why does the BBC or an American TV studio get to dictate the hardware and software I use to receive content I'm already paying for via the licence fee ?

  • Comment number 32.

    I think I threw this in last time the debate was going on - I always start from: who does this inconvenience?

    If we get a programme in SD and transmit it on an SD channel, the rights holder gets paid (so do the artist, production companies, distribution companies...) and we can all record it on PVRs, DVDs (even VHS) etc.

    If we are supplied the same programme in HD, we still transmit it on an SD channel and the rights holder gets paid (the same as above), we can still record it on PVRs, DVDs (even VHS) etc.... but we also want to transmit it on the HD Channel and there's the problem - we can't because the rights holders says you can use a PVR and make a single Blu Ray but no more - you can't show the HD image without some form of protection.

    This is more a debate on quality protection not content protect - Difficult!

    Andy

  • Comment number 33.

    @32
    "I think I threw this in last time the debate was going on - I always start from: who does this inconvenience?"

    Ummmm, anyone wanting to use MythTV or similar homebrew software-based PVR solutions. And people do have such systems hooked up to HD-capable screens. And will, therefore, want to be able to view/record the HD channels.

    And, cards on the table, half the content's already out there. Non-UK stuff is online long before the BBC gets around to broadcasting it. (When is Heroes coming to BBC? I've seen people with copies of S4 episodes already - not that i'm bothered myself, I lost interest in the show early S2)
    And UK stuff is up shortly after broadcast because you can't stop everyone.

    So, simple question. Will MythTV, and other software based PVRs and HTPCs, be able to record Freeview HD?
    And if not, how long do you really think it'll be before someone submits a patch to get it to work?

  • Comment number 34.

    I live in Dumfries and Galloway and we went totally digital earlier in the year. It was great, 130 + channels, (mixed radio and TV), most were complete rubbish, but there were some new easy to watch channels. Post the great 29th retune, (and the 30th and every day since), we have lost nearly ALL of them. We still get all the BBC channels, sort of , if you count a pixilating picture as a channel, but as of yesterday October 09th, I counted 14 channels that you might watch, all the rest are gone.
    We are pensioners, my husband is disabled and we don't go out much. So as a treat I had bought us two new digital TV's. Why... I ask myself. I'm getting almost exactly the same as I got pre digital. It stinks!!!

  • Comment number 35.

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  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

 

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