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Freeview Playback explained

With the Freeview Playback update for the TF5800 getting closer, it’s time to bring you an update on what the new features will mean for Toppy users.

What’s it all about?

Well, Cilla, Freeview Playback is actually made up of three things. First is the brand name, with its matching logo, which you’ll see on the front of the TF5810, and on the Freeview Playback website (the link’s at the right of the page). The thinking is that by having a common branding and logo, the idea of PVRs for Freeview can be promoted in much the same way as Sky+ is for the satellite service.

Next, there’s a minimum specification that PVRs (or Digital TV Recorders as some call them) have to meet to be allowed to use the Freeview Playback logo. It’s actually divided into sections, called Group 1, Group 2 and so on – we’ll explain that more later. And finally, there’s the Freeview Playback data, which is additional information that’s carried along with the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) and is used to provide some of the new features that will appear on the Toppy as well as other Freeview Playback equipment.

So, what can it do?

The Freeview Playback specs lay down some core features, such as fast forward at 16x normal speed, and the ability to pause live television. The features are divided into groups, and in Group 1 – which is the minumum level to get the logo – a PVR should also be able to track schedule changes, and manage “Accurate Recording.” That means that if you set a timer for, say, Doctor Who and the football match before it runs over by 20 minutes, you’ll still get the whole of Doctor Who, and none of the football, recorded. The PVR will wait until it’s told the programme is starting and then begin to record, a little like the old PDC system on analogue video recorders.

One of the key features in Group 2 – which the Toppy will include – is series link. That does pretty much what it says on the tin: when you highlight a programme in the EPG, like Robin Hood, that’s part of a series, you’ll be asked if you just want to record that showing, or the whole series. And if you choose the series, that’s it – every episode will be recorded, whatever time it’s on.

To make that even slicker, there’s a feature known as “alternate instance recording.” In plain english, that means that if there’s a clash, and a different broadcast can be found, then the PVR will record the other showing. So, if you’ve set a series link for EastEnders, and then you want to record two other things that clash, you’ll be asked when you set the second clashing timer if you’d like to record the later showing of EastEnders on BBC3 instead.

Another neat trick is “split event recording,” which comes into play when a programme is shown in two parts, like a film with the first half before the news and the second half after. When you select the first part, the second one will be recorded automatically.

All of this will be in the Freeview Playback update for the TF5800, and included in the TF5810 when it launches. But there’s more – if a broadcaster has chosen to recommend programmes, you’ll be asked if you want to record those. So, if there’s a spin off, like Doctor Who Confidential, you can be asked if you want to record that whenever you set a recording for Doctor Who.

The competition

Of course, a lot of other PVRs will be having Freeview Playback added to them, but many older models won’t. And some of the ones that claim Freeview Playback so far only have Group 1 features, rather than the full set that will be on the Toppy.

And what of TAPs? Well, you can do some of this already – like series recording – on a Toppy with TAPs, but Freeview Playback will make it easier than before, and of course means that some users won’t need TAPs at all. It’s also likely that some of the TAP authors will come up with new and more interesting ways to use the Freeview Playback information too.

Keep an eye on the news pages for more information over the coming weeks, including a look at the technical side of Freeview Playback, and information on how you’ll use the features when the TF5800 update is available.