Freeview — DRM will downgrade best TV images

Any recording of the high-definition digital signals will have to be done in standard definition, says TVNZ

Freeview users who record television programmes won’t be able to do so in high-definition mode, according to the television channels and distributors.

However, customers of the high-definition television (HDTV) service should be able to upgrade standard-definition television signals, and so view programmes in better resolution than that allowed by the standard analogue signal.

TVNZ and TV3 say there are no current plans to impose any other digital rights management restrictions on Freeview broadcasts, such as limiting the life of recordings. Although this is technically possible with the HDCP (high-definition content protection) protocol through which broadcasts are transmitted from set-top box to screen.

Anyone wanting HDTV needs a display device equipped with an HDMI (high-definition media interface), says TVNZ.

“It is a characteristic of this interface that no recording can be carried out or, in other words, you will not be able to record any HDTV signal. This is a worldwide requirement of those agencies that own the distribution rights to HDTV content,” says TVNZ.

Any recording of the high-definition digital signals will have to be done in standard definition, says TVNZ.

Some DVD recorders are capable of “upscaling” recorded content, by a process called interpolation, so as to produce a higher-resolution image when played back. This means the recording and playback process involves a downscaling followed by an upscaling.

The reason for the restriction is to stop viewers replaying and distributing recorded high-definition content which would be of a higher resolution than that of commercially available disks.

“Content protection is always a difficult issue,” says Freeview general manager Steve Browning.

“At one end, you have consumer freedom to use, copy and share, while at the other [end] you have the rights of the owner [or] producer of that content to protect it.

“For a significant proportion of their schedules, NZ broadcasters are not the rights-owner, therefore they must do what the rights-owner requires them to do. The major international programme-suppliers require HDCP or similar [protocols] on high-definition digital outputs for free-to-air broadcasts.”

John Allen, technical manager for Mediaworks, which distributes the TV3 and C4 channels, says the bulk of content on Freeview will, in any case, be up-scaled content that was originally recorded at standard definition. So, a recording played on a television set capable of improving the image would have been up-rated twice and down-rated twice.

“We will be broadcasting a mixture of that [kind of content] and native HDTV,” he says.

The native high-definition material will have a “flag” in the corner of the screen informing the viewer this is the real deal.

Native HDTV programmes will include flagship offerings such as Boston Legal and the Australian soap opera Neighbours.

Addressing the digital rights management issue last year, TVNZ’s chief executive, Rick Ellis, said there would have to be restrictions even on locally produced news broadcasts since they usually include some content supplied from overseas.

No HDMI recorders have been approved for use with Freeview, says Browning. However, such recorders are available overseas and Allen didn’t discount the possibility of illegal interface electronic devices emerging here which would make high-definition recording possible in New Zealand.

But, for now, New Zealand has escaped time limitations being put on recordings such as those imposed on downloads from TVNZ’s “tvnz

ondemand” website.

These become unplayable after seven days.

Stephen Marshall, a senior lecturer at Wellington’s Victoria University, said last year that if such limitations were generally imposed this could lead to an Orwellian “editing” of history and culture. (Computerworld, February 19, 2007).

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