Freeview Terrestrial in NZ

I’ve been playing around with TV tuner cards, Tivo’s and general PVR funcionality for a while now. Here in NZ, the free to air channels have only quite recently started broadcasting in digital, so most of my devices are analog. The digital Free To Air stuff (called Freeview here just like the UK) is broadcast on satellite (DVB-S) and Terrestrial (DVB-T). I live in an apartment and effectively have a shared satellite dish and UHF/VHF aerial on the roof of the building. Satellite reception is great. Older VHF channels are quite OK, but UHF reception is quite poor. I always assumed this is because of the all buildings in the city causing lots of radio reflections.

So because of my poor UHF reception (and also the Terrestrial Freeview was only in ‘testing’ until earlier this year) I bought a satellite set top box a few months ago to get the Freeview channels. It works great, but technically its not HD. Its only 720×576 PAL resolution. Thats not that awful when you’ve been watching analog TV beforehand.

Anyway, I noticed on some of the forum topics that at least one person was getting good Freeview Terrestrial reception even with relatively poor Analog UHF reception.

So i was curious and went and bought a DVB-T card. I didn’t do enough research though and bought one that doesn’t work with linux. Doh! I bought a Hauppage HVR 2200, which is a dual tuner analog and DVB-T card. As at 2008.08.31 it looks like someone on the linuxtv mailing list is working on a driver, so hopefully in a few months I’ll have a driver.

In the meantime I thought I’d get that replacement hard drive I had and temporarily install Windows on it to try out the TV card. Well, it does work really really well. My worries about the UHF reception were unwarranted as the video quality is spot on. I didn’t seem to get any ‘glitches’ in reception. And the extra quality of the DVB-T data is quite impressive.

I tried doing some recordings and then rebooting into linux and tried to play back with mplayer. This only sort of worked. I didn’t have any sound and the one channel broadcast in 1080i had a lot of blurring. I have read that the sound issue is because Freeview NZ use HE-AAC sound which I believe there are patches for faac/faad?? and the blurring is to do with some extra feature of H264 that is not part of the normal Mplayer. This MythTV NZ page has some details. So these are potentially fixable. I think the bigger problem is the the high CPU horsepower required to play back these HD streams. The 720p channels are mostly OK, but the 1080i one is a struggle.