Today, Wednesday 2nd March, marks the launch of TEN HD’s service, promised to us at 3pm AEDST. They have a press release and a list of FAQs which includes a free call helpline (1800 783 117) for more information. Sadly, I was rather busy today, but I did watch my computer remotely, eagerly awaiting for the switch of the channel.
At first I was disappointed, as come 3pm, nothing happened. Reviewing the recordings saw the change actually occur between 3:09:59pm and 3:10:19pm according to the TOT/TDT tables in the TS stream. Ten minutes late for channel 10, how befitting.
At the time the channel actually came on, the home tuners recorded a BURST of CRC errored packets and TEI suggesting that the modulator may have been discontinuous (shut down for a fraction of a second or lost synchronization). The transition looked as follows:
The first program was … Judge Judy, accompanied by a sharp rise in channel bitrate as she came on. As I wasn’t home, I left the recording going, so all the bitrate analysis was done over the first SIX hours of broadcast which should give us a more stable bitrate value as TEN seems to use quite aggressive stat-muxing. The picture overall is good-ish for a free to air service, but still has many smeary chroma and motion blurriness, but it’s likely because the source material is upscaled SD. Once they get real HD material on there, it should be good.
All services retained their PID/SIDs, with only changes in the formats. ONE, as expected, was bumped back to an SD MPEG-2 service, with the audio reverted to MPEG-1 Layer II Joint-Stereo at 192kbit/s which is consistent with their “non primary” channel parameters. TEN HD got a sizeable boost in bitrate and with H.264 coding, puts it in firm contention of being the best HD service on the air from a visual quality perspective. The audio remains 5.1ch AC3, as was 9HD, so as to remain compatible with receivers as AC3 was mandated, and featureful as it has the potential to bring surround audio although that doesn’t seem often used.
However, it seems the older set top boxes and older TVs which cannot support H.264 are out of luck, as usual. The launch of 9HD resulted in many grumbles, and as they share the same mode, if you can’t get 9HD, you won’t get TEN HD either. That being said, a good number of more modern TVs already support H.264, so it’s not quite as dire as the 7flix situation.
The bitrate winners and losers were firmly in favour of TEN HD as it seems to be the sole priority for Network TEN. While TVSN and SpreeTV remain unchanged and command about 4.6Mbit/s of bitrate in total, it seems that every other channel has made a sacrifice for TEN HD of varying sizes, implying that Network TEN is probably putting a lot of faith in the success of TEN HD.
As expected, during the logo-loop, the bitrate was running bare minimum. However, since ONE is now reverted to SD, it donates a good chunk of about 2Mbit/s . Ten Digital and ELEVEN both donate another 1Mbit/s or so to add 4Mbit/s over the 1.5Mbit/s it already has. A little bit of extra comes from variations in TVSN/SpreeTV and some reclaimed “null packets”, so TEN HD now comfortably sits just shy of 6Mbit/s total at 5.843Mbit/s.
By far the biggest loser is ONE, which is relegated to a position slightly behind both Ten Digital and ELEVEN for bitrate. I wonder what that channel will be retargeted towards, as I’m sure the sports fans expect HD, so it’s likely sport will make a migration back to the main TEN Digital/TEN HD ensemble.
Per PID rates are listed for those who are interested. The “null packet” rate is always quite low for Network TEN’s multiplex, implying very good utilization of the available bandwidth.
It seems Network TEN is putting a lot of their bits behind the TEN HD service. That, combined with the more efficient codec of H.264 is likely to make TEN HD one of the best looking Freeview services on the air today. While this won’t hold a candle to Blu-ray quality, it’s still rather heartening to think that they are prioritizing the quality of their main channel above that of others (e.g. 9HD which is ~3.5Mbit/s). This is sure to please the sports fans when and if the events screen on TEN Digital/TEN HD as we would expect. Multiplex utilization was very good, as usual, however, those without H.264 decoding hardware are left out in the cold again.