More than a month ago now I announced my departure from Humax as their Chief Technologist. I have since been working for nice company doing some productisation work and while that has been interesting I have missed my colleagues at Humax. Recently I was called by my former Director, we had some discussions and after some careful negotiations I am returning to Humax. I am now to be a member of the development team and as part of this I will now be working more in Korea than before. It is a nice step-up for me and I hope I can input some valuable effort to the Humax development process. My departure from Humax was part of my personal development and I think it also gave a number of parties opportunities to consider approaches. This year is, so far, not only a good one for me but also I think this will be an important year for the companies I work with. The development of the YouView set-top boxes in partnership with the TV industry will be a minor revolution for the market place and Humax is well placed to take advantage of that through foresight and determination to lead the UK TV market. Furthermore I am also looking forward to working with freesat to bring their ambitions to fruition and I think that working together with them Humax can help their platform really evolve.

Here’s to the next step!

Each year for the past twenty years I recall someone mention the idea of moving the UK’s time zone to CET, or changing daylight savings or some other such tinkering with the clocks. As I have come to understand time more and more this confuses me more and more. Not that I am confused by the concept of changing a clock, I’ve done that enough that it doesn’t matter to me, but my confusion is to why we need to change a unit of measure rather than changing our attitudes. One of the arguments for changing timezones or using DST is for “safety”, the idea is that if it is too dark in the mornings people going to work or school are more at risk. It is also said that energy can be saved because people wouldn’t use so much lighting if the clocks were different.

What this fundamentally ignores is the fact that time itself is not really variable, not on a scale that matters to our daily lives anyway, in each SI day there are 86,399, 86,400 or 86,401 seconds (yes there are not exactly 24 hours in a day because the earth isn’t perfect). When people talk about fiddling with the time they are really just doing it for political reasons, to assert themselves and their own importance. If it really mattered about the time at which children went to school then schools could open earlier or later, businesses can make their own decisions about when to open and operate. I currently work at a business that opens at 08:30, but I have started at 05:00, 08:00, 09:00 and 10:00 in differing jobs. Delivery drivers, bakers, presenters and many more people get up at a time that suits their work (Shift Work). I once worked with a team that didn’t even assume a 24 hour day, they worked on a short but intensive cycle over many days, living on site and then had a long period off at home.

I imagine the counterpoint to the argument is that if schools started earlier then people would be in difficulty if their employer didn’t change the hours. But already it is difficult for people who are constrained by employers who enforce archaic working practices, changing the clocks isn’t going to make better employers and if children went to school earlier then it wouldn’t be as bad for parents worrying about getting to their 8am start at work. There is supposedly evidence that indicates that some deaths on the road, especially those of commuting school children, can be attributed to poor light levels. Well, I would point out that if the children were to leave school when it was more light (irrespective of clocks) then they would be equally likely to be outside on the streets (doing whatever children do) afterwards which wouldn’t make it much more safe.

Dear Readers,

I know I have neglected this blog and website for some time, but now is probably an opportunity to use this page to explain myself in more than 140 characters.

Four years ago I was a moderately disgruntled Senior Lecturer at Ravensbourne College, I was referred to speak to a head hunter by a friend on the basis of my broad experience and knowledge. As a result of two interviews I was able to obtain the position of Chief Technologist at Humax Electronics in the UK. Humax is one of the top five manufacturers of set-top boxes in the world and the UK’s top manufacturer of digital television recorders. This role has seen me drink a great deal, socialise a great deal and most importantly it has seen me gain a great deal of knowledge about a sector which I had very little experience of; in addition it is perhaps worth saying that as a broadcast engineer by training I had very little appreciation for this industry which I now see differently. I have a better understanding of commercial issues as a result of my work with my colleagues and most especially my boss, Graham North, who is among one of the most respected people in the business.

Now, four years have passed and it is time to move on. It is not for me to explain here the motivations for my moving on, but I have opportunities that I can follow. I hope I can reveal further details about my mysterious new employer once I have started but for now I must concentrate on doing the best for Humax until I leave.

I will miss my colleagues, I will miss my work and the opportunities that it brings to meet new and interesting people. But as one door closes another one opens and I have little doubt that I will meet many of those that I know again because this is a small business.

Yours,

Bob

Welcome to Us in Orbit.

This site is a personal blog and article site for Bob and Angeliki, it doesn’t attempt to document our lives but aims to be a vent for thoughts and information.

I (Bob) was formerly a lecturer before being tempted back to industry, but I like to offer my assistance to anyone who has an interesting question. So if you have some challenges, if you want my opinion then please contact me and I will consider publishing a response. I would also like to offer consultancy on a commercial basis if you are venturing into areas where I might be useful. Students are welcome to pose me questions related to their studies, although I don’t expect to be doing your work for you and I will be unlikely to provide references sufficient to make my words truly authoritative.

Many thanks,

Bob


Introduction:

The coming launch of ‘Freeview HD‘ will doubtless have implications for retailers as well as consumers and in this note I hope to help address some of the questions. There are several new features which are implemented in ‘Freeview HD‘ which might impact consumer and some less obvious features you might not know about.

New features:

  • DVB-T2

This is a new type of transmission technology which has evolved from the existing DTT standards and next generation communications theory.

  • H.264 HD video

Using the more recent developments from MPEG using the H.264 compression method the video can be transmitted in as little as 25% of the bandwidth that would be required for the same type of transmission in MPEG2. This allows HD which would consumer substantially more bandwidth to be transmitted efficiently.

  • MHEG HD

MHEG is the standard for interactive services in the UK and is a very light weight system. It failed to impress some people in it’s original form but substantial progress has been made in the last few years to delivery a much more powerful user experience. The speed and graphics quality has been enhanced and the implementation on Freesat has already proven popular with consumers. As time passes the developers are able to demonstrate further enhancements in graphics performance and quality. The most significant step is in being able to render graphics to the screen with HD resolutions.

  • MHEG Interaction Channel

This allows MHEG applications to communicate back to the broadcasters over the consumers broadband package. This potentially gives consumers access to interactive voting, a wider range of content than can be broadcast and even streaming catch-up television. Broadcasters will decide what services they will implement but the connection is available to consumers on their product for those future services.

  • Audio Description

All products are now expected to be capable of audio description, this system allows people with visual impairments to have a description of the programme they are watching. TV is popular with a wide range of people and we are looking to include as many groups as possible. It will even work on HD channels, so the whole family can enjoy the latest releases. Some products may not support mixing multi-channel surround sound with AD tracks to produce surround out, but AD will still work with surround but produce a stereo output.

  • HD Subtitles

In addition to supporting existing Teletext format subtitles and standard DVB format subtitles the new boxes should now support HD format DVB subtitles which provides decent subtitles for HD video broadcasts.

Less obvious features:

  • HD Simulcast

The broadcaster can signal that a programme is also available in HD so that a viewer can get the best quality version even when watching the SD channel.

  • Content Management

Broadcasters have difficulties obtaining rights for some programmes to be broadcast in HD on free television. So in order to be licensed by ‘freeview’ the manufacturer must agree to record the broadcasts subject to rules that are transmitted by the broadcaster for each programme. It is possible for the broadcaster to signal that they will not permit the programme to be copied or that it may only be copied once. They may also indicate that the programme can be streamed or copied to DVD. The ability to archive and copy programme content is not a requirement but where it is implemented it must follow the broadcast rules.

  • Network Change Notification

The transmitter network can signal when changes are going to happen, this way when a re-tune is needed the receiving device can react more intelligently than they currently do.

  • Guidance Descriptor

A broadcaster can use new signaling on both programs and channels to indicate that their broadcasts contain content which may might not be appropriate for certain viewers. It is not intended just as an “Adult” genre but it is designed to show a wide range of sensitive issues, possibly including photosensitive epilepsy and violence.

Questions:

  • What type of antenna does Freeview HD device need?

Freeview HD uses a traditional UHF antenna as used by existing terrestrial television.

  • Will I need a new antenna for DVB-T2?

No, not unless you don’t get a good signal level currently. The T2 transmissions are being designed to perform under equal conditions as the existing digital transmissions but with more bandwidth to put more information in.

  • What does DVB-T2 provide to broadcasters/consumers?

The development of DVB-T2 was not just about the steady march of time but has been done to provide more data in the available bandwidth. This means that the broadcasters can send more information per transmitter. DVB-T already allows many channels to exist in the same equivalent

  • I have a High Definition ready TV, will it support Freeview HD?

Freeview HD requires the product to support the DVB-T2 transmission standard, only products made on/after winter 2009 and which say they support “Freeview HD” will work with the new service. All current IDTVs will need an external set-top box device to be able to receive Freeview HD. The current definition of “HD TV Ready” does not cover the new UK standard for HDTV.

  • Can I upgrade my receiver to support T2?

It is not possible to software upgrade any existing products to support DVB-T2 due to the significant differences between the platforms. In theory certain IDTV displays from certain manufacturers may be upgraded by replacing certain parts of the hardware, but no manufacturer has yet stated their intention to do this.

  • When will broadcasts of HD services start?

No dates have yet been confirmed, but it is expected that in preparation for product being available broadcasts are expected to begin during Winter of 2009. This schedule may change in response to changes in conditions and consumers should not expect to have reception before 2010. The service will have limited coverage to begin with and only certain areas will have availability to begin with. Consumers should check their coverage to determine what services are available in their area. It may be that a product like the Foxsat-HD or Foxsat-HDR (using the Freesat service) is the best way to get access to free HD channels.

  • When will product be available for Freeview HD?

While the technology of HD has been available for some time the variations required for the Freeview HD, particularly DVB-T2, will require significant work. Because new silicon chips must be designed for this service there needs to be careful work on this investment.

  • How many HD channels will be available?

There will be an HD service from the BBC and other services are expected from ITV-HD and Channel4 HD. Eventually a fourth and perhaps fifth HD provider are expected to join the platform. The platform operators are aiming to upgrade the video encoders to improve their efficiency in order to maximise the volume of content available on the platform for the available capacity.

Further definition:

  • DVB-T2:

A working group of the European DVB organisation has evolved this new standard for transmission. This has allowed more data to be broadcast in the same terrestrial spectrum. This is achieved by using powerful error correction technology as well as learning quite a number of lessons from the work on DVB-T. It has been many years since Digital Terrestrial Television was first launched in the UK and in this time the engineers/scientists have studied the different parameters available to engineers then this time has highlighted areas for improvement. The change in error correction is based on some mathematics which was first used in DVB-S2 and has now been refined further for DVB-T2. Overall the system is exploiting the next generation of technology and the latest innovations in transmission/communications theory.

  • Multiplex:

A multiplex is the container which is used to broadcast digital services. The UHF radio frequency ‘channel’ in which a single analogue service was broadcast in can now be occupied by a multiplex which can contain many digital television services. There are currently six multiplexes in the UK which carry all of our digital television viewing. Each multiplex can carry services of differing quality averaging between eight and fourteen video services.

  • Bandwidth:

Bandwidth is the measure of size of the information carried, the term can be used in analogue or digital environments. In analogue it is the number of Hz and in digital it is the number of bits per second (the rate at which data is carried through a system).

  • High Definition (HD) video:

Currently used to define any superior resolution of video over 720×576 in pixels.

This is an email I sent out today to someone I am working with elsewhere but I also think it’s about time I shared my recent thoughts to a wider audience: 
 
All current issues aside the work I have been doing over the past year has presented a few issues which are encouraging me to wonder if there is place for a corporately sponsored open STB project. I know there is Dreambox but these are expensive and have had various political issues. I also know there is MythTV and the others but they are heavily PC dependent. The concept would be an open platform based on a modern STB design optimised for simplicy and power (possibly a PVR). We could manufacture in modest volumes enough to supply the demand and possibly could sell them at wholesale pricing. It would be a hardware only sale with software to be determined on the project basis. We could support the project through administration and hardware, but further we can drive the project by offering ‘bounties’ on features that are requested by potential corporate customers. In effect we could offer two teirs of product software the "community edition" which is free, but offers only community support and the "commercial edition" which would offer features for the ‘bounty’ with a professional code compile service for validated code.
 
This is just something I am bouncing around in my head and I wanted to put it around before I built a proposal out of it. Please let me know your thoughts on this.
 
I think it could fly, I think it could be useful and I think it would address many peoples problems. I’ve had requests for close to 50,000 boxes on different projects, but because each one of them was so small there was no way we could put development resources behind them. Put together that much hardware is reasonable business and I think something that’s worth paying attention to. The ‘bounty’ would fund peoples time to work on the project, or perhaps reward them for their work.
 
I welcome your feedback…

So, we’ve launched ‘freesat’ today. It seems to be going well, people are are trying to find the product and the product is starting to appear in shops. I hope it does well, the Humax Foxsat-HD is such a nice product and I am proud of our work on it. I keep getting asked when the Humax freesat PVR will be here, well that will have to wait until it is ready.

 

One of my former students has emailed me with some questions about an assignment. So to be fair I will publish my answers for all to see in this blog. You can select more to see the questions and answers, I also would love to have more questions on this subject in the comments…

 

Continue reading “SNG questions from a student”

lol @ http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1271

 I love the idea. In fact I love it so much I have decided to work on a strategy neutral lifestyle. For every positive step I make I will make an equally stupid decision. Wait… I think I do that more than I realise already!

Ok,

I have been authorised to unofficially comment on the messages I have had of late. I have been asked many times about the Humax freesat DTR (the technical term that we are using to describe this product, not a product number), better known to you as the intended first freesat HD PVR. Unofficially because we will clarify things with the press in due course through the usual channels.
Continue reading “Freesat HDR”