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EU Funding Helps Pioneer the Biggest TV Boom In History


The launch of the biggest TV boom in history, the digital terrestrial services that form the platform for the phenomenally successful Freeview, was made possible thanks to a grant of 6.45 million euros from the EU’s Framework Programme.

The VALIDATE (Verification and Launch of Integrated Digital Advanced Television in Europe) project, technically underpinned by a BBC-led partnership, gave the UK the technical confidence to launch digital terrestrial TV in 1998. This technical expertise allowed the BBC to solve subsequent technical problems – providing robust signal quality for the 2002 launch of Freeview, offering 30 TV and 20 radio stations without subscription, to 75% of British households. With more than four million boxes being sold in the first 18 months, Freeview became the world’s fastest-selling consumer technology.

The BBC had wanted to offer licence payers the benefits of digital TV for some time. They made the first digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcast based on a newly agreed DTT standard in April 1996 – 70 years after television was invented. But they needed evidence to prove that the technical standards were adequate, so BBC Research & Development (R&D) agreed to take the lead in VALIDATE.

The challenge for the VALIDATE team - made up of 19 organisations from nine countries - was to test the standard that allowed quality digital images to be broadcast over terrestrial networks. Digital terrestrial signals are vulnerable to reflection from buildings, confusion with traditional TV signals and weather conditions that can carry signals far beyond their intended range. The result can be an unreliable service.

As VALIDATE progressed, the BBC and its partners built a series of experimental DTT transmitters and receivers and began testing them. The tests, conducted over 26 months, analysed the response of different receivers to weak signals or interference. “We had to make sure we all got the same results,” says project head Andrew Oliphant from BBC Research & Development. “We also had to check the same equipment manufactured by different people would work the same way. “Because we were working in an effective collaborative way, we were able to identify problems and make the necessary adjustments. As soon as we saw a BBC transmitter working with a French receiver, we had the brave new world of digital terrestrial broadcasting within our grasp. It had all been worth it.”

Their work on DTT enabled BBC R&D to develop a DTT receiver chip with LSI Logic - capturing 80% of the decoder market in the first year. This chip won a Queens Award for Enterprise in 2001. “It was fitting that the BBC, as the UK pioneer of broadcasting, took the lead in working alongside European counterparts to set the standards that are opening the doors to 21st century broadcasting”, says Peter Walters, FP6UK National Contact Point for IST. “The Framework funding for this project was significant, meeting around a third of the overall cost of the project.” “It also shows how any British company that is serious about research, and understands the time it takes to move from discovery to commercial exploitation, can benefit from being part of a European collaboration.”

The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the €19bn available should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.

The Framework Programme is not a route to easy research and development funding. “Don’t do it for the money,” says Andrew Oliphant. “The best reason for getting involved is because there is something you want to explore but don’t have the resources or expertise; or because you need technology to work on a European scale. The benefits vastly outweigh the costs and we led a team of Europe’s top specialists which gave everybody access to a massive pool of knowledge.”

Dave Sanders | alfa
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