The Optus D1 satellite which broadcasts most satellite TV broadcasts to New Zealanders was launched in 2006 and is expected to come out of orbit after 2021.
Freeview says it could upgrade its satellite broadband service from standard definition to HD “in a few years.”
Managing Director Sam Irvine said the company had “initial discussions” with broadcasters such as Television New Zealand and MediaWorks about the investment.
The upgrade would mean sharper TV pictures for hundreds of thousands of homes.
But Freeview satellite customers with older set-top boxes or TVs should buy a new set-top box starting at $ 70.
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Irvine said an upgrade would be made possible by a new satellite TV transmission standard, called DVB-S2, which uses more advanced compression technology than the previous DVB-S standard.
This meant that the channels could be transmitted in HD without Freeview investing in expensive additional satellite capacity, he said.
âViewers’ expectations now are that most of the content will be in HD. “
The downside is that older, “unapproved” Freeview set-top boxes and televisions that are only designed to receive standard definition broadcasts would not be able to pick up the new signals.
Irvine believed that most people who had purchased approved devices in the past three years would not have a problem with the switch.
“There are a bunch of unapproved products out there that probably won’t support HD.”
If people got the Freeview broadcasters straight to an older TV that didn’t support the new HD format, they wouldn’t need to throw it away, he said.
This was because they could instead buy a new set-top box that supported S2 and plug their TVs into it.
Broadcasters would also have to upgrade the uplinks they used to send their channels into space, Irvine said.
“We have to go through a consultation period with transmission providers, TNT broadcasters and manufacturers of set-top boxes and televisions.
“It certainly won’t be next year, but it might be in a few years.”
About 40 percent of Freeview customers watched its free-to-air television service using satellite dishes, Irvine said.
“We find that the satellite is still quite powerful on Freeview.”
The rest watched their FreeviewHD terrestrial service, which needs a UHF antenna and is already in high definition.
About 13% of people living outside major cities can’t get FreeviewHD, and Irvine thought others chose it because they found it easier to plug their set-top box or TV into an existing Sky Television satellite dish.
Sky TV has focused on the migration of satellite television to the Internet, in documents supporting its proposed merger with Vodafone NZ.
This has prompted speculation that satellite television may be on the way out.
Sky and Freeview rely on two Optus satellites, D1 and D2, which are only expected to remain in stationary orbit until 2021.
However, Optus launched a new satellite, Optus-10, in 2014, which appears to be configured to support TV transmissions to New Zealand beyond that date.
Irvine said there were other potential suppliers and new technology should reduce the high cost of new launches.