Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Join the Tesco Freeview Broadcast Experiment

APPLICATION OPEN - SEE http://techfortesco.blogspot.com/2010/11/applications-open-to-join-tesco.html


I've joined up with my colleagues in the Tesco Electricals team to launch a nationwide experiment to transmit personal messages and useful content straight to your Freeview set-top box over the UK's digital TV broadcast network.

I'm looking for volunteers to help me with the experiment - and for a lucky 20 of you I'll provide the set-top box equipment you need - and which you can keep - for free!

The objective of the experiment is to bring Tesco to your living room so that you can see content and 'do useful Tesco things' while you watch TV. I'll expand on that notion shortly.

Tesco.com R&D has been given access to a 32kbps digital stream being broadcast from all main service transmitters listed on this web page link, and my first objective is to send individual messages direct to you on your set-top box.

Now this won't work on just any Freeview box, it needs to be a Tesco Technika or Dion branded box with 'Channel Zero'. Here are two examples of compatible set-top boxes in the images below - you'll see the 'Channel Zero' information on the box and often a leaflet inside:

Now don't be confused here - most Freeview set-top boxes can see a "Channel Zero" on channel 306 (multiplex C) but most set-top boxes can't pick up (or indeed understand) the information contained in it. The above boxes can read the content of this channel - it's this channel I have been given access as a conduit to delivering content.

Here are some objectives of this R&D experiment (mostly in chronological order):
  1. Provide a web page where both we and you can send messages to your own set-top box. This proves that we can identify and broadcast messages to individual boxes.
  2. Create content that will sit on your set-top box which allows you (for example) easy access to product offers and "what's new" in such a way that you can add products straight to your Tesco.com online basket. This will require your set-top box to be plugged into the internet via your router, and for us to find a simple way for you to "join up" your grocery account with your set-top box's unique serial number so you don't have to login each time.
  3. Build on (2) to provide you with your own personalised details such as your online grocery favourites list so again you can add products straight to your basket.
  4. Ultimately, my objective is to see if I can implement a vision of adding products straight to your grocery basket as soon as you are inspired to do so when watching TV without disturbing your viewing. Examples of inspiration might be a commercial, or your favourite cookery show.
I can imagine getting marketing to sponsor a cookery show and allow compatible set-top box (or TV) users to get the ingredients listed on the screen at the push of a button and they use the remote control to quickly add one or more of them to their online grocery basket without getting in the way of the watching the show. Importantly, this would work whether the show is being watched live or played back via PVR (on future PVR-enabled boxes).

But hey let's prove the technical R&D point before we get too carried away.

In the next couple of days on this blog I'll be inviting you to sign up on a web page committing to taking part in this Freeview experiment. If you don't have a set-top box with 'Channel Zero' but want a chance to get one of the 20 Freeview HD boxes I will be providing (which you can keep for free), you'll need to check the following:
  1. You shop with Tesco Groceries online (or via mobile) regularly - at least once a month.
  2. You get a good quality TV signal (whether digital or analogue) from a main TV transmitter and NOT a relay. You'll have to convince me of this so you'll need to investigate! If you already have Freeview then check that you pick up channels Dave, E4+1, and Price Drop TV (all of which broadcast via Multiplex C along with Channel Zero) without any problems. There are plenty of resources on the internet including a postcode checker at http://www.freeview.co.uk/ to help you find out. Also observe the direction your aerial is pointing and look at Google maps or Bing maps to see if it is genuinely pointing to a main transmitter. You have to accept that if you are not getting a decent signal from a main transmitter then it would be unfair for me to send you a set-top box.
  3. A way of connecting the set-top box to your router and thus to the internet. I know - us geeks don't mind trailing ethernet cables everywhere but most of us have partners who regard dangling ethernet cables as 'unsightly'. If you can't get yourself a powerline adapter or wifi games adapter (that allows games consoles to be connected to the internet wirelessly), and your negotiations with your partner regarding cables fails, then alas my free box can't come your way.
  4. Finally some commitment to try this service out at my request on a regular basis. Your box will receive special updates from the transmitter and I'll need you to spend a small amount of time trying out the updates according to my instructions. Don't worry it'll only take a few minutes each time, after which an email to me about what happened is all I need.
Ideally I want each of the free set-top boxes I provide to be used to pick up signals from different transmitters, although this is not an overriding concern as Multiplex C (on which Channel Zero is broadcast) is being transmitted equally nationwide (including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland transmitters).

So if you'd like to take part in my Tesco Freeview experiment - with your own compatible box or a chance of obtaining one from me - go to the top of this article and follow the link.
Don't forget to check out which transmitter you get your TV signals from, and how you might connect your box's ethernet socket to your router!


  1. Interesting idea, and I for one would love to get involved. I think it will be a long while before "Google TV", (or similar), becomes ubiquitous, and this would be a cheap intermediary step for people to have in their homes. I'd be especially interested to see how you propose to capture what item is being shown during adverts or programming, in order to search and add it to the basket. Possible link-up with Tesco Direct / Clothing / Entertainment as well! I guess a tescocompare.com style price comparison would be especially helpful for these type of non-food items.

  2. If the box has to be connected to the internet in order to work, what do you need a 32kbps broadcast stream for?

  3. Hi Brian, we need the broadcast stream to update the box's software. We also want to provide "read-only" services for those who don't ever connect their box to the Internet (e.g. Recipes for display on a kitchen TV).

  4. If the set top box does not have a DVB-t2 tuner and MPEG-4 capabilities and HDMI output, then it will become obsolete in the not too distant future.

    This is like selling AM only radios when FM had already launched.

    Also, in order to avoid the need for a wired ethernet connection, why does the box not have built in WiFi, or at least a USB socket to plug in a WiFI USB adapter?


As this blog grows in readership - and because it carries the Tesco brand - I have had to become more careful about the sort of comments that are acceptable. The good news is that I'm a champion of free speech so please be as praising or as critical as you wish! The only comments I DON'T allow through are:

1. Comments which criticise an individual other than myself, or are critical of an organisation other than Tesco. This is simply because they cannot defend themselves so is unfair and possibly libellous. Comments about some aspect of Tesco being better/worse than another equivalent organisation are allowed as long as you start by saying "in my personal opinion.." or "I think that...". ... followed by a "...because.." and some reasoned argument.

2. Comments which are totally unrelated to the context of the original article. If I have written about a mobile app and you start complaining about the price of potatoes then your comment isn't going stay for long!

3. Advertising / web links / spam.

4. Insulting / obscene messages.

Ok, rules done - now it's your go: