To explain it simply, Digital TV (Freeview) within the UK is currently streamed using MPEG2 encoding. While the GPU within the Raspberry Pi can physically support it, the foundation say that the cost of the licensing to use MPEG2 is too much in relation to the price of the board, and including it at this stage wouldn’t meet the objectives of the Foundation.
Two licensed codecs will be provided at launch, MPEG4 and h.264. Codec licences have quite an impact of the cost of the device which is why there are only two at this stage. There are non-licensed Codecs such at MPEG2, VC1 etc, but for the moment they will not be accelerated by the GPU.
This basically means that you can use an MPEG2 decoder on the Raspberry Pi, but it will have to be a software decoder, and will run on the ARM processor, and not the dedicated GPU. This would put a large amount of strain on the main processor, and the end results are likely to be un-viewable.
So. All in all, no MPEG2, no live or recorded TV on the Pi.
The foundation have stated that it might be possible to buy an additional license for each Pi you own, but this would take time, and they aren’t sure that the administration could be managed smoothly enough from their end to make it worth while.
Looks like I’m on the hunt again for something to use as a frontend, that doesn’t cost the earth to purchase. x86 architecture is looking good now…