UK Digital Television seems to be such a complex subject that many people are ignoring it and hoping it will go away. It won't. For those of you who don't already have Sky or Freeview, here is the simplest guide possible.
Why do we need Digital TV?
Digital technology lets the programme providers broadcast a wider selection of programmes than is possible with the current system called "analogue". Instead of four or five channels you will be able to receive 30 or more programmes. Of course more is not necessarily better but you WILL still have the five programes that you are used to, plus many more. You will not lose out.
How long do I have?
The proposed schedule for switching off analogue TV means that you will be without TV within a few years. The proposed switch off begins next year in 2006 and will be completed in 2011 (2012 for the Channel Isles).
Proposed completion dates:
2008: Border, West Country and HTV regions
2009: Granada, Grampian, Scottish TV and HTV West regions
2010: Central, Anglia and Yorkshire regions
2011: Meridian, Carlton/LWT, Tyne Tees and Ulster regions
2012: Chanel Isles
What must I do?
You will lose all TV channels unless you buy one or more Digital Tuners. However, you don't need to buy a new TV set - you can use your existing TV as a "monitor" or "display unit" in conjunction with the Digital Tuner. To do this, you will need a "Scart lead", which is a cable that has a large plug on each end. This is usually supplied with the Digital Tuner. (Do make sure that your TV set has a Scart socket).
How does it work?
Let's clear up one thing first. The Digital Tuner will be your "channel selector". You will no longer be able to select channels with your TV remote. You simply switch on your TV and put your TV remote down. Use the Digital Tuner remote to switch the Tuner on and select the desired channel.
If this sounds too complicated then you should consider buying a new TV set with a Digital Tuner built-in.
What must I buy?
You will need a Digital tuner but first decide what type. Here's the choice:
1. A terrestrial Freeview receiver.
This works with a normal aerial but note that you may need to get your aerial and cable replaced in order to get the Freeview receiver to work reliably. The only certain way to find out is to connect the Freeview receiver to your aerial connection. For this reason, it's a good idea to buy it from a shop that will let you return it for a refund. Note: all Freeview receiver have a Scart socket, however they do not all have a connection that lets you watch TV upstairs. If you want to watch the Freeview channels upstairs you must ask for a Freeview receiver with an "R.F. modulator" built in.
A new Freeview box could be as little as £50.
A viewing card is not required, however you can pay around £7.99 per month for a "Top-Up TV" card if you want some additional programmes.
2. A Sky Digital satellite receiver ("Digibox")
This works with a "satellite dish" antenna which is quite small and unobtrusive. It can even be painted to match its surroundings. However, it must be installed where it has a clear southerly view of the satellite which is about 23,000 miles out in space, over Africa. The positioning must be extremely accurate and, although installation can be a D.I.Y. job, you may prefer to get it done either by BskyB or by a local installation company.
The Digibox can be new or used and will receive all BBC channels (plus many "shopping", "travel" and "religion" channels) as it is. If you also want to watch ITV, CH4 and FIVE, then you will need a viewing card.
A used Digibox can be bought for as little as £30. New ones start at around £120.
You can either buy a "Freesat" card for £20, to get ITV, CH4 and FIVE in addition to the free channels, or you can pay BskyB a monthly subscription to get these programmes AND lots more which are transmitted by Sky. Prices range from £13.50 to £41 per month.
Both Freeview and Sky Digital receivers give a wonderful selection (free) of radio programmes including ALL the BBC programmes in good quality stereo. No viewing card is required. (In fact no television is required after initial setting up).
Most people don't know this but your Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) will record a programme even if your TV set is switched off and disconnected! The reason is that a VCR has a tuner built-in, so it doesn't need the tuner inside the TV. This means that they are independent - you can watch a programme on TV while recording a different one on the VCR.
Unfortunately, this happy situation ceases with Digital TV. You will be able to record only the programme that is selected on your Digital Tuner. Obviously, this will be the programme that you are watching unless you buy a second Digital Tuner just for the VCR. (If you do then make sure it is a different model and uses a different remote control).
However, there IS an answer. You can buy a Digital Tuner with a "Personal Video Recorder" (PVR) built in. This will let you watch one programme while recording another.
Digital TV provides subtitles on many programmes, for the hard of hearing. Unfortunately, blind users are not as well favoured since the Digital Tuners use on-screen menu systems that can make it difficult to locate the programme you want. However, it is not impossible and you will soon memorise the button sequences.
Top-Up TV: http://www.topuptv.com
BskyB: http://www.sky.com or 08705 800 874
Info about everything http://www.satcure.co.uk
About the author
Martin T Pickering is a 54 year old Technical Writer who runs his own UK-based mail-order business.