|Does the prospect of more TV channels fail to excite?|
Are you prepared for the big TV switchover?
In 2008 all TV in the South West should be broadcast digitally. But what does this mean? And, when the switchover happens, will you still be able to tune in?
We've discovered that many people are very confused about the complexity and cost of going digital, and in some areas even turning digital still isn't an option.
"Digital television uses digital modulation and compression to broadcast video, audio and data signals to television sets". Wikipedia.
It sounds confusing, but essentially, it means that the TV picture you see is broken down into mnillions of one and zero digits that modern electronics so love.
By breaking the signal down in this way, it enables the picture to be processed electronically, so other things become possible.
The most important thing this allows is compression.
Compressing the signal allows you to carry more channels of information - that means more TV channels to watch.
|With all those new channels why are they all showing the same?|
Analogue TV is stuck, offering five channels through an aerial.
Digital TV ups that number to more than 20 if you use a service like Freeview or more than 200 if you're prepared to pay for an extensive satellite service.
But digital TV offers more than simply more choice, it can offer improved picture quality and greater interactivity as well - if you can get it.
Are you covered?
Half the households in the South West have already tuned in to digital, but for the other half, it might not be a simple thing.
At the moment, only 70% of households can receive a signal through their aerial.
But this is the age of choice and you can get digital television via Satellite, cable and broadband aswell.
However these choices aren't available everywhere...
Polperro - a digital black hole
|Picturesque? Yes - Digital TV pictures? No|
Polperro in Cornwall is a village that holiday dreams are made of.
The village is a maze of narrow, winding streets. Cottages sit perched on steep slopes overlooking a tiny harbour.
It is a beautiful location, except if you want to watch digital TV.
There isno digital signal available through an aerial, there's no cable service in the village and the TV satellites remain hidden from view.
Villagers are concerned that they will be left out when the switch is thrown.
Tony Giddy, a resident of Polperro, sees having TV as one of life's priorities. He's worried that the village is going to be left off the digital map.
He's worried a lack of television could send the village into decline;
"People will not buy a house without a television picture, or if they do it's going to be at rock-bottom price".
Richard Lindsey-Davies, Director of Public Affairs for the Digital Television Group says the digital TV industry is working hard to ensure that different areas such as Polperro are catered for when the switchover takes place.
|"They may find that they can't get TV at all after digital switch occur."|
But Chris Goodall a media industry analyst working for Enders Analysis feels such guarantees simply cannot be given,
"The people who can get television after digital switchover won't necessarily be exactly the same people that can get television with analogue system.
"This may disproportionately effect the South West. There may be people in the South West who can get television now who won't get television after the switchover.
"And I guess, nobody knows precisely, that those people will be in the steep river valleys, in the estuaries, on the high moorlands, where television is already a bit erratic."
The big switch
The government remains convinced that digital television is a good thing, it wants everyone to switch - and it's setting a deadline.
Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has is saying that the country should expect to switch to solely digital TV broadcasting by 2013.
It plans to switch over to digital on a region-by region basis - The South West is predicted to be one of the first areas to have analogue TV turned off in 2008.
The last region to switch is scheduled to be the Channel Islands.
Officially, the Government has yet to confirm the timetable for switchover.
The cost to the consumer
|Transmitters are being upgraded to carry the new digital signals|
The costs of going digital are twofold. Firstly the whole broadcast infrastructure needs upgrading.
Transmitters need to be upgraded to carry the new signals.
Secondly viewers need to upgrade their televisions to receive the new broadcasts, by purchasing new TVs or set-top boxes.
Although half the households in the South West have already made the transition, there is still a long way to go.
The consumer has so far had to bear the cost of upgrading their sets to receive the new services, but what about those who cannot afford to upgrade?
The problem for the South West is, there is a higher percentage of elderly people than the rest of the country. For some it is going to be an expensive and complicated business.
Chris Goodall says, "I don't think that is necessarily fair on those people, particularly as those people don't attach much value to the extra television channels they are going to get as a result".
It's far from clear whether the government intends to help those struggling with digital switchover.
We took pensioner Terence Scarborough to the shops to see how much it would cost him to turn digital.
At the moment Terence has two televisions and a video recorder.
|To go digital Terence could be faced with a £400 bill |
The cost of upgrading his aerial. to receive the new transmissions, plus buying the set-top boxes he would need came to around £400, A price Terence Scarborough feels he can ill afford.
The government is considering the recommendations of consumer groups which argue that help should be made available to vunerable groups.
Richard Lindsey-Davies says, "Whether it's helping them through the installation of their products, or whether it's actually going further than that and helping them convert to digital television is yet to be decided.
"Government has said it will come out later this year with those recommendations." say Richard.
Selling the spectrum
|Phone companies paid £19bn to license new radio frequencies in 2000|
One reason why the government is backing digital is that it will free up a proportion of the radio frequency.
The government is keen to license these frequencies to business - previously this has been a very lucrative thing to do.
Profits from the sale of analogue frequencies will go straight to the Treasury.
Digital TV coverage in the UK has risen to around 60-70% of households, but the remaining 30% of coverage is expected to be the most costly and expensive to achieve.
The Government says it will will only agree to switch off analogue transmissions when something approaching universal coverage is achieved.
The internet - The key to the future?
Supporters of digital TV say it's the future of television, but critics claim the whole project is out of date.
|Will the internet be the means of getting our TV fix?|
With the internet being able to deliver higher and higher quality video and audio they believe this will be the place people turn to in the future for their entertainment.
Others believe the government may have overestimated the value of the analogue frequencies they can sell off once the switchover has taken place.
The cost of going digital has been put at between £5bn and £7bn in the UK. Other European countries have abandoned the project, believing the cost to consumers is simply too great.
However there are no signs that the government's enthusiasm for digital TV is waning, so be prepared to buy a set-top box or new TV if you want to keep watching.