Now analogue is going what do you need to know about digital TV?

Tue, Jul 17, 2012, 01:00

In 100 days the analogue TV signal will be turned off, so time is running out for those who will be affected to prepare themselves for a new digital TV reality, writes CONOR POPE

WHAT’S THE STORY WITH ALL THE RYAN TUBRIDY ADS ON THE TV? ARE WE NOT SUPPOSED TO GET A BREAK FROM HIM IN THE SUMMER?

It’s been hard to escape the ads for Saorview in recent weeks as those charged with making sure the 300,000 Irish homes that only have access to an analogue television signal don’t get left behind once the big turn off comes.

In 100 days from now the signals which have kept hundreds of thousands of televisions across the State flickering companionably for generations will be switched off forever as digital television muscles itself into the frame and Ryan is the voice of the “great switch off/on”. You may be surprised to learn that he has given his face and voice to the advertising campaign free of charge.

MUST WE BOTHER WITH THIS DIGITAL BUSINESS? CAN WE NOT JUST STICK WITH OUR ANALOGUE SIGNAL?

The signal is being abandoned across the EU so the Republic had no choice but to follow suit.

It will be a pain for some people but it is still a good news story. Those who have been living in an analogue-only world don’t know what they have been missing and once they get the new system they will get more channels, better sound and pictures, a fancier Aertel and an electronic programme guide (EPG).

DO I REALLY NEED TO CARE OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT IS GOING TO GO AWAY?

Well, it depends on your circumstances. If you have a Sky or UPC box then you are already watching digital TV and do not need to do anything. Unless, that is, you have more than one telly which is not hooked up to the UPC or Sky box.

According to the people at Saorview, about 250,000 households get at least a portion of their television through an aerial which relies on the old school analogue service.

If you are one of them you’re going to need a set-top box to continue to access the Irish channels on the extra televisions.

SET-TOP BOX? SOUNDS EXPENSIVE.

Ah, it’s not really. A set-top box can be yours for about €50.

Saorview can be accessed through a set-top box or with integrated digital televisions.

MY FOLKS HAVE PIPED TV VIA A CABLE. DO THEY NEED SAORVIEW AND, IF SO, WHAT BOX TYPE DO THEY NEED?

Yes. They are going to need a set-top box or a Saorview approved TV.

A SAORVIEW? WHAT NOW?

Saorview-approved equipment – either set-top boxes on televisions – will have been tested and will be guaranteed to be compatible with the new system.

DON’T TELL ME I AM GOING TO HAVE TO GET A NEW TV.

Ah no, don’t be fretting now. You don’t actually need to buy a new television, but if you are in the market for one you may as well make sure it is digitally enhanced so to speak. Saorview approved TVs have decoders built in so there is no need for a separate set-top box.

I BOUGHT MY TELLY TWO YEARS AGO. IS IT SAORVIEW READY?

Possibly. Many TVs sold in recent years have a digital decoder built in. To get the Saorview channels your TV will need an MPEG-4 decoder.

It’s not hard to check if your TV has such a decoder. There is an approved product listing on saorview.ieor you can scan the manual for the magic “MPEG-4” phrase. If you don’t have a manual, Google your TV model number and check the online manual.

THAT SOUNDS COMPLICATED.

That’s only the half of it. Another way to check the digital qualities of your TV is to go to the set-up menu and see if it allows you to choose analogue and digital tuning. If it does, select digital tuning.

If you receive TV pictures and sound you have an MPEG4 TV. If you receive sound but no pictures you have an older MPEG2 TV. Yet another way to check is to run a first-time set-up with your TV: if it finds RTÉ News Now, you’re good to go.

IF I DO NEED THE SET-TOP BOX, CAN I INSTALL IT MYSELF?

For most people switching is simple. You buy a Saorview approved set-top box, or a Saorview approved television, plug your existing aerial connection into the socket at the back, and menus then prompt you what to do next. It should take about five minutes.

The cheapest set-top boxes cost about €50 but under no circumstances should you pay more than €100 for one. Unless that is, it is a combi-box which will give you access to the free-to-air satellite services as well as the Saorview channels.

If you have an aerial and are picking up both RTÉ channels, TV3 and TG4 right now, you will just have to connect the set-top box to your current cabling system to get it up and running; if you only get two or three of the channels now, it’s likely the aerial will need to be adjusted.

I HAVE A FREE-TO-AIR SATELLITE SYSTEM WHICH I USE IN CONJUNCTION WITH MY ANALOGUE SERVICE. HOW AM I FIXED?

It gets more complicated if you decide to combine Saorview with free-to-air satellite. The satellite box and the separate box for Saorview are connected independently to the back of your TV set.

A neater option is to buy a Saorview approved set-top box with built-in satellite receiver. This is a box that can take an aerial input and a satellite dish input.

A third method is to use a Saorview approved TV with a built-in satellite receiver. You can connect an aerial and a satellite dish directly to this, without the need for a set-top box.

Any of these options will give you Irish channels, and over 150 UK and international channels with no subscription fees.

WHAT ELSE?

There are two Saorview approved set-top boxes with built-in satellite tuners. These are the TriaxTSC 114 and the Walker WP645TS-HD.

These boxes are capable of receiving the Saorview and digital terrestrial signal as well as the free-to-air UK and international satellite channels.

For a once-off installation cost, the viewer will end up with over 150 TV channels, including all the Irish channels, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, etc.

Both of these boxes facilitate recording. Your existing VCR or DVD recorder could be used, but the simplest option at the moment is recording via the USB port on the box.

You simply connect a hard drive or memory stick through the USB port on the set-top box. There are also a limited range of

Saorview approved televisions which

have a satellite receiver and would therefore have the same capabilities as the set-top boxes with satellite receiver. As before, an aerial and the right satellite dish will also be required.

ARE THERE ANY PLANS TO MAKE BBC OR UTV AVAILABLE ON THE SIMPLEST SAORVIEW SYSTEM?

The short answer is no. Saorview is an Irish platform that carries Irish channels

only.

I GET IRISH CHANNELS ON THE DIGITAL BAND ON THE TV (THROUGH UHF AERIAL OUTSIDE). IS THIS THE SAME AS SAORVIEW?

If you have a television that can receive digital, and you are looking at the Irish channels through an aerial, it is likely that you are already receiving the Saorview service.

Check you have the eight Saorview channels including the four that are not available on analogue.

These are 3E, RTÉ News Now, RTÉ Junior and RTÉ One +1.

Another quick way to check is to switch to RTÉ One: can you see a logo in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen “X 24 October”?

If you can see that logo, you are still watching the analogue service.

IN CERTAIN AREAS, CAN YOU RECEIVE DIGITAL FREE-TO-AIR CHANNELS THROUGH THE EXISTING AERIAL?

To receive Saorview, you need a UHF aerial, and either a Saorview approved set-top box, or a Saorview approved TV.

Most people who receive TV through an aerial already have the right aerial for Saorview so they need to buy a Saorview approved set-top box, or a Saorview approved TV, and plug their existing aerial connection into it.

If you need an aerial, or need to have your existing aerial replaced you should call a local, competent, aerial installer.

IF I CHOOSE THE FREE-TO-AIR OPTION TO RECEIVE IRISH AND UK CHANNELS, HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO INSTALL THE DISH AND CONNECTION TO ONE OR MORE TVS IN A PROPERTY?

The pricing varies depending on what you already have. If you have a satellite dish or an aerial the price falls.

If you are starting from scratch, you can expect to pay about €350 to have a dish, aerial and set-top box supplied and installed to receive both Saorview and free-to-air satellite.

While prices will vary depending on the house, the distance the installer has to travel and other factors, you should never pay more than €500 to have everything put in place.

WILL EVERYONE BE ABLE TO ACCESS IT WITH THE AERIAL?

No. While the vast majority of people will be able to access all the indigenous broadcasters via the Saorview system using nothing more fancy than 21st century rabbit’s ears, some will be left in the dark and will have to buy a satellite system called Saorsat.

Over 30,000 homes will have to install such a satellite system because they live in network “black spots”.

Remote areas of Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Waterford and Wicklow are likely to be most affected.

DOES RTÉ KNOW WHAT PARTS OF THE COUNTRY WON’T BE ABLE TO RECEIVE SAORVIEW?

Sort of. Generally, black spots will be found in mountainous areas where terrestrial signals simply cannot reach. Deep valleys and mountains provide a physical barrier that can prevent the Saorview signal from reaching homes.

However, these households are covered by the Saorsat satellite. The online coverage checker – which can be found on the Saorview website – will give more specific coverage information.

You simply enter your address, and the checker shows if you are covered by Saorview or Saorsat.

I LIVE IN A COUNTY BORDERING NORTHERN IRELAND. CAN I RECEIVE THE UK SERVICES VIA AN AERIAL?

Many households in the counties bordering Northern Ireland, and some along the east coast, can receive overspill from the UK. There are equipment compatibility considerations which must be taken into account and you should talk to your local retailer or installer about equipment choice if overspill is relevant to you.

Saorview approved set-top boxes and televisions will receive Saorview – and most likely receive Freeview, where both are available.

Freeview set-top boxes and televisions will probably not receive Saorview.

Freeview high-definition (HD) set-top boxes and televisions will receive Freeview and will probably receive Saorview, where they are available.

Saorview obviously recommends that people only buy its pre-approved products. It says that if a non-Saorview approved product is used, some functions such as clocks and channel ordering may be irregular.

IS THE STATE GOING TO HELP LOW-INCOME FAMILIES WITH THE COSTS?

No. Some 20 per cent of adults on lower incomes only have access to the terrestrial channels and will have to find the cash to buy the set-top box or television.

The Government is offering nothing by way of a grant to these people.

Satellite television: A great way to save on your TV bills

WATCHING TELEVISION can cost a packet.

A 25-year-old who takes out the most basic TV subscription with one of the main providers and diligently buys a TV licence every year will shell out in excess of €35,000 over the course of their lifetime.

It’s a lot of cash by any definition, but it doesn’t have to be so bad – the same 25-year-old can, if they take advantage of a free satellite service, save at least €25,000 off their TV bill over the same long life.

Freesat services are, as their name suggests, free, and much cheaper than Sky and UPC but despite the fact that this much cheaper alternative is available, more than one million Irish households seem quite happy to fork out over €400 a year for their viewing pleasure.

With the prices that the major companies are charging, it is remarkable more people do not take advantage of the freeview satellite services that are legally available throughout the country at a fraction of the cost.

A satellite dish can be bought for €100 while a combi-box offering more than 200 channels and Irish digital channels costs a little more than that while the dish can be installed for around €200.

Once installed the dish will give you access to hundreds of stations, including all the BBC channels, ITV, Film Four, a range of children’s channels, multiple news channels, including Sky News and CNN, and a host of other channels that are, in truth, of marginal interest.

The absence of customer support should something go wrong is an issue while there are no guarantees of service if the freeview option falls down.

Dealers only sell and install the equipment and cannot guarantee what channels will be available, so, in the admittedly unlikely event that the BBC or ITV pull their service, those with access to the free satellite service have no comeback.

If you are starting from scratch, you can expect to pay about €350 to have a dish, aerial and set-top box supplied and installed to receive both Saorview and free-to-air satellite

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