All around the world, the migration to digital broadcast transmission technology has begun. Countries already advanced in their migration programmes are France, United States, United Kingdom, Sweden and New Zealand.
In Finland and Mauritius, the analogue switch-off has already been done.
In Europe and Africa, a timeline has been agreed within the framework of an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) treaty. After June 2015 analogue television transmissions will no longer be protected from harmful interference caused by digital TV transmissions. Analogue TV transmissions will not be permitted to interfere with digital TV transmissions.
South Africa will be a market leader in the mass roll-out of MPEG4 compression (the technology of choice for digital transmission). The only other country to have rolled out this advanced technology is New Zealand with a population of just 5-million people. Other countries are in the planning stage for MPEG4 digital, whereas South Africa is already in the trial phase and well on its way to implementation.
Until now, TV and radio signals have been broadcast on an analogue platform. Analogue television requires a large amount of bandwidth to transmit the picture and sound information.
The more bandwidth, the more can be carried - a bit like traffic lanes on a highway. Analogue signals use a lot of bandwidth, limiting the amount of signal that can get through at any one time.
Digital signals, on the other hand, require much less bandwidth - up to 9 times as much digital information can be carried in the same bandwidth!
The result is a brighter, sharper picture and much better sound quality; like the difference between an old video cassette and a DVD.
Digital broadcasting is the way the world is moving, but digital TV offers so much more than just better picture and sound quality. South Africa's acclaimed plan (called the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy) to go digital aims to enhance the lives of South Africans.
The main aim is to bridge the so-called 'digital divide' (the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology, and those with very limited access or none at all).
This will redress the unequal acquisition of skills needed to make the best use of this technology to improve one's knowledge and quality of life.
It will also help to grow the economy, e.g. Set Top Boxes (required to receive a digital signal) will be built in South Africa and will therefore create jobs. The introduction of digital television in our country also opens up a host of other economic opportunities for the ICT sector and the local content and creative industry.
Good news is, you don't have to buy a new TV! You may use your existing TV set to watch the digital channels.
However, you will need to purchase a Set Top Box (STB), which plugs straight into theTV sets, either via the aerial connection point for older TV sets, or via RCA/AV points of the newer TV sets. The STB receives the digital signal and decodes it so that it can be viewed on an analogue TV set.
TV viewers will incur a once-off cost to buy a Set Top Box. The free-to-air channels such as SABC and e.tv will continue to be available for free - no subscription fee will be charged. You will still be required to pay your TV licence.
The final price of the STB is still to be determined. Consumers will be informed in due course once STBs have been developed, is available to market and the purchase price has been determined.
CAN'T AFFORD IT?
Government is also developing a Scheme for Ownership Support (SOS) to support poor families that are unable to afford STBs. Once the details of the scheme has been finalised and the scheme is ready to be rolled out, consumers will be informed on criteria for qualification and the application process.
The migration to digital TV is a huge programme to implement, but South Africa is well on its way. Cutting edge technology, set top boxes and broadcasting signals are currently being tested.
Globally analogue signals will no longer be protected after 2015.
The aim is to kick off roll-out to the public during the first half of 2010 once the following is in place:
- STBs are in production and are available
- broadcasters have new channels ready to broadcast
To make sure we get it right first time, South Africa will be switching over to full digital broadcast in a phased manner, making sure everything is working properly as we go.