As the digital TV revolution gathers pace, Minister for Industry and the Regions Margaret Hodge answers questions on the planned changes and the steps FMs should be taking
15 December 2006
Television in the UK is changing - by 2012, all TV signals will be switched to a digital format. After the switch, all TV sets that are not yet digital will not work unless they are adapted to receive digital broadcasts.
The digital switch over will involve the phased switch-off of the analogue terrestrial television transmission network and its replacement with a new, fully digital television network. The programme for digital switch over will be led out by the town of Whitehaven, Cumbria in October 2007, and then roll out nationally as follows:
Starting in 2008 Border
Starting in 2009 West Country, Wales, Granada
Starting in 2010 West, Grampian, Scottish
Starting in 2011 Central, Yorkshire, Anglia
Starting in 2012 Meridian, London, Tyne Tees, Ulster
The switch over will affect all equipment that has not been adapted. This includes television sets, video recorders and aerial systems, particularly communal systems found in larger commercial and public sector properties with multiple TV users.
Many landlords, managing agents and procurement and facilities management professionals have already thought about adapting communal systems in their properties. With the first areas switching as early as 2008, there is everything to gain from taking action as soon as possible.
Q: Why do we need to switch?
A: The government wants everyone to have greater choice of TV. While over
70 per cent of UK households have digital TV, today one in four cannot get it via their aerial. It's only possible to boost the digital TV signal by switching off the existing analogue broadcasting system. Digital is also more efficient. It frees up radio spectrum that could be used for other innovative services such as mobile TV or high-definition TV.
Q: I work in FM, how will the switch over affect me?
A: The switch over will bring challenges for viewers as well as landlords, managing agents and procurement professionals. Communal systems, which carry the TV signal to multiple users, are likely to need specialist attention if they are to keep working after switch over: in the UK, 95 per cent of local authorities and 74 per cent of registered social landlords own, or manage, properties with communal TV systems. Others which rely on communal TV systems include universities, hotels and hospitals.
Q: Which issues do I need to think about?
A: This is a major change so a variety of factors need to be considered - budget, which TV services you want to provide, and environmental impact such as energy use and waste disposal. The government's advice is to ensure that the necessary provision is made well ahead of the switch in your region.
The switch over also provides the opportunity to think more widely about communications infrastructure. For example, when East Thames, a registered social landlord in London, decided to upgrade its communal TV system, it took full advantage of the change. It now provides 180 households on one estate with a system that offers more than 120 free digital TV stations, a community channel, broadband, internet and email access as well as computer services on the TV screen.
Q: How can I find energy efficient TV equipment?
A: Where a television is being replaced, look for an integrated digital TV set (ie one with a digital box built in) carrying the "Energy Saving Recommended" logo. This shows that the product meets strict criteria set by the Energy Saving Trust, an organisation which is backed by government. Qualifying TVs are listed on www.est.org.uk. or can be identified in-store by the logo.
If you are buying a set-top box to convert an existing television, you can find information about the energy consumption of various models at www.ricability-digitaltv.org.uk/product-reports. A product with lower energy consumption will help save money on electricity bills as well as saving energy.
Q: The switch over is going to present some challenges for FM, are there any good practice tips?
A: When purchasing new TV equipment, make sure it carries the 'digital tick' logo. It appears on products and services that are designed to work before, during and after switch over.
Good information about existing TVs, any communal TV systems, and the needs of the audience is critical to help make the right decisions. The property manager may wish to commission a survey from a specialist consultancy to evaluate the TV stock.
A specification should be developed for the upgrade programme. Specialist help may be required. Digital UK will be leading work on the preparation of a technical specification and other related information for property managers, which will be available shortly at www.digitaluk.co.uk
Upgrading work can be incorporated into existing works for upgrading and redeveloping to minimise disruption and strain on resources.
For installation work, use a registered digital installer. Details can be found at www.rdi-lb.tv
Digital UK is the not-for-profit organisation set up by the broadcasting industry to co-ordinate the switchover programme. Further details are available at www.digitaluk.co.uk
The good practice guide Digital Switchover: a good practice briefing special edition can be found at www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk/publications/pub_goodpractice.html
The DTI has funded independent testing of digital TV equipment. Test reports can be found at: www.ricability-digitaltv.org.uk