Digital TV - Q and A
No more Television?
Television is so ubiquitous these days that we take it for granted. We don't even have to pay a licence fee, but from November 2013 it will be a thing of the past for anyone who can't receive a digital signal.
As part of an awareness campaign being run by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Sandra Greig and Peter Matcham of Grey Power (Petone) talked to their representative. They have agreed to allow us to reprint the following "Q and A".
In Peter's words: I promised that the following would be a techy free zone, so if you want to know the gory details of MPEG4, MHEG-5, Nyquist’s theorem, the limiting factors of human visual acuity on optimum viewing arc etc, then let me know and I'll do a follow up!
I should also add that the answers to the questions below have been filtered through my jaundiced view of the world with the cynicism filter set to max. If you want the glossy feel good version, try the Going Digital site.
What is digital Television?
As the name implies it's a means of sending out TV signals in digital form, like music on a CD, rather than analogue like a LP record. Nothing scary in that.
Why is NZ changing to Digital transmission?
Easy, the Government can make some money out of it. Digital signals take up less room than analogue for the same amount of information, so once all the TV signals have been squashed up, the Government can flog off the extra room for people to have even more cell phones!
Are there any benefits to us?
Well yes. With a digital signal its much easier to correct any errors so picture quality is more consistent and can be better, particularly in areas which currently have poor reception. A digital signal can also carry more information so it can be used for so called "High Definition" pictures -if the station you are watching transmits it of course -TVNZ largely doesn't.
(By the way, High Definition means that the TV display is now nearly as good as computer monitors were twenty years ago -go figure!)
The other benefit touted for the digital age is the on-screen electronic programme guide (epg), which means of course you have to get up and walk across the room and peer at the screen to find out what is on next rather than have an inconvenient magazine beside you. Oh yes, it's also meant to make recording stuff easier; great idea, good software, lousy data. Until broadcasters actually integrate their transmission data with the epg signal you are still going to find you have recorded half of two programmes neither of which you are interested in, because the broadcaster decided to reschedule something.
Will it cost me?
Ay, there's the rub, as the Bard would have it. Yes, it might cost a lot. Depends on what you have already.
There are two bits of kit you will need -an aerial, and a decoder.
Just to make life difficult, Digital TV comes in two forms, satellite transmission and terrestrial, and to compound the felony, what you get in terms of programmes is different.
It also comes in two flavours: Freeview which is basically the free to air channels you get now, and pay to view, marketed in NZ by Sky TV.
If you have got a new TV in the last year, it will almost certainly have a Freeview decoder built in. If you watch Prime, you may already have a UHF aerial.
Similarly, if you already have Sky then you will already have a satellite dish, and as the Sky transmission is digital, so you also have a decoder. Even if you don’t have Sky, you may have a satellite dish left behind by a previous owner.
If none of the above apply then in a worse case scenario you could be looking at around $500 -$600 all up to get the signal to your TV.
Do I have a choice of going digital?
Not if you want to watch TV after November 2013.
In the UK, people were encouraged to make the change to digital by a lot of exciting and high quality new channels and services. Will we get this in NZ?
You are joking of course. That policy was driven by the BBC, which despite all its funding cuts is still committed to a Public Service ethic. In New Zealand we have TVNZ. They are driven by just one thing -how much advertising revenue they can get, on Government orders, and no Government is going to change that focus and give up all those dividends just so you can watch high quality documentaries or hard hitting current affairs.
Sky offers a wide range of services that is likely to get better, but only if you want to keep paying "just a few dollars more" each week.
How do I know what I need?
You can go through a checklist at Going Digital's website: Find out what I need .
The good news is that this is a Government site so they are not trying to sell you anything, any advice is independent.
The not such good news is that it doesn't tell you anything that's not in this article, and it omits the most important question -What do you watch or want to watch.
Content is King
Deciding on which way to go comes down to content not technology, plus money of course, but despite the ads from Sky trying to convince you otherwise, the first year cost of both systems from start up is very similar.
Beyond that there is no cost for Freeview, but there is for Sky. But if you want to watch movies and sport all day then Sky is the way to go.
On the other hand if all you watch is TV One, you’d be silly to pay out every week for the privilege.
What do I do next?
In the words of the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy "Don't Panic". There is still two years to go. If you need, or want a new TV in that time, then you will get a decoder with it, so that's one thing less to worry about. In this area technology is still changing rapidly and it's all about 'convergence', having a bit of kit that does multiple jobs. In two years time the options in terms of what is the best equipment for you may well be different, so don't rush into any decisions.
Always ask first
If you are not sure what you need, and what your best options are, always ask someone other than the salesman before shelling out any dosh.
If you are comfortable using the Internet, there are sites for all levels of technical knowhow that are very candid in their reviews, and we have plenty of tech savvy [Grey Power] members who could help with advice and who aren't out to make money from you.
You can also contact Grey Power's Petone office and we'll do our best to help.