Digital Switchover – analogue TV signals stop on 24 October 2012, but RTE1/2 and TG4 will be available digitally right across Ireland

In primary school – P4 or P5 – I remember listening to a short current affairs educational radio programme that mentioned the new concept of cable TV and channels arriving in homes through coaxial cable rather than aerials.

It was at least another ten years before CableTel started to dig up the streets of Belfast. Early cable TV systems were analogue, but they paved the way for today’s bewildering choice of television transmission technologies that now includes cable, satellite, digital terrestrial, and IPTV.

By early 2011, 90% of homes in Northern Ireland homes had a television or set top box capable of receiving digital TV. (Source: Ofcom’s Communications Market Report Northern Ireland, 2011.)

On Friday morning, a robot called Digit Al user the ever-so-wonky Albert Clock to unveil the date on which analogue television signals in Ireland will cease to be transmitted.

Denis Wolinski and Digit Al unveil digital switchover date

In just over a year – on 24 October 2012 to be precise – 0% of Northern Ireland homes will be able to pick up an old analogue television signal. Two weeks beforehand, analogue BBC Two will be switched off as a final reminder to anyone who missed the publicity.

In fact, 0% of homes in Ireland will be able to pick up an analogue signal as plans for Digital Switchover have been synchronised across the island.

While Northern Ireland’s three main transmitters already broadcast Freeview at low power, switching off analogue allows the digital signal to be boosted and extended to the 40 or so relay transmitters. That’ll boost Freeview availability from 66% of households up to 98.5%.

As part of NI’s switchover, a mini-mux (a small group of channels) will broadcast RTE1, RTE2 and TG4 right across Northern Ireland meaning that the days of stealing overspill signal from the Irish transmitters near the border – or relying on the low power Divis transmitter that broadcasts the Irish language channel TG4 to parts of Belfast – are gone. However, some content (eg, sport) may be subject to rights issues and be removed from the northern version of these channels. People living close to the border will of course still be able to tune in the overspill of the southern transmitters as long as they have the right spec of set top box. Local media has so far made little mention of the availability of RTE1, RTE2 and TG4 right across the north.

Denis Wolinski (he’s the one on the left) is Digital UK’s man in NI. At Friday’s announcement about the date he explained:

This announcement paves the way for the end of analogue TV and the dawn of a fully digital age in which everyone can enjoy more channels, more choice and better pictures. Digital UK will ensure people know what to do, and that advice and practical support are available to those who need it.

That last sentence is important. Paid for out of the BBC licence fee, the Switchover Help Scheme offers practical help to people who are aged 75 and over, eligible for certain disability benefits, registered blind or partially sighted or living in care homes.

For £40, they will be given equipment to switch one TV per household to digital. They will be able to have that equipment installed if they want it, a demonstration of how it works and a number to call while they get used to things. If they’re eligible and also on income-related benefits, the help will be free. Everyone eligible will be contacted directly before switchover. More information is available on 0800 40 85 900 and online at helpscheme.co.uk.

With slightly different digital transmission standards in use in the north and south of the island, together with the introduction of Freeview HD (and Youview), clear and practical information will need to be made available for everyone so that the right choices are made.

Northern Ireland will be the very last region of the UK to switch over. The October date means that audiences relying on Freeview won’t be able to watch Euro 2012 and the London Olympics in high definition as Freeview HD won’t be available until switchover in October. However, coverage in HD should be available on cable, Sky, Freesat, etc.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by the numbers 0 and 1!

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  • Comrade Stalin

    In theory, the DVB-T and MPEG4 standards should be European-wide. I’d not have expected any issues with interoperability of DTV hardware in any European jurisdiction.

    As time goes on, we are seeing more and more convergence with the Internet. There is currently a push of sorts for Multicast TV, and essentially the same MPEG4 transport stream as is presented over DVB-T will be sent across the internet in an efficient manner. I’d say that broadcast TV as we currently know it will be obsolete within the next ten years.

  • From memory, Saorview is using MPEG4 encoding over DVB-T2 while most of Freeview is MPEG2 over DVB-T (with Freeview HD MPEG4 over DVB-T2)

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ah right, as usual the free staters are ahead of us 🙂

  • Those who start late have a technological advantage. Same story around use of DAB+ in some countries.

  • This may be total ignorance on my part – but why can’t we get TV3? I remember my Grandmother wanting to watch a documentary recently and having to get my Uncle in Donegal to burn it onto DVD.

    Is it because it is commercial?

  • Also Cabletel! That brings back memories. It truly was a triumphant occasion for me when my BBC employed father caved in and got cable.

  • Framer

    I think Comrade S that NI was waiting for the Staters to set their date but more importantly can we resist the curse of digital radio becoming compulsory. Slow channel changing on TV is just about tolerable but not with radio and added variable reception.

    Luckily people are voting with their feet by not going out to buy a digital radio.

  • JR

    My Wife an I have finally decided to get a new TV, we will be throwing out our 1980’s 22″ and buying an internet smart tv.Untill last year we had only the RTE channels with poor reception (we weren’t bothered to get a decent ariel)

    Looking forward to never having to watch Nationwide again.

  • iluvni

    So, does that mean the days of watching Champions League on RTE2 and TV3 are coming to an end?

  • antamadan

    I can’t see this being as simple as stated. My UK digital TV doesn’t work in the south, or a freeview digital disk for recording TV. The guy in the shop said that the UK was on a different digital system, than ROI which went with the European standard; but that eventually the UK will have to switch to Euro standards. Bottom line -pessimist that I am- I would expect northerners that get southern terrestrial TV to lose it and not to be able to get Irish digital TV without buying a saorview box, hassle that could help partitional views.

    By the way, the southern Saorview box gives you the channels mentioned above plus tv3, 3E, RTÉ1+1 and RTÉ news.

  • chrisbrowne28 – that’s a question for TV3 and the two governments!

    iluvni – depends on the rights they hold (all island or just RoI).

  • Sky and ITV hold the rights for Champions League matches in the UK. I’d imagine the schedule available for RTE up here will be something similar to that offered on the Sky box, UK wide. That means most sports events will not be shown.

    That having always been the attraction of RTE in the first place,this is not a particularly exciting development.

    I gather turning down the analogue signal has already caused some disruption in rural areas, with the digital equivalent proving pretty fitful where there are trees etc. Perhaps this will be sorted out when the analogue is turned off altogether.

  • Will this be the usual “You pays your money and you takes your choice”? Costs me about $70 per month to get about 200 or 300 channels, only about 7 of which I regularly watch (typical pattern for most households).

  • There are now some DVB-T2 tuners (for computers) that also support DVB-T – although at the moment some of them have software that only allows you to use one at a time.

    I think I will just plug in 2 tuners, on e for T2 and the other for T, and tell MythTV which one to use for each channel.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The part about a short delay between channel hopping is an inherent function of the way the digital broadcast is transmitted. It takes a little while for the video decoder to detach from one channel and reattach to another. The problem is more pronounced when it has to switch to a different MUX which involves getting the digital tuner to re-lock to a different frequency.

    For digital radio I’m wondering why they did not simply use the same system they use for digital TV, except with audio-only channels (radio channels are already broadcast over DTV). I guess the reason must have been something to do with the aerial types required for the relevant frequency bands, and the receiver power requirements.

  • Zig70

    tv3 is commercial so had the choice to pay to broadcast in the north. I’d like more info on if my tv will decode both formats easily or if setup is required. pity about tv3.