GEO

Seven things you should know about the digital switchover

19 May, 2014

 

In less than two months, on July 1, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) will reveal the winner(s) of the competition that will build and operate the country’s infrastructure for digital terrestrial broadcasting. This will be a major step towards the switch-off of analogue terrestrial television on 17 June 2015 – the biggest transformation in the broadcasting sector since the introduction of a colour. But before the winner(s) is announced and the government launches a nationwide PR campaign to inform public about why and how they should switch to digital TV, here are 7 facts you should know beforehand:

1. Digital switchover – don’t blame the government, it’s an international obligation

Georgia and its neighbors have agreed, in the framework of an ITU (International Telecommunications Union) treaty, to turn off analogue television broadcasting in the whole region on June 17, 2015 and switch to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

The analogue broadcasting signals we use today were developed to deliver black and white TV with mono sound. As TV got more sophisticated including the addition of colour, stereo sound and multiple channels, the signals had to be adapted to carry the extra information. TV has now evolved to such an extent that the analogue signal is no longer able to carry the full range of features available. This is why ITU has decided that all countries have to move their TV broadcasting to a digital format which is more efficient, delivers clearer picture and sound quality, and a much richer range of features.

Many countries around the world, including those in the European Union and in North America, have already digitized, while others are still in progress. Depending on geographical landscape, condition and location of transmitting infrastructure, transition to digital TV requires case-by-case approach.

Most countries introduced DVB-T (digital video broadcasting-terrestrial) standard in the past five years and are only now transitioning to DVB-T2 (the second-generation digital terrestrial television standard), which is an improved and more efficient standard. Georgia is directly switching from analogue to the new DVB-T2.

Digitalization is a complex process that affects every household that receives TV through an antenna. The process requires close coordination and cooperation of different government entities, television stations, the private sector and civil society. A broad an intensive campaign is needed to provide all relevant information to the public well ahead of the switchover. The switch to digital terrestrial TV also requires a countrywide upgrade of infrastructure – of TV towers as well as of the equipment of television stations.

2. You must switch because you have little choice, but you will also enjoy several benefits:

  • Digital broadcasting will allow more channels to be broadcast and received, which will provide consumers with a larger choice of programs;

  • Channels’ quality of sound and image will be significantly improved;

  • The end of television "snow”: analogue broadcasting, which we have been using for a number of years, is subject to interference, which is why we experience snowy or ghost images. After the switchover, however, you can forget the time when banging on top of your TV would magically bring your picture back when it was raining. In digitized era you simply won’t have to deal with a bad reception as digital encoding of the broadcast guarantees that you'll either get a clear signal or none at all — there's no in between. This is referred to as the digital cliff effect: a weak digital signal can’t be fully decoded, resulting in a failure of the transmission and a blank screen.

  • High Definition Television (HD TV) is available over the digital TV signal;

  • Electronic programme guides, on-screen information about what’s on now and over the next seven days so you can plan your viewing and set reminders;

  • Audio description and subtitling for people with visual and audio impairments;

  • DVBT-2 will make it possible to watch television on laptops and computers using a USB stick that receives the signal, and allows for better reception during bad weather or when watching TV on portable televisions, such as in cars;

  • Digital television makes more efficient use of frequencies, which are a limited resource. The transition will free up frequencies that could be used to offer new telecommunication services, such as improved mobile internet access.

3. Receive signal through antenna? Then you will be affected

There are several ways of how one can receive TV signals: through cable, through the internet, with a satellite dish or with an antenna that receives the signal from a TV tower. The switch to digital terrestrial TV will only affect those households that receive their TV signal through an antenna. Such households will have to obtain a set-top box that converts the digital signal to an analogue one, or to buy a new TV set that supports the DVB-T2 standard. There is also another option: you can opt for other platforms and switch to cable or a satellite.

Cable and satellite services, many of which are already in a digital format, are not directly affected by the digital switchover.

According to a survey by Caucasus Research Resource Centers conducted in late 2013 for Transparency International Georgia 44% of households get their TV signal from a satellite dish, 35% via antenna, 25% through cable, while only 5% receive signal from internet.  

4. You don't need a new TV set

With some rare exceptions, any TV can be converted. If you want to be able to watch TV after digital switchover you will need to have a TV with a buil -in digital tuner, or you will need to attach a set top box to your existing television. While purchasingthe set top box make sure that it's certified (Later on the Digital Broadcasting Agency, a leading entity on switchover, will publish more detailed specifications and suggestions for the public regarding certified products and retailers). But if someone still wants to buy a new TV set, make sure that a product supports the DVB-T2 standard.

Otherwise, If you recieve your signal via antenna and you do not have a TV with integrated digital tuner or you do not get a set top box before Georgia shuts the analogue broadcasting down on june 17, 2015, you won't be able to watch TV. You must make sure every TV at your household is connected to a set top box or replaced with a tv that has a digital tuner.

5. HDTV is not the same as digital television

Having an HD TV does not guarantee that you are ready for a digital switchover. HD TV refers to a new standard of screen definition that provides a sharper screen image than standard definition pictures. You should check that the TV set is designed to work through switchover, meaning it supports the DVB-T2 standard.

At the moment, only satellite and cable have the necessary capacity to broadcast HD TV programmes.

6. Socially vulnerable families will be subsidized, others will get relevant assistance

The state has to work in two main directions when it comes to consumer rights in the process of the switchover. The first is the nationwide information campaign to raise awareness and to inform the public when, how and why will the switchover take place.

The second task of the state is to ensure that all households are equipped with the necessary technology to receive the digital signal. Countries across the world have favoured various schemes to support citizens, starting from subsidizing socially vulnerable groups to delivering vouchers for entire population for purchasing set top boxes.  

According to the official government strategy socially vulnerable families which are registered in the database of socially unprotected families and the ranking point of which is less than 70,000 (currently between 225,000 and 240,000 households) will benefit from special assistance and will receive set-top boxes free of charge.

The newly founded LEPL Digital Broadcasting Agency, which is responsible for managing the whole process, will carry out the following activities in order to inform the population and interested parties and to provide relevant assistance in a rapid manner:

  • A 24/7 multi-language information hot line will be launched;

  • A special web page (www.digitaltv.ge) will be developed, which will host relevant text and video material on the digital broadcasting switchover process;

  • The population will be systematically informed about retailers that sell certified set top boxes;

  • Informative social ads and videos will be produced and disseminated through media outlets;

  • Special training sessions will be delivered for journalists and interested persons;

  • Information newsletters for retailers and customers will be printed and distributed in the relevant retailers.

7. Missing the deadline will put Georgia’s national interest at risk

If the country doesn’t meet the switchover deadline – June 17, 2015 – Georgia’s national interest will be put at risk, simply because treaties ensuring and protecting the frequencies and airwaves in Georgia’s territory expire on this exact date. If Georgia fails to switch off analogue television broadcasting by then, neighboring countries are likely to start using some of Georgia’s frequencies, causing interference and thus damaging national interest. In case of such scenario, the Georgian government would have to bilaterally re-negotiate the use of frequencies, but might find itself in a weak negotiating position.With some rare exceptions, any TV can be converted. If you want to be able to watch TV after the digital switchover you will need to have a TV with a built-in digital tuner, or you will need to attach a set top box to your existing television. While purchasing the set top box make sure that it’s certified (later on the Digital Broadcasting Agency, a leading entity on switchover, will publish more detailed specifications and suggestions for the public regarding certified products and retailers). But if someone still wants to buy a new TV set, make sure that a product supports the DVB-T2 standard.

Otherwise, if you receive your signal via antenna and you do not have a TV with integrated digital tuner or you do not get a set-top box before Georgia shuts the analogue broadcasting down on June 17, 2015, you won’t be able to watch TV. You must make sure every TV at your household is connected to a set top box or replaced with a TV that has a digital tuner.

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The G-MEDIA program is made possible by support from the American people through USAID. The content and opinions expressed herein are those of Transparency International Georgia and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, USAID or IREX.

Author: Diana Chachua
GMedia, Media