Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mike Butler: Going digital

Hawke’s Bay is a guinea pig area for digital television and the switch-over takes place on Sunday, September 30, before it is rolled out to the approximately 1.6 million households in New Zealand, so what has the experience been like. But first, why is it being done?

If you talk to an installer, someone from the government agency Going Digital, or a politician, you will hear about the marvellous things you will be able to make your TV do. You can access the net, watch programmes you missed via On Demand on your TV rather than your computer screen, you won’t need to record shows etc.

But the actual reason for the change-over is the government wants to free up the prime 700MHz spectrum radio spectrum and sell it for between $500-million and $1-billion. Mobile phone operators Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees will each need some of the 700MHz spectrum in order to launch 4G networks and provide bigger, faster smartphone plans.

 Digital TV offers a clearer, sharper picture than analogue, and was only available via Sky pay TV, but now is ostensibly freely available, or is it.

 Almost any old dunger TV will deliver a stunning digital picture when set up for Freeview, despite the sales pitch of retailers before Going Digital aired adverts to say that you don’t have to buy a new TV. But to set it up, a Freeview set-top box costs from $89 to $129, and an aerial $49 to $169.

Aerial plus installation costs $300, so with a box, you could be up and running for $350. If you choose to upgrade to a digital TV, you wouldn’t need a box, so it would cost TV cost plus $300 for installed aerial.

Aerials are a pain because you can be sure this will all be wireless within a couple of years, and in many areas, Freeview may be accessed on an old TV using a Freeview box plus special rabbit-ear antennae that may sit on top of your TV.

Going Digital will install an aerial and provide a box for retirees and those on an invalid’s benefit for no cost. Property owners beware. Many of these installers are cowboys and will whack on an aerial and drill through anything – walls, floors, window joinery – to get the job done as quickly as possible and , move on to the next one because they are paid by the install.

Owners of multi-tenancy properties beware because even though the Going Digital agreement stipulates owner consent, a signature is not required, so there may suddenly appear a whole forest of aerials on an investor’s building with holes drilled through anything.

Many tenants regard these aerials given to them by the government as their personal property and plan to take them when they move out.

Superannuitants and invalids qualify for a free set-up but those on other benefits do not, and neither do the working poor. With a large number of people having difficulty to find $350 to set up for Freeview, instantly aerials, dishes, and set-top boxes have become sought after so be wary of aerial and box thefts.

Digital TVs come with a few issues. Installers know that the frequency used to transmit Freeview changes frequently without warning and this can knock out reception.

When this happened on our brand-new Sony Bravia, I was told that the number of on-standby light flashes meant I needed to download a software patch from the internet. Save it on a USB stick, and insert it into the TV that subsequently set itself up again.

I learned from that saga that took a few heated phonecalls that software issues were specifically excluded from the warranty.

The second time this sort of thing happened, it was after hours, so there was no one to pick up the phone, and a Google search revealed that millions of Sony Bravia TVs had been recalled because they could burst into flames.

So is it all worth it? My Freeview has TV 1, 2, 3, 4, Maori TV, TV One Plus 1, TV3 Plus 1, C4, Prime, Trackside, The Shopping Channel, Parliament TV, two Chinese TV channels, a house and garden type channel called Choice TV, National Radio, Radio NZ Concert Programme, Base FM, and Hawke’s Bay TV.

Now that more can view Maori TV, I have to say I’ve seen better karaoke at the pub, and the demand for Maori concert party performances and kapa haka shows is limited.

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