HDTV Set Top Boxes and Digital TV Broadcast Information

Digital broadcasting and high definition tv is coming soon. We take a look at what is required for receiving digital TV transmissions and HDTV including cheap set top box options for existing televisions.

Do you know what you need to receive digital transmissions and whether your tv set can receive and display high definition tv?

Whether we like it or not digital broadcasting and high definition TV's are coming and in a lot of places HDTV is already here for viewing.

Listed below are some facts that hopefully will answer some of the confusing subjects of HDTV and the New Digital Age we will be living in.

What is the Difference Between Digital and HD?

Digital is the "format" that TV broadcasters will be using and HDTV is a type of TV display. The US is moving from Analog to Digital but not to HDTV from Feb 17 2009. High Definition content can be delivered on Digital Transmission, however It's not mandatory to have HDTV. Not all digital channels are hi-def but all hi-def channels are digital.

What is High Definition (HD) TV?

High-definition television or HDTV, is a digital television broadcasting system with a higher resolution than normal televisions. High-definition television (HDTV), usually used over DTV, uses one of two formats: 1280 by 720 pixels in progressive scan mode (abbreviated 720p) or 1920 by 1080 pixels in interlace mode (1080i). Each of these utilizes a 16:9 aspect ratio.

HDTV is digitally broadcast because digital television (DTV) requires less bandwidth. HD gives clear, sharp pictures with vivid colours and up to five times more detail than normal definition TV's. HD broadcasts are very well suited to flat screen TV's like LCD and plasma.

To watch high definition programming. you will need:

HD Set top box or tuner

High definition television set (HDTV).

A source for HD Programming, meaning your television or cable input signal must be HD

If you receive HD broadcast signals over the air (OTA) you will need an ATSC tuner and antenna. Most HDTV's sold today already include an ATSC tuner.

Types of HDTV's

Integrated HDTV - Aready has a digital tuner, also known as an ATSC tuner, built in. If a TV station near you is broadcasting in HDTV, you can attach an antenna to an integrated set and watch in high definition.

HDTV Ready - Sometimes called a HDTV monitor. Does not have an HDTV tuner built in. Often you can still watch analog TV with them - be sure to check first before purchasing. This is the way to go if you want to have HDTV capabilities later on but aren't ready to spend the money just yet. Picture quality will be better with this tv set but it won't be high definition until you get a HDTV receiver.

Do I need special connecting cables for HDTV?

Appropriate cabling must be used. Either HDMI or component video cables must be used to support a high-definition signal. For instance, if composite or S-Video cables are used for connections from a cable box or satellite dish then only an SDTV quality picture will be seen.

HDMI cables provide the best picture and sound but are also generally more expensive than component cables. Component video cables are RCA cables that are color coded for proper signal. They consist of three video cables (green, blue, and red), two audio cables (red and white), and they carry an analog signal. HDMI cables carry all the video and audio in one cable using a digital signal.

What are Digital TV broadcasts?

The digital television transition (also called the digital switchover or analogue switchoff) is the process in which analogue broadcast television is converted to digital television. As of late 2007, six countries had completed the process of turning off analog terrestrial broadcasting. IEEE in Jamaica has decided to switch over at the same time as the US. In coming years, all future television signals will be in the digital HD format.

ATSC Standards document a digital television format that will have replaced the analog NTSC television system by February 17, 2009 in the United States, and August 31, 2011 in Canada. It was developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

The high definition television standards defined by the ATSC produce wide screen 16:9 images up to 1920 by 1080 pixels in size, which is more than six times the display resolution of the earlier standard. However, many different image sizes are also supported, so that up to six standard definition "virtual channels" can be broadcast on a single 6 MHz TV channel.

Todays VCR's will not be able to record digital tv shows when analogue TV is turned off. However they will still be able to play back your VCR tape collection.

What are the advantages of changing to a HD TV?

Clearer picture, the picture will still look good even when shown on a largeTV screens.

TV stations can multicast (broadcasting several signals using the same bandwidth.)

Surround sound quality, great for home theater systems.

Full screen viewing with no letter box (Black space top and bottom of screen).

Future and curent interactive TV programs.

Digital Converter Set Top Boxes

If you buy a Digital-to-Analog converter then your current TV will work just fine. An external converter box can be added to non-digital televisions to lengthen their useful lifespan. A set-top box (STB) or set-top unit (STU) is a device that connects to your television and an external source of signal, turning the signal into content which is then displayed on the television screen. Special digital set top boxes are available for receiving digital television broadcasts on TV sets that do not have a built in digital tuner (HDTV Ready).

What is the best low cost solution for changing to digital and HDTV for those on low incomes?

The cheapest option is to convert the digital signal to analogue by using a "set top box" (See "Digital Converter Set Top Boxes" above) The setup of the set top box is very easy, just plug the existing incoming coaxial cable into the set top box and then run a separate cable from the set top box to your standard TV set.

A Digital Converter Box will cost between $40 to $120 but they are becoming cheaper all the time. If you live in the US the government will provide every household with up to 2 coupons worth $40 each towards the purchase of 2 Digital Converter Boxes.

HDTV Antennas External and Internal

The switch to digital TV broadcasting has eliminated annoying picture distortions such as snow and ghosting. Unfortunately cable and satellite providers offer a lot of channels, but this comes at a price in more ways than one as they use data compression or other techniques that compromise your tv picture quality.

Using a HDTV antenna you can receive "true" high def. tv signals that are even better quality than cable and satellite, and its free. A properly-installed high quality HDTV antenna can often receive digital tv stations that are over 50 miles away.

Indoor HDTV antennas

Indoor antennas are always inferior to their outdoor counterparts but may be the only solution for those living in apartments or rented homes. There are several indoor HDTV antenna models, however they will only work well if you live close to the transmitting tower(s). It may take a lot of adjustments to the antenna every time you switch channels.

Outdoor HDTV antennas

In most cases, you will need to install an outdoor HDTV antenna to receive all of your local over-the-air stations without dropout. The range of the antenna will vary depending on the height, power, and frequency of the transmitting tower as well as the height of the antenna and the terrain plus the number and size of obstacles between the tv tower and your antenna. Therefore the best place to install it is the roof of your house or apartment building. Because HDTV signals are line-of-sight, a higher placement will usually result in better reception and be less subject to interference.

Be sure to buy an outdoor antenna with a higher directivity/gain. The DB line of Antennas function very well in the majority of locations. As these HDTV antennas are multi-directional, they are perfect for locations where the tv stations transmitting towers are not located in the same direction and when you need to receive tv signals from multiple cities.

U.K. HDTV and Digital Broadcasts

When is the United Kingdom switching to digital broadcasts?

The first switchoff of analogue television happened on 30 March 2005, in the villages of Llansteffan and Ferryside in Wales. The switch-off of all analogue terrestrial TV broadcasts resumed again on October 17, 2007 with Whitehaven in Cumbria and will now proceed region by region. The last regions will be switched off in 2012. In the UK, the free-to-air digital broadcasts are branded as Freeview.

Updated 22 Oct 2008 - HOUSEHOLDS in Greater Manchester U.K. have until November next year to ensure they have a TV or set-top box capable of receiving digital signals. Digital UK revealed that the switch-off of the analogue signal beamed across the Granada region from Winter Hill in Bolton will begin on November 4, 2009, when BBC2 will be switched off. The remaining channels will be switched off on December 2, 2009. People who have not yet invested in a Freeview television or set-top box, or signed up to a cable or satellite service, have just over a year to ensure they can receive digital television signals. A government scheme funded by money from the BBC licence fee is being run to help people over 75 and some people on disability benefits. Those qualifying for help will pay Pds40 for a Digital UK representative to visit their home and ensure that they have at least one TV capable of receiving a digital signal.

Update 18 Dec 2008 - Digital UK is working in partnership with local charities and volunteers to provide advice and assistance for those who may need a little extra help. Its Switchover Help Scheme offers assistance and equipment to convert one television for those aged 75 or over, registered blind or partially sighted, on certain disability benefits or living in a care home. Those eligible will be contacted in April-June 2009. More information and advice is available from the Digital TV helpline on 08456 50 50 50.

Scotland - Updated 11 Dec 2008 - The switchover to digital television will be completed in Scotland by the middle of 2011, it has been announced. The Scottish Borders became the first region to complete the change last month, when more than 50,000 households became digital only. The south west will follow next year, with the north converting through 2010. Lothian and parts of Edinburgh and Fife will complete the change by June 2011.

Scottish Borders: Nov 2008 (completed)
South west Scotland: Jun 2009 - July 2009
Shetland Islands: Apr - Jun 2010
Orkney Islands: Apr - Jun 2010
Caithness: Apr - Jun 2010
Wester Ross, Skye and the Outer Hebrides: Jul - Sep 2010
Aberdeenshire: Jul - Sep 2010
Angus and Perth: Jul - Sep 2010
Morayshire and Dornoch: Jul - Sep 2010
Inverness and the Great Glen: Oct - Dec 2010
South west Highlands and Islands: Oct - Dec 2010
Parts of central Scotland, Argyll and Bute: Apr - Jun 2011
Rosneath: Apr - Jun 2011
Glasgow, central Scotland and parts of Edinburgh: Apr - Jun 2011
Lothian, parts of Edinburgh and Fife: Apr - Jun 2011

Isle of Man - Help is at hand for disabled and elderly people in the Isle of Man to make the switch to digital TV. The Switchover Help Scheme is run by the BBC through an agreement with the UK Government and comes in preparation for when the Island goes digital in June next year. To be eligible, you need to be over 75 or on disability allowances, or are registered blind or partially sighted.

Set Top Boxes

Current Freeview set top boxes and U.K. digital televisions are not capable of decoding the protocol DVB-T2 that terrestrial High-definition will use in 2009, you will need to purchase a HD receiver when the time comes.

Australia HDTV and Digital Broadcasts

When is Australia switching to digital broadcasts?

The Australian government originally planned a switch over to digital broadcasting in 2008, however this has been delayed to 2009 for metro areas and to 2013 for the regional areas. Until then free-to-air tv stations will be simulcast, along with digital only channels like ABC2. Cable television networks began simulcasting in 2004 and analog cable services were switched off in April 2007. Since 1999, legislation has required all locally made free-to-air television transmissions to be in 16:9 widescreen format.

Australia - Updated 29 Jan 2009 - The Rudd Government has announced improved television services as Australia makes the transition to digital tv. A package of in-home assistance to help targeted households; A new satellite service to extend access to digital TV; working with the local community to improve awareness and understanding of switchover; labelling scheme to help consumers to easily identify digital ready products; and a national call centre and a web site providing switchover information. Switching to digital TV is a straight forward and inexpensive task for the vast majority of Australians, however we understand that some viewers may need practical, in-home assistance to make the move to digital. This package focuses on Australia's leading digital television region of Sunraysia, centred on the city of Mildura in north-west Victoria, and will ensure that free-to-air digital television is made available to all viewing households.

New Zealand - Analogue TV broadcasts will end within the next 6 to 10 years with a switch off date to be announced by 2012. Digital broadcast via Freeview became available in late 2007. More recent estimates of this switch-off date have been in the area of 2013 to 2015.

Set Top Boxes

In Australia set-top boxes are the principal means of receiving digital terrestrial broadcasts as comparably few television sets have in-built digital tuners. The Foxtel set-top boxes (including the Foxtel iQ unit) are also used to receive subscription television from Foxtel. For HDTV receiving they are using Beyonwiz manufactured media centers which came to market at March 2007.

United States HDTV and Digital Broadcasts

When is the US switching to digital broadcasts?

The switch to ATSC digital broadcasts in America will happen on Febuary 17th, 2009. Digital broadcasting will allow tv stations to offer far improved picture and sound quality and additional channels. The major television stations in the Wilmington, North Carolina area have already turned off their analog signals as a rehearsal.

Set Top Boxes

In the United States, deployment of a basic coupon eligible converter box is supported through a $40 federal subsidy to encourage viewers of over-the-air television to adopt ATSC standards before the shutdown of full-power analog broadcasts and the transition to digital television planned for February 17, 2009.

Canada HDTV and Digital Broadcasts

When is the Canada switching to digital broadcasts?

A lot of HD programming is available to Canadians right now via both an antenna and HD tuner, or by subscription to HD digital services of a cable or satellite tv company. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ruled that television stations would be forced to switch to ATSC digital broadcasting by 31 August 2011, with exceptions in some very remote areas where analogue transmissions will not cause interference. When the United States makes the switch over to digital TV for broadcast television, it will effect many Canadian viewers living close to the US - Canada border who receive US TV signals.

Set Top Boxes

Over 70% of Canadians subscribe to cable television. When you subscribe to Digital Cable you will need a set top box or digital cable terminal between the incoming coaxial cable and your television set. The set top box takes the incoming digital cable signal and transforms it into an analog signal that standard TV can display.

Other Countries:

China - The switch-off is scheduled to be in 2015.

France - Will have completed the switch-off in 2011. 80% of the population will be able to see TNT in 2008.

Germany - Has already started the switch-off in the Berlin area. Simulcast digital transmissions have started in other parts of the country, in an effort to prepare for a full switchover. The switch-off is planned to be completed by the end of 2008.

Hong Kong - Analogue broadcasting is planned to be switched off by 2012.

Japan - Announced the planned switchover to digital to be on July 24, 2011. Many television stations around Japan are already broadcasting simultaneously in digital.

India - Looking to go all digital by 2015. HDTV service available by 2010 and the Goodwill Games. Set top boxes are available at prices ranging from $85 (Rs 3,300) to $100 (Rs 4,000)

Ireland - RTe plans to make digital television available to most of the population by 2010, and the switch off is planned to be complete by 2012.

Italy - Government aims to complete the digital switchover by 2012.

Malaysia - Plans to shut down the country's analogue television system in phases beginning from 2009 and convert to full digital TV in 2015.

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