What you Need to Know About the Analogue Switch-Off

What is the Digital Switchover?

digital-televisionOver the next couple of years the analogue TV broadcasts in the UK will be phased out entirely and replaced by purely digital TV broadcasting. In order to continue to receive television broadcasts you will need to adapt or replace your existing tv to ensure that you can receive the new digital broadcasts.

When is the Digital Switchover happening?

Digital television delivers higher quality pictures and sound and also uses far less of the available broadcast frequency range than analogue signals, and by moving to a digital platform this will free up a significant portion of the broadcast spectrum for other uses.

The portion of the broadcast spectrum freed by switching off analogue signals can be used for wireless internet access, additional digital channel broadcasts, High Definition (HD) television broadcasts, mobile television, mobile telephony and a host of other existing and emerging technologies.

Who is responsible for the Digital Switchover?

The digital switchover is a Government initiative – the government is responsible for the control of the broadcast spectrum and for licensing its use. Digital UK is a non-profit company set up by the government and the broadcasters to manage the transition from Analogue to Digital transmission and reception. Digital UK works together with broadcasters, various government departments and Ofcom (the communications industry watchdog) to make the change as painless as possible and to advise users as necessary.

Will it affect me? If so, how?

If you currently watch analogue TV channels (if you can only receive BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, C4 and C5 or their Welsh, Scottish or Irish equivalents) then once analogue broadcasts are withdrawn in your area you will no longer be able to watch television.

If you receive other channels in addition to these, the chances are you’re already using digital equipment and will be unaffected.

When will it affect me?

The switchover has already begun in many regions and the ongoing timetable for the phasing out of analogue broadcasts is as follows:

  • Border has already started and finishes in 2009
  • West Country starts in April 2009 and finishes in September 2009
  • Granada switches in 2009
  • Wales starts in August 2009 and finishes in 2010
  • STV North switches in 2010
  • STV Central switches between 2010 and 2011
  • West switches between 2010 and 2011
  • Channel Islands switch in 2010
  • Central, Yorkshire and Anglia switch in 2011
  • Meridian switches between 2011 and 2012
  • London switches in 2012
  • Tyne Tees and Ulster switch in 2012

For information specific to your location, please see http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/when_do_i_switch, which includes a postcode checker that will enable you to check precisely when you can expect to be affected by the changes.

Which equipment will be affected?

Any equipment that is currently receiving analogue TV signals and cannot handle digital signals is going to be affected by the changes and will no longer be able to receive a television signal.

This is not limited to televisions themselves – it will also affect video recorders, DVD recorders and hard-drive based recorders if they only have a built-in analogue decoder. This will only affect their ability to receive a television signal, and they will still be able to play back analogue broadcasts that have already been recorded, and the playback of commercially purchased videotapes and DVDs will be entirely unaffected.
It will still be possible in most cases to use them in conjunction with a digital TV receiver or set-top box in order for them to record the new digital signals.

If any of the affected equipment is fairly old it may prove more effective in the long run to replace it now with up to date hardware that can handle the new broadcasts.

If you already have Sky, Virgin, Freesat or Freeview equipment then this is already providing you with a digital signal and you will not need to do anything in order to continue to receive television broadcasts on any connected equipment!

Is it going to be expensive for me to update my equipment to receive digital broadcasts?

No, it doesn’t have to be. Any television that at present cannot receive digital broadcasts will need to be connected to a digital ‘Freeview’ set-top box that can decode the new broadcasts into information that your TV can display. These boxes are relatively inexpensive and basic units can be bought for as little as £10-£20.

Our consumer reviews section contains information on the 26 best set-top boxes as reviewed by Which? – you can get the report direct from Which? for just £1 by clicking here

For those looking for a little more in terms of functionality and the range of available channels, you may wish to contemplate the various subscription services offered by companies such as Sky, Virgin Media or BT Vision. The Freeview and Freesat digital platforms are entirely free to watch once you have the correct equipment installed – they are not subscription-based.

The subscription-based services will typically offer the greatest range of channels, while the non-subscription services have no ongoing monthly cost associated with them other than the need for a standard TV licence. More information on the available options can be found by following the links to the individual providers listed in the ‘also in this section’ portion at the foot of this page.

You will require a set-top box for every affected piece of equipment in your home that you wish to update, so if you have 3 analogue-only televisions that you wish to update, you will need to either purchase a digital set-top boxes for each, or upgrade the equipment itself to newer items that have an integrated digital decoder, or a mixture of both.

The BBC run a Government-backed help scheme for elderly and disabled consumers and more information can be found at http://www.helpscheme.co.uk/ any time, or by calling 0800 40 85 900 from 0800 to 2100 7 days a week.

Will I need a new aerial?

Contrary to what some people may tell you, most rooftop aerials and set top aerials will work perfectly with digital terrestrial broadcasts. You can check your aerial in advance of the switchover by visiting Teletext page 284 if you are worried about this. This test will not work for shared aerials however – for example in a block of flats where one aerial may serve many households.

More information on aerial suitability and replacement (if needed) can be found here: http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/22001/DUK_Aerial_Leaflet_Jan_09.pdf

If you will be moving to Sky, Virgin or Freesat then these services do not make use of your aerial in any case – Sky and Freesat use a small satellite dish on the outside of your home, while Virgin use cables to carry their signal to your home.

Will the digital switchover affect my analogue radio as well as my TV?

No – the analogue radio broadcasts are unaffected by the changes to television broadcasting.

I still have questions about the digital switchover – can I speak to someone about it?

Yes – you can contact the Digital UK helpline on 0845 650 50 50.