• Digital terrestrial TV finally arrives (SBP – 13th August 2006)

    Today’s YourTech section in the Sunday Business Post features my ‘how-to’ guide to DTT; it gives a simple explanation to DTT, tells you where you can get it and how as well as what’s on offer. Hopefully it will act as a good starting point for people interested in DTT but who aren’t sure where to start.

    Ireland’s long-awaited Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) trial has been launched by the government. It is the first major step towards creating a digital alternative to traditional analogue broadcasts (or ATT).

    The EU wants to see the older ATT system switched off by 2012. But what is DTT and how do you receive it? Here is a simple guide to the Irish DTT to do trial and what you will need if you want to receive it.

    What is DTT?

    You may have heard it being referred to as ‘Digital Video Broadcast – Terrestrial’ (DVBT) or even Freeview, which is the name of the British DTT service. DTT is just another form of digital television like Sky, NTL or Chorus.

    However, it does not operate via satellite or cable, instead being received with a normal TV aerial just like analogue broadcasts are now (assuming you have the correct additional equipment).

    The EU hopes to replace ATT with DTT by 2012, although some countries, including Ireland, will have a difficult time meeting that deadline. Meanwhile, Britain will switch off its first analogue transmitter in late 2008,which is the same time that the initial Irish trial is due to end.

    Where is it available?

    At present two transmitters are broadcasting digital signals, in Three Rock in South Dublin and in Clermont Carn in Co Louth.

    Three Rock’s signal can generally be received in Dublin, parts of Louth, Westmeath, Kildare, Meath and Offaly.

    Some of its signal is available in Wicklow, Longford and Cavan, although this is usually patchy. Clermont Carn’s signal can be received in Louth, Cavan, Monaghan, parts of Leitrim and in some places in the North.

    In general, the entire northwest of the country should be able to receive DTT signals, although that can depend on the strength of the signal used in the trial, which is likely to change as part of the testing process.

    What equipment do I need to receive it and where can I buy it?

    The official trial will consist of 1,000 testers who will receive equipment from the government.

    But anyone else in the right area with the relevant equipment can receive the broadcasts, though they will not be considered part of the official trial.

    If you are within the coverage zone’s of the broadcast you will need a digital receiver and possibly a loft-top or roof-top aerial to pick up DTT.

    DVB-T set-top boxes are hard to come by in the south of Ireland as there was very little demand for them before now. However, some newer televisions come with a digital tuner built-in.

    These TVs are aimed mainly at the British market but are sold in Ireland too. As such, they may be advertised as having a built-in Freeview receiver.

    Many new computers also have digital tuners built in to them as standard, especially those that refer to themselves as ‘media centres’. If you do not want to upgrade your computer, you can buy add-on USB and PCI tuners from many computer hardware stores.

    If you prefer to receive your digital signal through your television and do not have a digital tuner built-in you will have to buy a DTT set-top box. Just like other digital TV services, the set-top box acts as a decoder that unscrambles the digital signal and sends it to your television.

    Very few Irish retailers sell these boxes although they are easy to find in the North. Some sell for as little as €36. You may also find the right equipment on the internet, though many electrical websites do not deliver to Ireland.

    Wherever you purchase the box from make sure it is ‘MPEG-4’ compatible. The British DTT system broadcasts in MPEG-2, which was the standard when it launched a few years ago. Since then MPEG-4 has become cheaper and allows for more information and channels to be broadcast.

    As such, it is the format of choice for many new services.

    It is likely that the Irish DTT trial will include MPEG-4 broadcasts at some stage.

    Finally, you will need some form of aerial.

    Depending on your location and the strength of the broadcast in your area, you might be able to use a normal ‘bunny ears’ aerial or you may have to install one on your roof-top if you do not have one there already.

    What will I be able to watch?

    For the time being, the broadcast will consist of the four basic Irish channels, RTE One, RTE Two, TG4 and TV3 as well as all the national radio stations. Over time, more channels should come on board as the trial expands.

    There is an expectation that further services will be trialled such as interactive TV, video on demand and high definition broadcasts. It is hoped that when the trial ends in 2008 that a national DTT service based on this initial test will be rolled out.

    Unfortunately my recommendation to visit the ICDG forums was sacrificed in the editing process; but I’m sure you already knew that that was the place to go if you want to make sure you’re in the right area!