Be prepared for the big switchover

The digital switch-over is coming. Traditional TV transmission is being switched off, so arts editor Andrew Clarke set out to explore this potentially confusing new television landscape

Make no mistake. Doing nothing is not an option. If you do, on July 20, 2011, you will be left staring at a blank TV screen. The whole country is going digital. The traditional analogue signal is being switched off and will be replaced by a stronger digital TV signal which will theoretically extend the Freeview coverage to areas which currently do not get it – places like rural East Anglia.

But, as with all things like this, it’s not as easy as all that. The rules change depending on where you live. Geography has a large part of play. In an effort to navigate across this ever-changing landscape, I placed myself in the hand of digital expert Nigel Watson of the Ipswich company Aerialvision, who are helping to guide people through the uncharted landscape that the digital switchover represents.

Happily for a lot of people, the digital switchover will be smooth affair with barely a blip on their everyday viewing experience – except they will have access to many more channels.

However, for a significant proportion of the population, the change over could prove to be more challenging.

Although, this piece is designed to provide a broad guide to the switchover, the story will be slightly different for each area and therefore the fine detail needs to be checked online before any final decisions are made. The definitive source of detailed information is:

DigitalUK is a non-profit company charged with steering the nation through the switchover process. Within that online guide is a multitude of information about aerials and the types of system available and details about help for the over-75s and the eligible disabled.

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But, the good news is that you don’t need to get rid of your TV or have to invest in a new digital aerial to receive digital television, but where you live and what system you choose will determine how many channels you will be able to access.

The basic message from Nigel Watson is that if you are happy with a basic service then the digital switchover won’t break the bank. A perfectly serviceable freeview box will only set you back about �30. However, Freesat with a digital hard-disc, timeshift recorder, is more likely to be about �300. He said: “It’s a question of your priorities and where you live.”

Something to bear in mind is that the traditional VHS video recorder will not work in the same way after the switchover.

He said: “Video will still be able to play back video cassettes after the switchover, but will not be able to record directly from the aerial. The best option is a PVR (personal video recorder) with a built in hard drive.

The majority of Suffolk and north Essex is served by the Sudbury transmitter, which broadcasts in the Group B band, with north Suffolk covered by the Norfolk transmitter in Tacolneston. Not everyone is changing over at the same time. The Suffolk switchover happens in two stages on July 6 with completion on July 20. Tacolneston, which covers Aldeburgh, Bury St Edmunds and Thetford, goes digital in November with stage one switching on November 9 and the operation being complete on November 23.

For most people, Freeview, Freesat or Sky are the only options. Outside Ipswich, cable is virtually nonexistent and broadband speeds in rural Suffolk, needed for services like BT Vision, are patchy.

Nigel Watson said: “For most people the sort of service you can expect to receive after switchover is determined by the sort of aerial they have and where they live. When television goes digital, the three PSB (Public Service Broadcasting) frequencies will stay within the Group B band but all the other commercial channels will be moved to the higher frequency areas which is why they may need to pick up either a wideband aerial or opt for something like freesat.”

He said that in order to discover what sort of service you will receive after switchover you need to use Digital UK’s online postcode checker which will give a clear guide to the channels you will receive. In order to gain the full picture of what is on offer, please refer to our graphic which details which channels are to be found in each frequency bundle. Do tick the box which asks: “I am in the aerial installation trade” for a much more comprehensive review of your options available. The number of channels available varies greatly depending on the area in which you live.

Most people in Suffolk receive their signal from Sudbury transmitter but there are areas which receive their signal from relay transmitters (Burnham on Crouch, Clacton, Felixstowe, Ipswich Stoke, Rouncefall, Somersham, Wivenhoe Park, Woodbridge) because they are either in a dip or have poor reception. After switchover, none of the relay stations would be broadcasting the three commercial multiplexes.

For example in parts of Felixstowe, even with a wideband aerial you will only receive the basic minimum PSB service on freeview. Nigel Watson said that as a rule of thumb, the quality of your Channel Five reception was a good indicator of whether you would receive the full 48 free channels on offer or would be restricted to just the public service broadcasting frequencies.

In cases such as these then freesat is probably the route to take. Installation of a satellite dish will cost about �80 and a straight forward digital box will set you back about �50. Again there is no need to change your telly as the new equipment will plug straight in.

“With freesat you either get a good signal or you don’t get a signal at all. There’s an easy way to check. If you can see the sun at 11am in the morning then you can get a signal. If you can see the sun then the dish can see the satellite.” Freesat also offers you more channels – approximately 80 in total.

But at the end of the day the decision of whether to go freeview or freesat is really based on how good your signal is now and how much you want or need the extra channels. Also the decision whether to buy a standard set-top box or a more expensive hard-disc recorder will be based on whether you want to record programmes while you are out or are watching an alternative channel.

n To help steer people through the change over Digital UK are staging a series of roadshows so people can have their questions answered. The roadshow will be in Chelmsford High Street, on May 6/7; Clacton Town Square, May 12, Culver Square Shopping Centre, Colchester ,May 13/14; Harwich Green, May 17; Queens Street, Haverhill, May 20; Market Hill, Sudbury, May 21; Hamblin Road Car Park, Woodbridge, May 26; Hadleigh Market, Market Place, May 27; Hamilton Road, Felixstowe, May 28; Buttermarket, Cornhill, Bury St Edmunds, June 1; Ipswich Town Hall Forecourt, Cornhill, June 3-5. There will be additional roadshows in Ipswich and Chelmsford throughout July.

n The important website addresses are: the official digital switchover resource. UK’s only official body to register licensed digital aerial and TV systems installers. The scheme is back by the government and requires every member to become qualified and undergo important checks.

n Channel groupings (as displayed by the DigitalUk postcode checker) 3PSB:

MUX 1/ BBC-A: LCN: 1 BBC One; 2 BBC Two; 7 BBC Three; 70 CBBC Channel; 80 BBC News; 105 BBC Red Button.

MUX 2/D3-4: LCN: 3 ITV 1; 4 Channel 4; 5 Five; 6 ITV 2; 13 Channel 4+1; 14 More Four; 28 E4 (ex Wales); 33 ITV1+1 (ex Chan isles).

MUX B: LCN: 9 BBC Four; 71 CBeebies; 81 BBC Parliament.


50 BBC One HD; 51 ITV1 HD; 52 Channel 4 HD; 54 BBC HD.

3 Com:

MUX A/SDN: LCN: 10 ITV 3; 16 QVC; 17 G.O.L.D.; 27 ITV2+1; 28 E4 (Wales only); 30 Fiver; 31 Fiver USA; 38 Quest; 43 Gems TV; 46 Challenge; 72 CITV; 84 CNN; 724 Capital FM; 727 Absolute Radio; 728 Heart.

MUX C/ ARQIVA-A: LCN: 19 Dave; 25 Dave ja vu; 29 E4+1; 32 Big Deal; 723 talkSPORT; 725 Premier Radio.

MUX D/ ARQIVA-B: LCN: 12 Yesterday; 15 Film4; 18 4Music; 21 VIVA; 22 Ideal World; 24 ITV4; 713 The Hits Radio; 713 Kiss; 714 heat; 715 Magic; 716 Q; 718 Smooth Radio; 722 Kerrang!

n There is a digital switchover help scheme for those aged 75 or over, have lived in a care home for six months or more or are in receipt of disability living allowance or are registered blind or partially sighted. Call 0800 408 5900 or visit for details.