What is digital switchover?
Television in Northern Ireland is changing from the current analogue system to digital transmission only. This means that unless you adjust your television to receive digital signals you will not get any TV channels in future. This is called digital switchover.
What is digital switchover and why is it happening?
Digital switchover is the conversion of television broadcasting from analogue to digital. It will take place region by region up until the end of 2012. After the switch in your region, you'll need to convert or upgrade every TV set you continue to watch. After switchover, as well as the current channels (BBC1, BBC2, UTV, Channel 4 and Five), you'll have an added choice of digital channels. These include BBC3, BBC4, ITV2, E4, More4, CBBC, Cbeebies and BBC News.
What's happened in Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland moved to digital-only TV in October 2012, marking the end of the analogue TV era. The process means better pictures and more choice for viewers, with Freeview coverage extending to virtually all homes.
The analogue TV signal was switched off in two stages. At stage one on 10 October 2012, analogue BBC Two closed and the first group of Freeview digital channels became available for the first time to thousands of homes watching local ‘relay’ transmitters.
At stage two on 24 October 2012, the remaining analogue channels – BBC One, UTV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – were switched off forever and replaced with additional TV, radio and text services.
The two-stage process gave people the chance to check their equipment. Every viewer with Freeview, BT Vision or Top Up TV needed to re-tune their digital TV or box at each switchover stage.
Those who have digital cable or satellite services on all their TV sets are unaffected by switchover.
Northern Ireland’s 650,000 households are affected. Any viewer within the region who receives their TV signal via an aerial will have been impacted by switchover.
Why did switchover happen?
Households in many parts of Northern Ireland, and the UK generally, were unable to receive Freeview services. Switching off the existing analogue broadcasting system created the capacity necessary to extend coverage to the whole of the UK. This has enabled millions of homes to receive digital TV free via an aerial for the first time, and improve the picture quality for those already watching Freeview, making it less susceptible to interference and picture break-up.
Broadcasting in digital format is also a more efficient way to transmit television signals and will free up airwaves for new services such as ultra-fast wireless broadband, extra channels in either standard or high definition, and mobile television.
What do viewers need to do?
Viewers must ensure that all TVs in their home that they wish to continue watching are capable of receiving a digital signal. Virtually any TV, even black and white ones, can be converted with a digital box.
There are three main options for going digital:
- convert your existing TV with a digital set-top box (e.g. Freeview, Top Up TV, BT Vision (requires a broadband connection)
- get a service like satellite or digital cable TV installed for you (for example Sky, Freesat, Virgin Media)
- get a new TV with digital built-in (for example Freeview, Freesat)
The postcode checker on the Digital UK website shows which options are available in Northern Ireland now and after switchover.
Any viewer still watching analogue TV at switchover will have lost BBC Two at stage one (10 Octobter 2012) and all remaining channels at stage two (24 October 2012). Anyone buying new TV equipment should look for the ‘digital tick’ logo.
What about aerials?
Viewers will only need an aerial if they choose to switch with a Freeview service.
Those with good analogue reception now will be unlikely to need to replace their aerial for switchover. Only those who currently have poor analogue reception are likely to need a new aerial.
Viewers can use the aerial checker on teletext page 284 to check the quality of their reception or wait until after switchover to see if their picture is affected.
What other equipment is affected by switchover?
Video and analogue DVD recorders will still play back and record after switchover, but you won’t be able to record one channel while you watch another. If you want to continue doing this, the simplest way is to get a digital TV recorder.
Viewers updating their recording equipment are recommended to look for a digital DVD recorder or a digital TV recorder which stores programmes on a hard disk and can pause or rewind live TV. A digital TV recorder with a ‘twin-tuner’ will also convert your TV to digital. The range of digital recorders (often called 'personal video recorders' or PVRs) is expanding all the time. Ask you local retailer for more information.
Do you need HD TV equipment for switchover?
No. There’s no need to buy HD equipment for digital switchover. Viewers choosing to do so should make sure it carries the ‘digital tick’ logo. HD services are currently available on satellite and cable, and via Freeview in some areas.
How much will it cost?
Going digital can be simple and inexpensive - a digital box costs from around £20. Most households have a choice of options and can weigh up the services they want against what they want to spend.
- most existing TV sets can be adapted with a digital box, from about £20
- contact your local electrical goods shop for more information on products available and how to connect them
- you can replace an old TV with one that has a decoder built into it, known as an integrated digital TV set (iDTV)
- between two and 10 per cent of households are likely to need a new aerial, there are a large variety available
What is the Switchover Help Scheme?
The Switchover Help Scheme is run by the BBC under an agreement with the Government and provides older and disabled people with everything they need to switch one TV to digital. The Help Scheme can help everyone who is:
- aged 75 or over, or
- has lived in a care home for six months or more, or
- gets (or could get) certain disability benefits, or
- is registered blind or partially sighted
Most people will be asked to pay £40 towards the help (although the service is free for people who are eligible and also on certain income related benefits), which includes the following: easy-to-use equipment to convert one set
- installation by an approved installer
- a 12-month aftercare service including a free helpline
For the same price as £40 or free, eligible people in Northern Ireland can also choose a Freeview HD box which can receive TG4, RTÉ One and RTÉ Two, subject to coverage in their area. That option also includes installation and aftercare.
The Help Scheme has already written to everyone in Northern Ireland who is eligible to offer them help but people must respond to the Help Scheme to receive the help.
Will switching to digital affect TV licences?
If you need a TV licence today, you will still need one after digital switchover. The cost is the same and you don't need a separate licence to watch digital television.
What happens to old television sets?
Almost every TV can be upgraded with a set top box for the switchover, even those without a scart connector, so you don’t have to get rid of your existing sets. We know that some people will want to replace their current TVs with new digital TVs for switchover .
Please dispose of unwanted sets responsibly. If they are still working, some charities may accept them, or you could pass it on to someone else through Freecycle, Freegle or similar green organisations.
If your television doesn't work anymore and you want to dispose of it, contact your local council. It can be picked up from your door as part of a bulky waste collection service.
Digital UK is the independent not-for-profit organisation that is co-ordinating the UK switchover to digital television. It will support consumers to make sure that everyone knows what they need to do and when.
You can call the Digital UK information line or access more information from Digital UK.
TG4 and RTÉ One and Two on Freeview
TV viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to watch TG4 and RTÉ One and Two on Freeview following digital TV switchover.