Consumers warned TVs may not be ‘digital ready’

11 Jul 2008

Irish consumers thinking they are buying digital TV sets capable of handling digital TV may end up with defunct technology as digital terrestrial TV (DTT), when it launches, will be on a new MPEG4 standard, it has emerged.

At present three consortiums – Boxer DTT comprising BT and Swedish broadcaster Boxer Group; OneVision consortium including TV3, Eircom, Setanta and technology firm Arqiva; and EasyTV Limited consisting UPC and RTÉ – have been shortlisted by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) for the three DTT licenses that will be awarded later this year.

Until lately, DTT trials in the Dublin and Dundalk areas have been based on the MPEG2 standard. However, a move to MPEG4 will allow providers to offer high-definition television and other interactive services.

The move to MPEG4, while described by broadcast enthusiast and web developer Brian Greene as showing foresight, will make most people who think their TVs will be ready for digital TV see their investment ruined.

“Anything on sale in Irish TV shops that claims to be ‘digital ready’ will no longer be after 31 July when RTÉ switch to MPEG4.

“As DTT in Ireland will be minimum standard MPEG4, all UK TVs that are Freeview-ready will be obsolete in Ireland as they won’t get a Freeview signal and Irish DTT will not be compatible.

Greene said when analogue TV is switched off at the earliest at the end of 2012 or by the latest 2015, the leftover spectrum should be used to allow for parallel broadcasting of MPEG 2 so that people’s investments will be safeguarded.

Greene said it’s important that organisations ranging from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to BCI, RTÉ and various consumer bodies should be warning consumers not to buy products in the mistaken belief they are optimised for DTT just because they say ‘digital ready’.

“The state should warn retailers not to sell pig in a poke TV sets. If the set is not going to be Digital Ready (MPEG4), then stickers should be removed and shoppers should be warned that UK digital TV sets will not work here,” Greene warned.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years