Wales first to bat in UK digital TV switchover

Two Welsh villages are set to lose their analog TV signals completely by the end of this year, as the UK moves ahead with its ambitious plan to become the first country in the world to switch over to digital TV.

Three hundred villagers will become willing guinea pigs for the digital transition, as the British government accelerates plans to hit its target of turning off the analog transmission network by 2010, the Guardian newspaper reported.

It means all villagers will have to have upgraded their TV sets either through a Freeview box or a cable or satellite TV connection to continue receiving BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five.

If they agree to the plan, the residents of two Carmarthenshire villages — Ferryside and Llansteffan — will become the first in Britain to have analog terrestrial transmissions switched off and replaced by digital signals.

All households in the area that do not already receive digital television through Sky or Freeview will be given free digital terrestrial boxes.

Freeview, launched in 2002 by the BBC and transmission business Crown Castle as a replacement for the defunct ITV Digital service, allows viewers with a compatible set-top box (STB) or TV set access to 30 free digital channels.

The Welsh villages were chosen because of their small size and because both rely exclusively on a single transmitter. If all goes according to plan, the transmitter will be switched off for good and will provide a test bed for the government’s plans to extend the plan to the rest of the country.

Wales has the most enthusiastic adoption of digital TV anywhere in Britain, with 56 percent of households receiving multichannel television through cable, satellite or digital terrestrial STBs In addition to difficult terrestrial reception, another key driver is the desire to receive the English version of Channel 4 as well as S4C.

In an effort to solve the problem of multiple sets and having to retune video recorders, all the households will be given enough STBs to convert all their TV sets and a special converter to allow their VCRs to watch one digital channel while recording another.

If the Carmarthenshire trial works well, officials said there would be no need for further small scale testing before the first regional transmitters are switched off. All 1100 transmitters across the country will then be converted on a rolling basis.

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