HOME Technology Nov 2009
Digital TV expanding
HD takeover imminent

Within 3-5 years you won’t be able to get a signal on your old analogue TV set, your DVD recorder will be next to useless and the digital television revolution will be in full swing, along with the opportunity to channel flick or call up archived programming to your heart’s content.

The final ‘goodnight Kiwi’ decision on analogue broadcast frequencies will be made in 2012 or when digital uptake reaches 75 percent, whichever comes first. In fact the number of digital subscribers, those using Freeview and SkyTV, is already at 60 percent and rising.

Last count Freeview, the consortium of free-to-air channels designed to ease us off analogue, had over 300,000 viewers, including 113,936 with FreeviewHD personal video recorders (PVRs), while Sky TV had more than 778,902 subscribers, including 120,000 using its MySky boxes. The speed of adoption for digital TV in New Zealand is well above average for nations who’ve made the transition.

The recent growth in Freeview is partially due to the addition of new channels. After government mediation; Sky TV and Freeview reached a compromise so access Prime — owned by Sky TV — following a deal for State channels TV6 and TV7 to be on Sky. TV1 and TV2 are also in high definition for MySkyHDi viewers, true to TVNZ’s mandate to be ‘inspiring on every screen’.

Another major boost to digital TV penetration is the launch of TiVo an alternative media access device for free-to-air content over the FreeviewHD channels, geared to deliver an even broader package to the screen of your choice if you’re a Telecom broadband customer.

A partnership with TiVo licensee Hybrid Television Services, part-owned by TVNZ, has enabled Telecom to realize its longstanding ambition to be in the broadband TV business. Its customers can download free or pay-per-view movies and shows without impacting their monthly data caps.

Record two, watch one

The TiVo recorder allows viewers to pause and rewind live TV, record every episode in a series through a ‘season pass’ feature, create and automatically record wish lists, and record two programmes at a time direct to a 320Gb built-in hard drive while watching a third.

A 14-day electronic programming guide (EPG) will enable all TiVo users to programme ahead, although Prime and Maori Television haven’t made their listings available.

Ultimately TiVo could offer a wide range of additional services including TiVo online shopping services games and other specialist channels. The TiVo recorder and wireless adaptor sell for $920.

Meanwhile Sky pulled its Sky Online internet download service in August to review the business case, hopeful the government’s fibre-to-the-home roll out might provide incentive to look at the project again in the near future. The Internet TV service was hindered by data caps and slow broadband.

However MySky subscribers can log on to the Internet with the ‘remote record’ service to tell their set top boxes what to record. The TiVo set-top box also support remote recording over the Internet.

Digital deadline day is looking quite attractive to the government with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage upping its estimate of the financial benefits likely to $300 million. Those funds will largely come through the sale of freed up analogue radio spectrum to mobile phone and wireless broadband carriers.

One small hitch however could be that, without government assistance, half of the country’s 20 regional TV broadcasters beyond the eight largest cities may be forced off the air. They’ll either have to pay expensive satellite transmission costs, partner with other providers or quit the market. A report is expected in December on the options for them.

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