In just over four months time, the analog television network will be switched off by RTÉ in compliance with an EU directive to free up space on the telecommunications spectrum.
The process to switch over to digital television began several years ago and just over 12 months ago RTÉ launched its SAORVIEW service which is Ireland’s free-to-air digital platform.
The new service, which is costing around €70m to roll out, will replace the current analogue television service which is received through rooftop aerials.
It is estimated that over a third of households in Ireland currently receive some television services through an aerial and that more than 20% of them depend entirely on the analogue service.
These homes will lose their Irish television services in October unless they switch over to another form of TV reception in the meantime.
“SAORVIEW will secure the future of Irish free-to-air television in the digital age. When combined with other pay or free platforms, SAORVIEW will offer a wide choice of TV channels to viewers,” said the Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte when he launched the service last year.
The arguments in favour of SAORVIEW are compelling. It offers viewers a better quality picture, better sound and the signal is less likely to be affected by the weather.
In addition to RTÉ One, RTÉ Two, TV3 and TG4 a number of digital-only channels are also available on SAORVIEW such as RTÉ’s rolling news channel RTÉ News Now and 3E.
All of RTÉ’s radio stations (including digital only stations) are also available to listen to via the SAORVIEW platform.
RTÉ also broadcasts some sports coverage (including last year’s Rugby World Cup and Euro 2012) in High Definition on SAORVIEW and TV3 has announced it will be begin broadcasting in High Definition on SAORVIEW by the end of this year.
“We are delighted to be able to offer such a high quality service free to Irish viewers”, said Mary Curtis, Director of Digital Switchover at RTÉ.
“After the initial purchase of a set top box or a new integrated digital television (iDTV) there is no subscription and no ongoing cost,” she added.
On the downside, there are no plans at present to broadcast premium channels such as Sky Sports or Sky Movies on the SAORVIEW platform.
Neither are there are any immediate plans to broadcast UK terrestrial channels such as BBC or ITV which are currently available from other digital television providers.
Another potential pitfall is that homowners may not be able to record SAORVIEW programmes depending on what set-top box or television they are using.
Unlike SKY and UPC there is no monthly subscription for users to view SAORVIEW but they will need to buy a set-top box or a new television before October 24, when the analogue signal will be switched off.
And, householders who currently have more than one television will be faced with having to buy a set-top-box or new television for each room.
Electrical retailers across Limerick say they expect demand for SAORVIEW-compatable devices to grow over the coming months.
“We are definitely getting a few enquiries every day. People are asking us about what’s happening in October and they are saying we need the equipment what do we need?,” said Sean Heelan of Fitzgerald Electrical, Henry Street.
While some new equipment will be needed, the majority of homeowners will not need to change their existing television aerials.
“If you are currently receiving RTÉ One, RTÉ Two, TV3 and TG4 on your aerial then you don’t need to change your aerial,” said Sean Heelan.
“What people have to do is buy a SAORVIEW box, connect their aerial into the box and that converts the signal into digital and sends it onto the TV screen so basically it turns the terrestrial signal into a digital signal,” he explained.
Set-top boxes currently range in price from between €65 and €100.
A combi-box, which allows users to view SAORVIEW and free-to-air satellite channels will cost around €30 more.
Current Sky or UPC customers will not be affected by the rollout of SAORVIEW unless they wish to change-over to the new service.
Retailers say the majority of technology manufacturers have now rolled out their range of SAORVIEW-approved televisions and set-top boxes and householders are advised to only buy equipment which is SAORVIEW approved.
“There are other brands (not SAORVIEW approved) which may be a bit cheaper but you might not get all of the features such as the EPG or teletext,” said Sean Heelan.
While there is a strong public awareness of the digital switch over, Kieran Finucane of Finucane’s electrical, Eastway Business Park, says he does not expect people to begin buying new TVs or set-top boxes until nearer the switch-over date.
“While people are aware that this is coming and they are making enquiries it is typical Irish and I think most people will leave it until the last moment so I think around August we will stock up because I reckon there will be a big surge in September and into October and then you will have the Christmas market” he said.
“The quality of the picture is superb, it is very good and you are getting a bit more (than on the current analogue signal) and there will be more that they will do with it in future,” he added.
A major publicity drive is now underway to inform householders what to do ahead of October 24.
As part of the campaign an on-screen logo is being transmitted via the analog signal informing those who have not yet changed that the signal will be switched off in four months.
Help on the Digital Switchover is available at www.goingdigital.ie or at 1890 940 980.
Information booklets are also available at most electronic retailers and at post offices and Citizen Information Centres throughout the country.
The SAORVIEW website is www.SAORVIEW.ie