Digital TV 




What is digital TV?

Digital TV is the new form of broadcasting that turns the pictures and sound into computer language. It effectively turns your television into a form of computer so that it can connect to the internet, take interactive programmes and carry many, many more channels.


Digital transmissions can be received in three ways - through your TV aerial, via a satellite dish and via cable. To receive digital TV you will need a set-top box to decode the digital signals - or a new digital TV set.


>>> Freeview

>>> Sky Digital

>>> Digital Cable


>>> Comparison



To receive Freeview you only need to pay a one-off equipment charge from around 99 for an adapter. There is no contract.


The adapter simply connects to your existing TV and aerial socket. Most UK homes are in a coverage area but please check your postcode first on the Freeview website. The website will also tell you which other channels are available as well as the BBC's.


To buy an adapter visit a local electrical retailer, or for more information either visit the Freeview website or call Freeview on 08708 80 99 80.


You should be able to use your existing rooftop aerial, depending on its age and precise location but may need to get it checked. In some areas you need a "wideband" aerial. Freeview tells you if this will apply. If you live in a block of flats see our questions page for more advice about aerials.


Want to buy a new TV?

You can also receive Freeview through an iDTV (integrated digital TV) which has an adapter built-in.


 Sky Digital

To receive satellite TV you need a satellite dish attached to the outside of your home and a set top box connected to your TV. If you only want free-to-air channels, you pay a one-off installation charge of 120. The equipment is free if connected to your phoneline for a year. There is no subscription.


If you want to subscribe to pay channels, basic family packages start from 12.50 a month. The equipment is free and you pay a reduced installation charge.


For more details you need to visit a local electrical retailer, the Sky website or call Sky on 08702 42 42 42.



To receive digital cable, you need to live in a cable-active area and have a digital set-top box installed. With cable you pay a one-off installation fee and monthly subscription which includes your set-top box and phone line rental. Packages start from around 15 a month, depending on what you want.


To find out if your area is cabled look in the Yellow Pages or contact either:


ntl:home 0800 183 1234 Telewest 0800 953 53 53 Kingston Communications (Hull) WightCable (Isle of Wight) OMNE (West of Scotland)



In addition to digital versions of the standard terrestrial channels you can receive even more depending on which option you choose:



Freeview offers up to 30 free channels and works with your existing TV set.

What it costs
A one off payment of around 99 and no contract.




Satellite offers over 300 channels. A variety of packages is available including free-to-air and pay channels.

What it costs
It depends which package you choose. You either pay a one-off 120 installation charge for free-to-air channels, or subscribe to pay channels from 12.50 a month.




Digital cable gives you access to over 150 channels. A variety of packages is available, including free-to-air and pay channels.

What it costs
From around 15 a month depending on which package you choose



What is analogue TV?

Analogue TV is the old system of broadcasting that we have had since television began in the 1940s and 50s. It converts sound and pictures into waves which are transmitted through the air and picked up by your rooftop or indoor aerial.


Is one better than the other?

Broadcasters and service providers say digital television not only means more programmes, but also a better quality pictures and sound. Viewers will also be able to get more channels, interactive television, the internet, home shopping and home banking.  But there are reports that Digital TV could have some drawbacks. According to the consumer magazine Which? the main problem is compression, the process of squeezing transmission information so it travels faster and can be decoded quicker.  A detailed and complicated picture - such as a high-speed pan across a crowd could be troublesome as a huge amount of information is compressed. The result for the viewer can be jerky motion or a blocky picture.

Critics also say that most people are unlikely to notice any improvements in picture quality or sound, as they will not be apparent on most peoples' TVs.


If I have got more than one TV will I need more than one set-top box?

Yes. This is one of the big problems. Many people now have three, four, or five sets because televisions don't break down like they used to. So when you get a new set you just put the old one in a bedroom say, and each of those will need some form of adapter to turn them digital.


How much will a digital TV cost?

It depends. You don't necessarily need a digital television set, though you can have one. At the moment they cost between 650 and 1,800, but that will come down.

You can, however, have a set-top box that turns your existing analogue set into a digital television, and at the moment several companies give these away for free, provided you subscribe to their channels.


What will happen to all the old analogue sets? Will they be sent overseas like old computers?

That would be one possibility, but in fact they are more likely to be converted into a digital set by a digital adapter, so many people will be able to adapt their sets to turn them digital.


What are other countries doing about digital?

No other country is as advanced in terms of digital television as Britain, particularly in terms of digital terrestrial television, which is the system that goes into an ordinary TV aerial.



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