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At 10am on Wednesday October 24, Ireland closed down its analog television service. On Tuesday night, analog services in Northern Ireland, the last region of the UK to change over, also closed. With that a pioneering BBC service, the first in the world when introduced 38 years ago, ceased. However a new service started in Northern Ireland which enables viewers to watch four channels from the Republic transmitted from within Ulster, a result in part of the Good Friday agreement.

Digital terrestrial television goes under the generic name Freeview in the UK. Ireland adopted a similar name Saorview - saor being the Irish Gaelic for free. The timing of the switch is no co-incidence as being close neighbors the two services have to coordinate frequencies to avoid interference. Although both use the European DVB system, the two are not entirely compatible - more for techies below the squiggle.

RTÉ, the Irish state broadcaster, ran a special news program showing the exact moment of analog switch-off, somewhat ironically effected at the click of a mouse. (The exact moment is at roughly 5:00 minutes, there is a short history of the first installations 50 years ago from about 21:00 minutes)

Earlier on Tuesday evening the BBC shut down the 38 year old Ceefax service that their engineers had invented. They had been trying to find a way of transmitting subtitles for the hearing impaired using the "spare" lines not used for the displayed picture in the 625 line PAL analog system. They discovered that they could send full pages of text, about 4 paragraphs worth, or blocky pictures. The public service for suitably equipped televisions started on September 23, 1974. It meant that for the first time, viewers could catch up with the latest news or weather forecasts without having to wait for the next scheduled program, arguably the very first 24 hour news service on television.

A few years later, the BBC used pages from the service with a music background instead of a blank screen overnight. Incidentally, this continued right up until Monday night despite most of the UK having switched to all digital. By the mid 1980s almost every TV sold in the UK had the ability to receive Ceefax or Teletext, the commercial companies' version.

With the introduction of digital television at the end of the 1990s, the BBC gave the whole service make-over. Its digital text service, called "red button" after the way you access it using the remote control, carries on as the "son of Ceefax". It has the ability to show full color photographs tho most of the graphics are used for maps and charts. Some European countries still use the original service and this is a Dutch emulator that picks up their broadcast information. For an idea of the blocky nature of the maps, use your mouse to click on 703 and then "gaan"  using the buttons to the right of the "screen".  

Geeks Corner

Digital terrestrial television (DTT) has been transmitted in the UK since November 15, 1998. The system used was DVB-T, the European standard although it is important to know that there are two different ways of compressing the digital data, roughly analogous to the methods used in DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

The UK uses the earlier MPEG-2 compression "codec" for its standard definition digital service. It is also used by the American ATSC.

A later development of DVB-T, the so-called Nordig standard, uses the more advanced MGEG-4 compression. This is the standard decided by Eire.

Towards the end of the 2000s, the DVB group introduced a new version of its terrestrial "flavour" called DVB-T2. This enables much more information to be transmitted - up to 5 HD channels on one frequency (called a "multiplex" or "mux" for short) if MPEG-4 compression is used. The UK was the first to start regular transmissions in November 2008 although the first domestic set top boxes were only commercially available from March the following year. (The UK market is much more amenable to self installed separate digital boxes as upgrades rather than buying new televisions). DVB-T2 receivers are backwards compatible to DVB-T but not the other way round; in much the same way that Blu-ray players will play DVDs but not vice versa.

DVB-T2/MPEG-4 is now the de facto standard for countries newly introducing digital television. The whole of the South Africa Development Council area is to use it, indeed it is illegal to import DVB-T only televisions into Kenya.  It will also be used to broadcast, in standard definition, four of the Eire channels from three sites in Northern Ireland, called the NImux or Northern Ireland Multiplex transmitters, although many in Republican areas already have aerials installed to get the old RTÉ analog services from the same sites as Saorview.

The decisions about the systems used in the UK and Ireland mean there are three types of set top boxes for DTT:

Freeview: DVB-T/MPEG-2 (69 free TV channels plus 11 BBC and 13 commercial radio stations)
Saorview: DVB-T/MPEG-4 (8 TV channels plus 10 RTÉ radio channels)
Freeview HD: DVB-T2/MPEG-4 (HD simulcasts of BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1 (UTV in NI) and Channel 4 plus the standard Freeview service)

Note: several channels like BBC 3/CBBC, BBC4/Cbeebies and RTÉjr/RTÉ1+1 use the same digital bandwidth to "timeshare" to provide children's services in the daytime and general programming after 7pm.

This has left the consumers on the island of Ireland with some choices:

Apart from the areas served by the "NImux" transmitters, many in Northern Ireland can now watch the full Saorview services due to the increased power following analog switch-off. However, their standard Freeview box or television will not display Saorview pictures.
On the other hand, viewers in Eire can receive the full Freeview SD service if they have a Saorview box but they cannot receive the (current 4) Freeview HD channels.
One solution is to get a Freeview HD box which will receive all available services but will put the Saorview channels in the 800 sequence reserved for otherwise unidentified extra channels - or duplicates in areas where more than one transmitter can be received. A Freeview HD box is essential to receive NImux even though it is only SD.

Both countries have free to air (FTA) satellite services - freesat for the UK, Saorsat for Ireland but annoyingly they do not transmit from the same locations to avoid the Saorsat FTA channels being received in the UK - Sky encrypt these channels from the main UK cluster of satellites so they can sell both services in Eire.

On the mainland UK, coverage to less populated or difficult areas is often provided by relay transmitters. These have two muxes plus the HD mux rather than the 5 + 1HD muxes from the main transmitters, due to the owners of the commercial muxes not wanting to install the necessary equipment due to expense. This so-called "Freeview lite" service has the main public service broadcaster's channels but not some of the "digital channels". As the NImux is carrying a fewer Saorview channels than can be accommodated on the mux as the Irish stations are unwilling to pay for the transmitter facilities, that is often similarly called "Saorview lite".

Two new variations of personal video recorders have recently been launched onto the UK market. These integrate your recordings and the internet based catch-up services from the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Five so that you can scroll back up to 7 days on the electronic program guide (EPG). If the program is available for catch-up or you have recorded it, you press a single button to watch it. The box either plays back from its hard disc or connects to your broadband service. The boxes will also receive internet protocol television (IPTV) services, either free or paid. The Freeview HD based version is called YouView. The freesat version is called "free time".

Originally posted to Lib Dem FoP on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 05:40 PM PDT.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fascinating stuff (5+ / 0-)

    But what I remember about today is that it's the 30th anniversary of Meg dying in Blake's arms on Home and Away.

    President Barack Obama...I like the sound of that.

    by aloha and mahalo on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 05:56:43 PM PDT

  •  It was a liberation (11+ / 0-)

    Being deaf, the arrival of subtitles and news pages opened up a whole new world for me in the 1970's

    I believe the text information was broadcast in the so-called 'guard band', the range in the analog frequency spectrum between the frequencies allocated to the different channels to prevent cross-interference.

    That was the reason why TV subtitles could not be recorded on ordinary VCR recorders. They appeared on the TV screen but were an overlay applied after the picture was decoded.  The recorders did not detect guard band frequency signals.

    The digital TV services sometimes give the option of getting subtitles in a choice of languages.

    Can this be done for the equivalent services in the USA (say English subtitles for Spanish language news broadcasts, or Spanish subtitles for English-language ones?).

    Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

    by saugatojas on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:47:49 PM PDT

    •  I believe (5+ / 0-)

      the brief answer is yes, ATSC, the American digital television system, can accommodate multiple "close caption" streams in different languages.

      In the USA the main satellite TV and cable providers use the appropriate "flavours" of DVB - DVB-S2 and DVB-C respectively - rather than the ATSC equivalents. The satellite version is capable of multiple audio streams - Euronews for example has 10 different languages selectable from an on-screen menu.

      Why doesn't Mitt Romney carry an iPhone? Because he has an Ann Droid.

      by Lib Dem FoP on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:28:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Republished to Shamrock Americans (3+ / 0-)

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 08:29:07 PM PDT

  •  i remember ceefax (0+ / 0-)

    from when i would visit family in the UK in the 80's and early 90's. They also had a section on it that was kind of like a personal ad. Except it was for people searching for pen pals. It was mostly teenagers who would list the bands they liked and then their address and asking for people to write them.

    I would spend hours on it looking for girls that were into Siouxsie and the Banshees. I eventually wrote to a few of them and became friends with one of them and would see her when i went back over to visit family.

    •  I was a Teletext fan as soon as we moved here (0+ / 0-)

      in the late 80s and it augmented what was on the 3 solitary Irish stations we had then (and later when we got Satellite, teletext on other channels and Ceefax on BBC)

      And visitors from the US seemed sort of bewildered that we could look up all sorts of info via the TV... which they could not do back in the USA at the time...

      This digital change made almost no difference to us where we are now out in the countryside. The Digital changeover came and went with us not noticing. Broadcast and even Satellite TV has been off or mostly off our menu for a while now. We had satellite for a while since terrestrial signals were just too weak without a roof antenna and some neighbors have very tall masts aimed to the Northeast so that they can get the signals from NI... more channels too..

      But hard times for us meant cancelling the Satellite subscription and making do with the small number of free channels we could still get via the box... so we could get BBC 1 & 2 and Sky news plus a few others but no RTE or any other of the few Irish stations... and just watched DVDs and got news mostly from the internet.

      So with our mostly broken TV sets and the one remaining tiny obsolete set the plan is to one day get a large cheap flat screen (with Saorview built in) in the next year or so... and at least see the DVDs (and net flix probably) on a decent size screen... and maybe even get digital broadcast...

      Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

      by IreGyre on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:05:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Weird... (0+ / 0-)

    Having got NTL(now UPC) digital back in 2003 and switching to Sky last year(It's great for allowing me the chance to watch Fox News, or as I call it the Comedy Channel) the October 24th switchover didn't really affect me. I have 3 TVs in the house-main room, my bedroom and my late parents' old room. The first two have direct Sky connection from dish-the third is by old co-axial to my attic and is an analogue signal......imagine my surprise last night on switching on that TV expecting to see only only blackened screens for each channel and yet staring back at me on pressing each of 16 buttons were live analogue pictures. Very strange. Not complaining mind you, as it is only set on which I have Setanta Ireland which shows EPL games on some Saturday afternoons-not on my Sky package.

    Have any other natives here experienced this in last 24 hours?

  •  My TV can be a home computer terminal???l (0+ / 0-)

    Maybe I can use my cassette tape recorder as a disk drive, too!  What would be really cool is if I could use my phone line  to send copies of stuff to other people.

    Sometimes I miss the old stuff. A lot of it you could fix, expand, rewrite, or upgrade yourself. You could tinker with it. Figure out cool stuff, learn about cool stuff from other people.

    Sigh. Getting old.

    A society is judged by how well it cares for those in the dawn of life, the children. By how well it cares for those in the twilight of life, the elderly. And, by how well it cares for those on the edge of life; the poor, the sick, and the disabled.

    by BobBlueMass on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 06:26:51 AM PDT

  •  We do not have cable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bontemps2012

    But we have a converter  digital converter box ,if you live in major city ,you could dump cable all  together ,you can receive    hundreth of free channel  over the air ,these station have  at least 100 channel on one  band ,what if NBC showed the Olympic on all the subchannel

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