With just weeks to go until the first analogue TV signals are switched off in London and parts of the Home Counties, we have teamed up with Digital UK to provide readers with this special guide to digital TV switchover.
What is switchover?
Digital TV switchover is the biggest change in television since the introduction of colour. Analogue signals are about to be switched off and replaced with new digital services. This will make Freeview available for the first time to thousands of homes watching local 'relay' transmitters in areas such as Finchley, Forest Row, High Wycombe and Sevenoaks.
Digital UK is the independent organisation set up by the broadcasters to lead the switchover. It provides an advice line and website to help with general questions about getting digital TV and preparing for the switchover.
Deborah Bain, Digital UK's London Manager, says: "Switchover in London and the Home Counties will be the biggest in the UK, and will change how television is broadcast forever. I'm delighted that viewers across the capital and beyond, who have previously been unable to get Freeview services, will soon be able to do so. Most people are well prepared; but for those who still have questions, we are here to help."
How will switchover happen?
Switchover will happen in two stages. If you currently receive your TV signal through an aerial, in either analogue or digital format (e.g. Freeview, Top Up TV, BT Vision), you are probably served by the Crystal Palace transmitter group, which switches on the dates below. Televisions connected to a cable or satellite service are not affected.
Stage one – 4 April 2012:
In the early hours, analogue BBC Two will be switched off and replaced with a new digital signal. Local 'relay' TV transmitters will also start to broadcast the BBC's other digital channels for the first time.
Readers switching to digital for the first time via Freeview, Top Up TV or BT Vision will now be able to set up their equipment. Homes already watching these services should retune their digital boxes or IDTVs.
For viewers still watching analogue, ITV1 is likely at this point to move to button 2 on your remote control, where BBC Two used to be.
Stage two – 18 April 2012:
All remaining analogue channels will be switched off and replaced with additional digital services. Everyone watching Freeview, Top Up TV or BT Vision will need to retune their equipment again to receive all available channels.
On both dates, these changes will happen overnight. For most viewers, services will be restored by the morning. Households receiving their TV signal from local relay transmitters will receive new digital services later in the day and should tune in for the first time or retune from this point.
Note: Some homes in Sevenoaks may receive their TV from another transmitter in the Meridian TV region, which will switch on a different date. Viewers can check their date by using the postcode checker at digitaluk.co.uk
How to retune
Viewers watching Freeview, Top Up TV or BT Vision will need to do a full retune of their equipment at both stages of switchover in order to continue receiving services. You should retune from time to time in order to keep your Freeview box up to date. Sometimes channels move around – so if you should lose access to several channels, try retuning to restore them.
To do a full retune your Freeview, Top Up TV or BT Vision equipment, follow these steps (these instructions are a guide only – each product works slightly differently).
- Make sure your Freeview TV or box is on and in digital mode. Press 'menu' on your remote control.
- Select the 'set up' or 'installation' option. If you see picture icons, select the tool box, satellite dish or spanner.
- If you are prompted for a code, try 0000 or 1234.
- Select the full retune option. This is sometimes called 'first time installation', 'factory reset', 'default settings' or 'shipping conditions'. Do not select 'channel update' or 'add channels'.
- Press 'OK' if your equipment asks if you want to delete all your channels, don't worry this is normal.
- Channels will automatically be installed. This may take a few minutes and your equipment may shut down and restart
After a retune, if you are not receiving your preferred regional service, you are likely to find your preferred services further down the channel list. If you want to make your preferred services easier to find, you can either use the 'favourites' list or 'channel settings'. See your instruction manual for more details.
If you find you are missing some channels or your equipment has stopped working, visit digitaluk.co.uk/retuning for more information. If you can't do this yourself, you might want to consult friends or family who could do it for you, or otherwise call out an installer (see 'Common questions').
To watch a short video showing you how to retune, and for specific retuning instructions for the most popular Freeview products, visit digitaluk.co.uk/retuning.
Getting digital TV
If you only receive five or fewer analogue channels through an aerial on any of your sets, you'll need to think about converting them for switchover – otherwise you risk being faced with a blank screen once analogue signals are switched off.
There are three main ways to go digital:
- Convert your existing analogue TV using a digital box (e.g. Freeview, Top Up TV or BT Vision).
- Have a digital TV service, such as satellite or cable TV, installed for you. Providers include Sky, freesat and Virgin Media.
- Buy a new TV with digital (Freeview or freesat) built in.
Remember, almost everyone will be able to watch Freeview after switchover – even homes currently out of coverage. You can check the options for going digital in your area, and what channels will be available through your aerial, using the postcode checker at digitaluk.co.uk. Extra channels are available through other digital TV services, such as satellite or cable.
Virtually any TV set, including black and white ones and those without Scart sockets, can be converted using a digital box.
Where can I get face-to-face advice on switchover? Digital UK has been working closely with charities to organise local advice points during switchover. These will be staffed by trained volunteers and are open to everyone. There are also Digital UK roadshows in the region. To find out where your local advice point or roadshow will be, visit digitaluk.co.uk/londonevents or call 08456 50 50 50.
What about my video recorder? After switchover, video and analogue DVD recorders will still play back and record, but you won't be able to record one channel while you watch another. If you want to continue doing this after switchover, the simplest way is to get a digital TV recorder. These also allow you to record a whole series at the touch of a button, and pause and rewind live TV.
Will I need a new aerial to receive Freeview, and can I use a set-top aerial?
Your current analogue reception is the best indicator: if you receive a good analogue signal from your existing aerial now, you will probably receive a good picture after switchover (as long as you have converted your equipment in order to receive digital). However, if you get a very snowy picture now, it is likely that you will get a poor digital TV picture.
At least 50 per cent of set-top aerials should work after switchover, but using a rooftop aerial is more reliable. Most rooftop aerials will work fine after switchover, though a small proportion of aerials are likely to need replacing to receive Freeview. Viewers served by the Hemel Hempstead and Reigate transmitters will need a wideband aerial to be sure of receiving all available channels.
Digital UK recommends that you wait until after switchover to see if your aerial needs replacing in order to avoid having unnecessary work carried out.
Where can I find a good aerial installer? Look for a Registered Digital Installer (RDI) with the 'digital tick' logo. Go to rdi-lb.tv or call Digital UK on 0845 650 50 50 for more information. If you can't find an RDI locally, look for someone with Associate RDI or CAI Plus status – or ask your local electrical retailer.
What channels will I get? Which channels you receive will depend on which transmitter you receive your signal from. Viewers served by a local 'relay' transmitter will receive around 15 Freeview channels for the first time. These will include BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5, plus all the other channels from the BBC (those funded by the licence fee) and some other services from the public-service broadcasters.
Viewers served by a larger 'main' transmitter will receive these channels as well as some extra services from commercial broadcasters. These extra channels are also available via satellite. You can check which Freeview channels are available in your area by using the postcode checker at digitaluk.co.uk, or by calling 08456 50 50 50. This also gives you information about satellite and cable options in your area.
The Switchover Help Scheme
Thousands of people in the London TV region have already taken up help from the Switchover Help Scheme. Run by the BBC under an agreement with the Government, it's an official scheme which makes switchover easy for older and disabled people by giving practical help to switch one TV in their home.
People are eligible for the Help Scheme if they are:
- aged 75 years or over;
- eligible for attendance or constant attendance allowance, or mobility supplement, or disability living allowance;
- registered blind or partially sighted;
- or have been living in a care home for six months or more.
If you're eligible, you will be offered equipment that's easy to use, delivery or installation and a demonstration of how to use it, together with a choice of options. We will also check your aerial and upgrade it where we can, if it's needed. There is a freephone number to call for help while you get used to things.
Most people will be asked to pay £40 towards the standard offer of help. For eligible people on income-related benefits, it's free. Eligible people can also choose from a range of other Help Scheme options, sometimes at a higher cost.
If you know an older or disabled person who might still need help to switch to digital TV, you could lend a helping hand and give them the message about the Switchover Help Scheme. Even if they have digital TV already, they can get help to switch another TV set in their home.
All you need to do to get the help is respond to the information pack which has been sent to every eligible person's home. But you must respond to get the help. The Help Scheme will close for applications in the London TV region on 18 May 2012.