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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October 2004, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
Digital TV's steady progress
By Emma Saunders
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Oasis
Digital channel BBC Three broadcast the Glastonbury Festival
On Wednesday the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published its review of the BBC's digital TV channels. BBC News Online finds out how the quest to turn the whole of the UK digital is progressing.

It is now common knowledge that the government wants to turn off the analogue signal - which is used for conventional TV broadcasts - by 2012.

So with eight years left to go, is the BBC on target?

Before the BBC launched Freeview two years ago, 66% of the UK population had the option to switch to digital terrestrial coverage.

This has increased to 75% - three in four households - over the past two years.

"The improvement in coverage is down to technical advancement from the BBC and Crown Castle, who manage the transmitter system," according to the corporation's senior distribution manager, Ian Adams.

Freeview logo
Freeview was launched by the BBC two years ago

But that still leaves a significant minority still unable to go digital even if they want to, without having to invest in a satellite dish.

So why is more progress not being made?

Sticking points

Mr Adams points out that the switchover plan is still being determined by the government, although the BBC is working very closely with it.

A BBC report issued earlier this year pointed out several barriers that could cause problems.

The BBC forecast that left entirely to the market, digital penetration will not reach 95% of households until 2013.

So government backing for switching to digital remains vital, according to the BBC.

The report also pointed out that there are millions of consumers who see no reason to adopt digital TV and a huge marketing campaign is needed.

The ease of recording from digital channels - most home video recorders only pick up analogue TV - and the conversion of second TV sets are also issues.

Technical restrictions

But technical restrictions are the main reason behind the current stall in progress.

TV set
Not everyone is interested in getting digital TV

"When we launched digital terrestrial TV, we interweaved the new digital system around the existing analogue one, but we can only do that in areas where the new digital signals do not interfere with terrestrial signals," explained Mr Adams.

"It's a slight catch-22 situation - we can't add any more digital transmitters until analogue space is freed up."

If analogue has to be switched off before we can go 100% digital, then what is the answer?

The BBC and the government are planning a rolling programme of switching analogue signals off and replacing them with digital transmissions. This is due to begin in 2008 on a regional basis.

So by the end of 2012, switchover should be complete.

Patience

The government will also publish a review of the BBC's digital radio services later this month.

The second phase of the digital radio transmitter network has now finished, which means 85% of the UK population can receive digital radio.

This has improved signals in some areas of the UK, such as Newcastle, and has brought coverage for the first time to parts of Scotland and East Anglia, among others.

The digital future is looking brighter but some may have to wait longer than others before making the switch.




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