Digital Switchover & Sales Scams

by Andrew Murton

You've probably heard that analogue TV signals are being turned off all round the country and being replaced with digital transmissions. People with little technical knowledge may be anxious about this change which makes a wonderful fertile ground for 'cons' by unscrupulous equipment and service suppliers who see great opportunities to make a lot of money by trading on people's fears and lack of awareness of the facts.

If you already have satellite, cable or Digital Terrestrial TV including Freeview, I won't waste your time - this article is for those with analogue reception, who are watching through an external roof or internal aerial and can only see four or five channels.

If you have an older television which isn't wide screen, flat screen or High Definition but you're quite happy as you are, then you DO NOT need to upgrade your television just because some spotty young salesperson can smell the commission! If your aerial is satisfactory (I'll come on to this) all you need is a Freeview box for about £20 which goes between your aerial and your television to decode the digital signal and give you more channels. I find about a dozen of them worth watching. This £20 is a one-off cost: no subscription and no further charges except your TV licence. Installation is easy - anyone can do it.

If you want to upgrade your set, that's your decision, but don't be pressured into buying something because the shop assistant tells you that you'll be "Future-Proofed" or similar misleading phrases. If you want to subscribe to pay-tv, let it be your choice, and not because someone tells you it's the only way to continue watching: it's not true!

Wide, flat and HD are the future and almost all television sales will be for these more advanced types but you don't need them to watch digital television. If anyone claims that you do, they should be reported to Trading Standards.

Subscription services are ideal for those who watch a lot of TV and have the money to spare, especially those are keen on following sport. I'm not a football fan and I'm not worried about seeing the newest imported series or films so it's not right for me.

To receive Freeview, you do need a reasonable signal but you do NOT need a special aerial. People who claim that there's a special "Digital Aerial" and you need one after switchover is not being honest and should also be reported. If your aerial and signal are good enough, you just need a cheap Freeview box of any make and it should work. The simplest test is to borrow a box from a friend and try it. I did this several years ago and was pleased to find that reception here is good so I haven't had to go to any bother or spend money on expensive aerial work.

If do you need a better aerial, you should probably get a proper installer with the equipment and expertise to go up on your roof and do a proper job. If any registered user here wants to recommend someone who's done a good job, please add a comment below. [CMO is not responsible for those recommendations.]

There's another way to get multiple TV channels without subscription which is particularly useful if your location or local topography makes Freeview reception impossible: Freesat (see If you own your property and don't mind a satellite dish on your house, or if you're a past satellite subscriber and the dish is still in place, you can get a satellite decoder which lets you see hundreds of "Free to Air" channels including all the BBC, ITV etc plus many others but without committing yourself to ongoing subscription payments to an intermediary service provider. I'm tempted by this way of getting more choice and may give it a try. Another advantage of this is that as High Definition services beome more common, the limited Freeview signal bandwidth will become more of a problem, so Freesat will probably grow in popularity.

Another useful piece of equipment is a hard disk recorder, often called a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) or DVR (Digital Video Recorder). These let you record programmes easily on the internal hard disk like the one in a computer. Most let you record one programme while you watch another, or record two or more at once, and watch a recorded programme before it's finished, pause live TV and rewind if you miss something or get interrupted. There are also tied versions of this called V+ and Sky Plus depending on your pay tv service. They're just the same thing but often you have to continue to pay to use it to record programmes, even though you already paid to watch them.

A Freeview PVR does exactly the same except that you buy it for under £100 and use it with no further costs. I spent some time on the phone with my brother in law recently who was convinced that with Sky Plus he had some unique equipment and I must be talking about an old VHS cassette recorder! He kept saying things like "but I can pause live TV and record a programme after it's started" and it took a while to persuade him that I had exactly the same facilities on my PVR. Sky Plus is just one example of a PVR.

In summary, there's lots of choice without spending a lot but make sure you know what you want and try not to get taken in by misleading sales people.

DSO success?

I suppose there can't have been anyone left on analogue-only TV this year who was unaware of the Digital Switchover of terrestrial TV. It was all a bit of an anti-climax for me, I was expecting something more exciting (or troublesome) than just a Freeview re-scan two weeks ago and today. That was it.

I was concerned that shady TV or aerial shops would tell the unwary that their terrestrial TV was ending just to make a satellite or cable sale but I didn't hear of anything like this.

How was it for you - any problems?

Digital TV March 2012

We knew it was going to happen in 2012 but the announcement of the actual dates was made yesterday.

There are two significant dates: 7th March and 21st March 2012.
On Wednesday 7th March, BBC2 will become digital-only and disappear from analogue TV. We'll need to re-scan any Freeview equipment which needs it but will also get a few more channels on Freeview.

Two weeks later on 21st March, all the other channels will cease analogue broadcasting forever, we'll have to re-scan (again!) and we'll get a few more channels.

This only affects Freeview, BT Vision and Top-Up TV.

See DigitalUK for fuller details

Freeview Box - loan

Some time just after I wrote the above summary of Freeview etc., my Freeview box packed up. It's a pain being reduced to the four basic channels when I know there's something I'd like to watch elsewhere!

I think it's the mains power side but it's hard to work out where to connect an alternative supply and these things are made to be replaced rather than fixed so it's not looking good.

So, does anyone here have a Freeview box or PVR which they aren't using and I could borrow? I'm reluctant to buy one until I find out whether my PVR is redeemable.

I should try my PVR again. It packed up a little while ago which is when I went back to the plain Freeview box without recording facilities. While it's better to be able to pause live programmes, skip adverts and record something while you're out or interrupted, I mostly miss watching all the extra channels. I miss BBC Radio 7, news channels (particularly CNN) old QI, BBC Four and Quest documentaries and various sci-fi.


One Satisfied Customer

I got a response to my Freeview box request - Dave offered one and even delivered it to me!

Thanks Dave - great service!

Digital Switchover and Sales Scams

Looking into this on behalf of my mother I found Argos website much more useful than "digitaluk". Mother loses BBC2 on analogue in early November so needs a Freeview box on the day (currently there is no Freeview reception).

All BBC channels should then be available to her but for ITV she will have to switch back to analogue for a further month when the final stage is completed.

I don't consider this satisfactory, especially as the tv could blow up the following week leaving her with a pointless Freeview box when new TVs have Freeview integrated.

Slow Switchover

Has your mother lost the analogue BBC2 now and did they start broadcasting digital signals at the same time so there was no break in service? If she got a Freeview box to watch Newsnight (or whatever) she will now be able see lots of extra programmes too. If it works what's wrong with that?

You're right that if her TV blows up next week, she'll quite likely replace it with new one with a decoder built in, so the box will become superfluous and the money wasted. The fact that it's only £20 means it's a small risk and a small potential loss.

[PS if her TV blows up, can I have the box?]

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