Digital TV and Radio – the Changing Face of Radio and Television Broadcasting

Digital TV

A new digital TV format called ATSC is being implemented in North America and will replace the analog NTSC one by 2009. This will allow high definition TV (HDTV) to be implemented on terrestrial television broadcasts. This digital tv switchover will allow homes currently without a satellite system to receive digital terrestrial television which will give a much improved picture quality.

Other new benefits of digital transmission are that more channels can be transmitted within the same bandwidth (portion of the radio frequency spectrum), this enables more channels to be broadcast using existing transmitters and antennae (though modifications will be necessary) and will allow some of the bandwidth to be used for other services if desired such as voice and data or government uses.

For the average user, the picture quality, whether using HDTV or not, will improve immensely.

In the UK this transformation has been under way for a few years with the result that many people have as large a choice of channels available through digital terrestrial television transmission as they would with a satellite system, and much improved picture quality.

For the consumer, it should be understood that it is not necessary to buy a completely new TV set in order to receive the new transmissions. A simple set top box (digital tuner) can be used, though more and more new TV’s will have the capability of picking up digital transmissions without an extra box. These set top boxes retail very cheaply so it is not a huge investment, and the US government is taking steps to help people with coupons in order to ensure everyone upgrades to the new service before the analog transmissions stop. The only possible additional equipment may be an upgraded aerial.

In the US market a majority of people already use satellite or cable services and most of these will already receive digital signals, but as many as 20% may be receiving analog signals on terrestrial services so for these people a huge improvement in TV services is on the horizon.

Digital Radio

In the US digital radio has been embraced using satellite services primarily, though terrestrial broadcasters are interested in introducing services if the high costs of receiving equipment comes down. Satellite services have been popular for people travelling as they can receive the same channels they are used to wherever they are, and there are less censorship issues and advertising with the satellite services, though the downside is that they have to subscribe.

In the UK digital radio is through terrestrial services (called DAB radio and free apart from equipment costs) and the services are becoming very popular now that equipment costs have fallen to below $100 for most receivers. Many more channels and excellent quality mean that it will become the radio medium of choice for most people very quickly. DAB radio (Digital Audio Broadcasting) is becoming popular both in homes and cars with a wide choice of channels and crystal clear transmissions.

The improvements in signal quality and station choice as with the TV services are the main benefit to consumers. For service providers there will ultimately be many more services they can deliver to people over the same radio bandwidth, advertisers will have better targeting in the same way that they can over the internet, and for the government more radio spectrum is available whether for more channels or other uses.