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IT'S a new era for digital television and a new note of optimism for the government's long term plan to switch off analogue.Now that the BBC has its hands on the future of the digital revolution, consumers are desperate to know where they stand.

By Debbie Watson

IT'S a new era for digital television and a new note of optimism for the government's long term plan to switch off analogue.

Now that the BBC has its hands on the future of the digital revolution, consumers are desperate to know where they stand. Here, the Evening Star reports on the latest developments – and what it means for you.

WITH less than eight years to go before the confidently perceived – and much publicised – death of analogue, you'd imagine us British couch potatoes would be virtually rejoicing by now.

After all, according to the original government plan, we'd be permanently flicking the switch to digital by the heady date of 2010.

So just how likely is that promised deadline now?

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Given the latest hoo-ha involving ITV Digital's demise, it's hardly any wonder that consumers are feeling less than optimistic over the future transition of television.

Sure, we've now been delivered the positive note that the BBC (together with transmission company Crown Castle) has taken the concept in hand and will bring us something far more 'fresh', but that still might not be enough to appease certain TV viewers……..and particularly those with a home in the eastern counties.

To anyone living in Suffolk, the potential for Digital is certainly not being taken as a foregone conclusion at the current time.

In fact, around the Ipswich area, hundreds of would-be digital subscribers – to their cost – have discovered that set-top boxes, a perfectly good television set and a whole bunch of optimism is still not enough to guarantee you so much as a picture!

Numerous households remain without the capacity to access a Digital offering at all – despite the fact that some electrical retailers have been more than happy to sell their products without thinking to tell their customers this crucial piece of information.

So, all that negative experience aside, does the Beebs new input now give us genuine cause for celebration?

Should we be feeling far more hopeful about a complete switch over by the end of this decade?

Well, hardly surprisingly – the BBC thinks we should.

Having made its new deal this month, the Beeb says it will potentially attract five million more households within the next six years thanks to the latest package.

And that would certainly help the government's plan, given that it has to get 95 per cent take-up before it can switch off our conventional analogue service altogether.

Essentially, the offering put forward by Greg Dyke's BBC team is being seen as notably more concise.

Instead of offering the exact same number of channels that were available through ITV Digital, the Beeb says it will reduce this quantity specifically to enhance the quality of the reception.

Bosses of the new concept claim their research has shown this to be the case when channels are 'spread out more'.

Moreover, the BBC is holding back on other channel offerings by taking away a Digital pay-per-view option.

The likes of Sky Sports will now only be available if we start out by signing up to an instalment deal with Sky – costing us considerably more!

It's not surprising that the BBC says it's considered this too.

It claims that consumers don't generally want a Digital service confused by pay-per-view options, and that most people who don't want to be hassled by instalment payment services, will be more than thrilled with having 24 digital terrestrial options to hand.

However, speaking on a BBC internet forum recently, Carolyn Faribairn, BBC director of strategy, did say that this was a potential option for the future.

So what about the matter of nationwide coverage?

Clearly the BBC is championing its new Digital concept on the idea that its reduced channel quantity will enhance quality.

And yet, Suffolk's electrical retailers are warning us not to get too excited, and ideally to wait for more information before presuming that a set-top box will guarantee us fault-free picture-perfect coverage.

"As soon as the BBC deal was announced, we were taking phone calls every day from people in the region who wanted to know how good the service would be for them now," commented Hughes service team leader, Clive Garnham.

"They presumed that this would mean a dramatic improvement and that suddenly they'd be able to get coverage if their home hadn't been in the right location for it previously.

"Unfortunately, the truth is that we aren't 100 per cent sure how this will improve coverage ourselves."

He said: "We're still waiting for information and hoping that in the near future we will be able to feed that back to our customers and let them know where they stand.

"In the meantime, it's very frustrating for everyone."

Clive explained that Suffolk's households are still in very much a 'hit or miss' situation as to whether they can access terrestrial digital or not.

"The coverage across Suffolk is still quite poor," he said. "there are some people in the county who can get it, and equally, there are a lot of others who can't. For some of them in the latter category, it may just be that they need a new aerial system to put things right.

"What we can't do at the moment is tell people whether this new deal changes their chances of getting coverage.

"Personally, the greatest advice I can offer anyone is to wait for more information."

And that, as frustrating as it sounds, is exactly what most Suffolk households are resigned to doing.

It is still very much the intention of the BBC that their new system will enable people to access a better quality reception – and that, in time, this clearer reception will apply to UK sets across the whole of the UK.

In the meantime, it appears that however optimistic the service provider is, Suffolk may not be able to pass a collective judgement on the new digital facility for several months – or potentially years – to come.


WHAT will you need to do to take part in the Digital revolution:

Consumers will simply make a one-off payment (around £100) for a digital receiver. From that point onwards, a viewer will be able to access a total of 24 free-to-air channels.

These will include the five terrestrial channels, S4C (Wales only) and a total of 18 other digital-only services.

WHEN will the BBC's new framework be up and running?

They plan to everything finalised and ready to run by the Autumn. The BBC obviously realises that it will need to be quick if it is going to have any hope of restoring confidence in this platform.

WHAT channels will you get?

BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Choice, ITV 1, ITV 2, Channel 4, Channel 5, S4C (Wales only), BBC News 24, Sky News, ITN, CNN, Sky Sports News, BBC Four, UK History, TCM (Turner Classic Movies), CBBC, Cbeebies, Boomerang, BBC Parliament, The Community Channel, S4C2 (Wales), Sky Travel, QVC, TV Travel Shop, BBCi.

There will also be: six BBC music stations, a music channel to be announced, a general entertainment channel to be announced, more interactive services to be announced, commercial radio stations to be announced.

Because there are less channels than with ITV Digital, it is said that the above will have a far stronger signal.

WHAT does the new arrangement mean for the world of football?

The Football League has welcomed the new Digital deal because many clubs were left struggling by ITV Digital's collapse.

Nationwide clubs are still owed £189.5 million and this week they were in court with media giants, attempting to sue them for this money.

Club bosses see the BBC as a more attractive partner for the Football League.

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