625 - Andrew Wiseman's Television Room
Digital TV
- beyond the hype

Version 5.5
Main Content Last Revised Fr 6-Aug-99

The digital revolution has arrived. What will it mean for viewers? Are the pictures really better? How do you choose between Digital Terrestrial, Satellite and Cable? Should you go digital now? What extra equipment will you need? And how much does going digital cost?

Contents

Click on this icon top below to return here. Items marked Rev. 5.5 have been updated since the previous edition.

Introduction

What is digital television?

A Compact Disc stores music as a series of binary digits, i.e. noughts and ones. Digital Television is a television service represented in the same way. Just as CDs improved on vinyl by eliminating scratches, digital television improves on normal (or "analogue") television by eliminating interference such as ghosting.

Another property of digital television is that it can be easily compressed by a computer chip. The advantage of compression is that more TV channels can be squeezed in to the same space (or "bandwidth") that would normally be occupied by a single analogue channel.

So basically Digital TV means more channels and interference-free pictures. But, interference-free pictures aren't necessarily better pictures, as I shall explain, and the more channels you squeeze in, the worse the pictures become...

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Are digital TV pictures better?

Analogue TV pictures received through an aerial can suffer snow, ghosting, cross-channel interference and other effects, depending on where you live and how your aerial is installed. Digital pictures are different, they degrade much more quickly. This means you are likely to see either a perfect picture or no picture at all.

Sky are claiming that Digital pictures do not suffer from interference caused by weather conditions. This appears contrary to the experiences people are having. Although digital pictures are much more robust than their analogue counterparts, they can suffer from corruption.

Indeed, digital pictures are not perfect. They suffer from symptoms linked to the limitations of compression technology. If the content of the picture changes too quickly, you begin to see "blocks" in the pictures that shouldn't be there. (These are called "Digital Artefacts"). This can also happen if the pictures from other channels are fighting for the same bandwidth.

Many viewers visiting Live 98, the consumer electronics show in London, have reported how the demonstrations of digital TV show poor pictures. I have also seen remarkably poor pictures from BBC Choice on the launch day of SkyDigital, with similar results reported for other channels such as THE BOX.

It's important to remember that digital television is not high definition television. Digital pictures occupy the same 625 lines as analogue pictures. This contrasts with digital television in other countries such as the USA where high definition pictures were due before the end of 1998. In the UK, however, if you are currently receiving an analogue picture that is free from interference, you already have the best picture possible. Digital TV will offer no improvement to you.

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Is digital TV sound better?

Digital TV sound uses a newer technology than the Nicam Stereo sound available with analogue TV. However, the technology does not provide any more channels of sound, you still only have two. It's unlikely you will be able to hear the difference between the two systems. Further, Nicam and Digital TV sound provide near-CD quality sound, i.e. sound quality approaching that of a Compact Disc recording, in other words "not as good as" CD quality. Some retailers are advertising that Sky provides CD-quality sound. This is untrue.

Again, digital TV in other countries will use different technology to bring a more advanced sound system. For example, where we use 2 sound channels encoded with MPEG audio, the USA will use 5+1 channels provided by the Dolby Digital system. The BBC say there simply isn't enough bandwidth to be able to provide Dolby Digital in the UK.

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How will digital TV be interactive?

First, digital will offer advanced teletext services and programme guides. You choose the page and it appears. But this isn't true interactivity.

For two-way communication, necessary for home shopping, for example, you need to plug your set top box into a phone line.

Both SkyDigital and ONdigital aim to provide interactive services, such as e-mail, to viewers in 1999.

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How much will it cost to go digital?

Digital Terrestrial (DTT) / ONdigital ONdigital boxes are now available rent-free to all new subscribers. The minimum subscription is 6.99 per month for a single Primary Channel alongside the free channels. Other channels, such as those for movies and sport will cost extra. If you don't wish to subscribe and prefer instead to take the free channels on their own, then the set-top box is available to buy. Check with your retailer. (Expect to pay 400.)

There is no connection fee.

Minimum subscription is 12 months.

Aerial upgrades are available where necessary from £40.

Call ONdigital on 0870 6009696 for the more information.

Digital Satellite (Dsat) / SkyDigital The set-top box (or Digibox) and the satellite dish are now available free from retailers, providing you sign the Interactive Discount Contract, which involves you connecting the Digibox to your phone line. If you also subscribe to SkyDigital (minimum price 7 per month for 3 TV channels and 10 audio channels alongside the free channels), the dish will be installed for 40 (a saving of 60).

There is no connection fee.

Minimum subscription is 12 months.

'Non-standard' installations cost extra.

If you break the Interactive Discount Contract you will have to pay cost of up to 188. If you break the terms of your Sky subscription, you are liable to repay the 60 installation subsidy. More details from Sky on 08702 42 42 42.

Digital Cable (Dcab) There are few details available so far, but at least some cable companies are promising that their subscribers will have an upgrade to a digital set-top box free of charge.

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Will a digital TV licence cost more?

In August 1999, an independent Government-appointed committee published a report proposing that digital viewers pay an additional levy of £1.99 per month, an extra £24 per year for a TV licence. The suggestion is that this be reduced to £12 (99p per month) in five years and then withdrawn once analogue transmissions have ended. The money will fund the BBC's digital services.

Opponents of this proposal claim it will slow the take up of digital TV. The BBC on the other hand, says the extra money is not enough. Back in January, Sir John Birt said BBC digital plans would guard against a "two-class" society of the information rich and the information poor. He appears to have changed his mind.

The Government has invited viewers and listeners to give their views on the funding of the BBC, but many expect that when the final decision is made, probably by the end of 1999, the extra licence fee for digital TV will become a reality.

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Will one set-top box bring me all the digital services?

The set-top boxes for DTT, Digital Satellite and Digital Cable will all be different. Hence you won't be able to use a single box for all three services. This may change in the future. In the meantime, there is talk of add-on boxes or side cars, which will allow you to add, say, DTT reception to your Digibox.

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How do I change channels? What is an EPG?

With so many channels to choose from, digital TV provides an EPG, an Electronic Programme Guide, a menu-driven system enabling you to change channels and also see what programmes are on. You don't need a teletext set to use it, all of the equipment is right there in the set-top box.

SkyDigital's EPG is called SkyGuide.

SkyGuide Main Menu (4K) SkyGuide TV Listings (16K) SkyGuide - highlight a programme and get information on it (15K)

Press a button on the remote control and a menu of channels comes up. Choose the type of channel (e.g. Sports, Entertainment), and a list is shown. The guide shows what's on for the next hour or so on each channel. Choosing the channel then switches the Digibox to that channel, and a box appears at the foot of the picture momentarily, to confirm the channel name, what's on now and what's on next.

Sky's EPG is also used to set Parental Control settings and to order programmes from Sky Box Office. In future you will be able to set the EPG to remind you when your chosen shows are about to start. To do this, the software in the box will automatically be upgraded by Sky, as you watch.

ONdigital also provide an EPG for their set-top boxes.

ONdigital EPG (6K) ONdigital EPG - getting information about the current programme (9K)

Press the info button on your remote control, and an on-screen display will show the the channel name and number and current programme title plus the time now in the top half of the screen. In the bottom half you can see what's on now and next on this channel. Press the blue button to find out more about what's on now or the yellow button for what's on next. You can also see what's on now and next on other channel by typing in the channel number or pressing the up and down arrows.

Unlike SkyGuide, ONdigital's EPG doesn't currently show more than one channel at a time nor what's on later or tomorrow. But ONdigital's boxes do allow you to set timers so that the box switches will switch on and change channel according to your settings in order to make it easier to record programmes while you are out.

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What are the launch dates for digital TV?

Digital Terrestrial (DTT) / ONdigital 15th November 1998, the 29th anniversary of the launch of colour on ITV and BBC1
Digital Satellite (Dsat) / SkyDigital 1st October 1998
Digital Cable (Dcab) The first digital cable service is expected to be available on 1st July 1999

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How many viewers have gone digital?

ONdigital had 247 000 subscribers at the end of June 1999.
SkyDigital had 350 000 subscribers at the last count in January 1999. Of these, 120 000 were new subscribers, i.e. people who had not subscribed to the Sky analogue satellite service.
Digital Cable (Dcab) No figures available yet

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The History of Digital TV

23rd September 1998
BBC Choice launches, a week before the equipment required to receive it goes on sale. The channel was to be known as BBC Showcase (but never BBC Quirke!).

1st October 1998
SkyDigital is launched and its equipment is on sale for the first time. Originally the Digiboxes cost up to £199.99 (£159.99 for existing subscribers) provided you signed the Interactive Discount Contract. Subscribing to Sky also got you free installation (a saving of £99.99). There was also a one-off connection fee of £30 (£25 to existing subscribers).

1st November 1998
FilmFour launches.

15th November 1998
DTT launches as ONdigital boxes go on sale, marking the 29th anniversary of the launch of colour on ITV and BBC1. ONdigital claims this to be the world's first digital terrestrial television service. ONdigital boxes also cost up to £199.99 providing you subscribed to ONdigital plus a one-off £20 connection fee.

7th December 1998
At 7pm, 700 viewers tuned in to watch pop star Billie Piper and thug Vinnie Jones launch the new DTT channel ITV2, a second ITV channel available in England and Wales.

30th April 1999
S2, Scotland's second ITV channel, launches on DTT.

May 1999
ONdigital boxes are now free from retailers. At first you had to buy a TV costing 199.99 or more, later this was relaxed so that you could spend 199.99 on anything. The price of the ONdigital box was then refunded.

28th May 1999
ONdigital boxes are now available from retailers rent-free.

1st June 1999
Sky Digiboxes are now available free from retailers.

1st June 1999
BBC Knowledge launches at 5pm. This channel was to be known as BBC Learning.

28th June 1999
TV-YOU, the second ITV channel for Northern Ireland, launched at 4pm. This means the whole of the UK now has access to a second ITV channel on DTT.

1st July 1999
MTV launches on ONdigital.

1st August 1999
British Eurosport launches on SkyDigital.

5th August 1999
The Government-appointed Davies Panel recommends digital viewers pay £24 extra per year for their TV licence to fund the BBC's digital services.

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Digital Terrestrial

Digital Terrestrial Television or DTT, sometimes called The Digital Network, is Digital TV through an aerial. No dish, no cable, no fuss, according to the advertisements. DTT is designed to replace the existing, conventional "analogue" system through which the majority of viewers in the UK watch the five networks. Using compression, DTT is able to deliver 30 channels. Unlike the existing service, however, not all of these new channels are be free to watch. And although DTT pictures arrive through your existing TV aerial, a set-top box, or a new digital TV, is required to decode the transmissions.

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How does DTT work?

The UHF band is divided up into channels numbered from 21 to 68 inclusive. The existing service uses 5 channels, each one providing pictures from the 5 networks (BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 or S4C and Channel 5). The channel numbers are carefully chosen so that transmissions don't interfere with each other and they don't interfere with transmissions on different channels from neighbouring transmitters. They also generally sit close together within a range or a group and an aerial designed just for that group of channels is used.

The UHF transmitter network was only designed to transmit four services. With DTT an extra 6 channels will be used in the UHF band. This is possible because DTT transmissions require much lower powered transmitters, which is supposed to remove the possibility of interference. Using compression, each of these 6 extra channels can be used to carry pictures for more than one service at the same time. So from a single UHF channel it will be possible to receive 4 or even more TV stations. For this reason, each channel is known as a multiplex. (Just as a cinema building with more than one screen is known as a multiplex.)

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What channels are available?

Of the six multiplexes, three are controlled by the existing broadcasters. The BBC has its own multiplex. ITV, Channel 4 and Teletext Ltd share a multiplex. S4C and Channel 5 each control a half of multiplex A. The licences to run Multiplexes B, C and D were awarded by the ITC to BDB plc (British Digital Broadcasting) who trade as ONdigital.

Multiplex
Name

Multiplex
Owners
Channels
1 BBC Digital versions of BBC One, BBC Two, BBC News 24 are available plus BBC Choice  which carries new programmes to supplement those on the main two channels as well as repeats. Because of the way the BBC is broadcasting its services, there is no room for any more TV channels, therefore BBC Parliament is available in audio only and BBC Knowledge is currently on a different multiplex. The BBC is broadcasting its digital pictures in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen where possible. A digital teletext service, BBC Text, will soon be available.

2

Digital 3 and 4 Limited

co-owned by ITV, Channel 4 and Teletext.

The existing services from ITV and Channel 4 are accompanied by two new channels:

  • A second ITV channel, with repeats of ITV shows as well as original programming aimed at a younger audience than ITV. In England and Wales this channel is called ITV2. Viewers in Scotland receive their own version, S2, and Northern Ireland has TV-YOU. GMTV are providing the breakfast programme for the channel - GMTV2 has cartoons and features the news with sign language.
  • FilmFour is a subscription channel. (4 Extra, a supplemental channel from Channel 4 is also occasionally available on this channel.)
Teletext Ltd will be providing a digital teletext service.

 

A

SDN

S4C Digital Networks Limited

Currently, Channel 5 and BBC Knowledge are the only channels broadcasting nationally from this multiplex. S4C is also available to to viewers in Wales. The multiplex will also show Gaelic programmes in peak-time to viewers in Scotland. Up to five other channels are expected, which will form a pay-per-view movies and events service similar to Sky's Box Office.

B ONdigital Carlton Cinema, Cartoon Network, British Eurosport, First ONdigital, Sky One, Sky Premier, Sky Sports 1.
C ONdigital Granada Breeze/Men & Motors, Granada Plus, Sky MovieMax, Sky Sports 3, UK Gold.
D ONdigital Carlton Food Network/Select, Carlton Kids/Raw!/Carlton World, Shop!, UK Play, UK Style/Horizons.

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What are the subscription costs?

Free Channels

The following channels are available free to anyone with an integrated digital TV (a TV with a digital decoder built in) or a set-top box designed for DTT. A viewing card is not required.

Free Channels
  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Choice
  • BBC News 24
  • BBC Parliament (Audio Only)
  • BBC Knowledge
  • ITV
  • ITV2/S2/TV-YOU
  • Channel 4
  • Channel 5

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Primary Channels

New subscribers will get all ONdigital primary channels for 9.99 for three months, allowing them to evaluate everything that is on offer. After the three months subscribers can choose any six primary channels for the same monthly cost, or stay with all primary channels for £2 per month more. There is also a minimum subscription package of £6.99 available for which you get only one primary channel.

Existing subscribers have their lower rates frozen until January 2002.

 
Package Cost (£/month) Description
Minimum £6.99 Choose any 1 primary channel.
Basic £9.99* Choose any 6 primary channels.
Full £11.99* Take all of the primary channels.
Take all of the primary channels for £9.99 for the first three months.
Shop! and First ONdigital are bonus channels available free to all subscribers, although some First ONdigital events are not available to those taking only one primary channel.
* existing subscribers continue to pay £2 per month less than the price shown until 1st January 2002.

 
The Primary Channels
  • Sky One
  • Eurosport
  • UK Gold
  • UK Style and UK Horizons*
  • UK Play
  • The Cartoon Network
  • Carlton Kids, Raw! and Carlton World*
  • Carlton Select and Carlton Food Network*
  • Carlton Cinema
  • Granada Plus
  • Granada Breeze and Granada Men and Motors*
  • MTV (from 1st July 1999)
* denotes a single channel that is shared between the two or three named services at different times.

Nickelodeon and The Paramount Channel will also be available from 2000. ONdigital have also announced they intend to make The Nursery Channel and Rapture available.

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Premium Channels

Subscribers may also select from the premium channels available for an additional monthly fee.

 
The Premium Channels
  Sport Movies
Sky Sky Sports 1
(comes with Sky Sports 3 free)
Sky Premier
Sky MovieMax
Other   FilmFour

Prices are as follows:
  Extra Cost
(£/month)
Total Cost* (£/month)
Sky Choose any 1 for £11
or take 2 for £15
or all 3 for £18

Choose any 1 for £17.99 - £22.99
or take 2 for £21.99 - £26.99
or all 3 for £24.99 - £29.99

*Prices are shown to make easier the comparison with SkyDigital (below).

Other FilmFour is £5.99  

Please note: MUTV is not available from ONdigital, despite indications to the contrary in earlier versions of this guide. My information came from ONdigital, who have since changed their plans. They now say MUTV may be offered in 1999.

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Pay Per View

ONdigital will shortly be offering pay-per-view channels similar to Sky Box Office and NTL's Front Row on cable, which will show movies and sporting events. Viewers will be able to order these by telephone or through their remote control.

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Interactive

Get five in a row to beat the machine. (20K) ONdigital plan to offer interactive services and the Internet, bringing facilities such as on-line banking and shopping into the home via the TV screen.

In April 1999 they made some simple interactive games available to viewers. (see picture left.)

 E-mail is expected soon.

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Who are ONdigital?

ONdigital is owned by Carlton Communications and Granada Group, each company having a 50% share.

ONdigital is a trading name for British Digital Broadcasting plc. When this company was first set up, BSkyB were also shareholders. However, it was forced to sell its shares before the ITC would award the licence to avoid BSkyB having too much control over British television.

ONdigital manage the subscriptions of all the encrypted channels on DTT, even those it doesn't provide itself (such as FilmFour).

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Will I be able to receive DTT where I live?

According to the ITC, DTT is expected to be available to between 60 and 70 percent of the population at launch. After 18 months, the coverage should rise to between 70 and 90 per cent. It may take 5 to 10 years before everyone can receive digital.

However, a report on BBC NEWS ONLINE states that only 50 to 55 per cent of the population will be able to get all six multiplexes at launch. This means that even if you can get digital, you still might no get all of the channels. Within twelve month's this figure should rise to 70 per cent.

>> The Digital Television Group have set up a Post Code Query Database at their web site. Just enter your post code and it will tell you what multiplexes you should be able to receive.

If you have no joy there, call ONdigital's Customer Centre free on  0808 100 0101 and they should be able to tell you what channels you will get.

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Will I need an extra aerial to receive DTT ?

Many viewers will need to upgrade their existing equipment to receive all of the DTT multiplexes. This may mean one or more new aerials, plus boosting and filtering devices. However, it is said most viewers will not require a new aerial, so don't be fooled by those offering "digital" aerials.

According to ONdigital, any customer who has difficulty receiving ONdigital can obtain an aerial upgrade costing £40 for standard installations.

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What equipment do I need to get DTT ?

Assuming your existing aerial set-up is sufficient, you will also need either a set-top box or a television with a DTT decoder built in. (ONdigital say Bush will be producing such a set for only £299.) As ONdigital's advertisements have pointed out, you don't need a dish, you don't need a cable and you don't need to connect your set-top box to a phone line. You take home the box with a viewing card. You will get all the free channels when you plug it in, and a phone call to ONdigital is all that's needed to activate your subscription channels. Compare this with SkyDigital where viewers need to arrange installation of their dish and wait for a viewing card to come through the post.

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How will my video work with DTT ?

The set top box is connected like a cable or satellite box, between the aerial and your video recorder. This way you can record programmes from DTT. However, unlike conventional TV, you won't be able to watch one digital channel whilst recording another. (This will come as no surprise to owners of satellite dishes who have to put up with the same thing.)

The DTT boxes offer an additional feature - you can set a timer to change channels while you're not there, hence enabling the unattended recording of different DTT channels. And since the digital subtitles come from the box itself, you can now record programmes with their subtitles with an ordinary video recorder. (Note: you won't be able to switch off such subtitles during playback.)

With a digital video recorder, it might be possible to record all of the channels from a single multiplex at the same time. For this you would also need a digital connection from the set-top box to the digital video. (These require "firewire" ports on both machines.) Further details on this when I have them!

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When is Sky One not Sky One / Where is Seinfeld?

Although ONdigital carries Sky One, Sky Premier and Sky MovieMax these do not necessarily carry the same programmes or films as the cable and SkyDigital versions. This is because Sky don't always have the rights to broadcast on digital terrestrial and it means that some popular shows such as Seinfeld are not currently available.

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Does DTT have audio channels like Sky?

BBC Parliament is currently broadcasting on DTT in audio only. The BBC hope to add pictures as soon as is practical.

Other than this no audio channels have been announced. Space on the multiplexes will instead be used to provide either TV channels or digital teletext (or both).

Digital radio is available separately on a new system called DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting). It is possible that in the future manufacturers might produce set-top boxes for DTT with DAB decoders in them.

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How long before the analogue service is switched off?

The British Government have announced that a date will be announced by them for the switching off of all analogue TV transmitters. However there are no plans for the announcement of the announcement date!

What is certain is that there will be no switch off for at least five years. Chris Smith, Culture Secretary, has said that it won't happen until there are at least as many digital receivers as there are analogue sets now. An independent report, commissioned by the Government, states that most TV viewers would expect to have switched to digital by 2013.

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What are the transmitter details for digital terrestrial ?

The latest details are available at the ITC web site and the DTG web site. (Addresses at the foot of this page.)

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Digital Satellite

What are the channels and the subscription charges?

With a subscription to SkyDigital, you have to buy a package of channels from the Entertainment Packages and then add to this any premium channels.

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0. Free Channels

Thanks to James Cridland for the following information.

A number of channels are available to those with a SkyDigital receiver that don't require the payment of any monthly subscription charges.

  • Sky News
  • CNN
  • BBC Parliament
  • QVC
  • Shop!
  • TV Travel Shop
  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Choice (4 channels - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • BBC News 24
  • BBC Knowledge
  • Channel 4
  • Channel 5
The channels above are available without a Viewing Card To view the channels above, a Viewing Card must be inserted into the Digibox. A "BBC" Viewing Card is available free. (Viewing Cards also come with subscriptions to SkyDigital.)

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1. Entertainment Packages

Name

Monthly Cost
No. of TV channels Channels
Value Pack £7
(was 6.99)
3* Sky One, Discovery: Home & Leisure, Bloomberg.

Popular Mix Pack

£10
(was 8.99)

14*

Entertainment (3): Paramount Comedy Channel, Sky One, UK Gold
Music (1):
UK Play
Kids (4): Cartoon Network, Cartoon Network (+1 hour), Fox Kids, Nickelodeon
Lifestyle (2): Living, Discovery: Home & Leisure
News/Factual (4): Bloomberg, Discovery, Discovery (+1 hour), National Geographic Channel

Knowledge Pack

£10
(was 8.99)

11*

Entertainment (1): Sky One
Lifestyle (1): Discovery: Home & Leisure
News/Factual (9): Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, Discovery (+1 hour), Discovery: Animal Planet, The History Channel, National Geographic Channel, [.tv], UK Horizons

Kids & Music Pack £10
(was 8.99)
13*

Entertainment (1): Sky One
Music (5): The Box, MTV, M2, UK Play, VH-1
Kids (5): Cartoon Network, Cartoon Network (+1 hour), Fox Kids, Nickelodeon, Trouble
Lifestyle (1): Discovery: Home & Leisure
News/Factual (1): Bloomberg

Lifestyle Pack £10
(was 8.99)
11*

Entertainment (4): Bravo, Challenge TV, Granada Plus, Sky One
Kids (1): Trouble
Lifestyle (5): Granada Breeze, Granada Men & Motors, UK Arena, UK Style, Discovery: Home & Leisure
News/Factual (1): Bloomberg

Family Pack £13
(was 11.99)
43*

Entertainment (9): Bravo, Challenge TV, Granada Plus, Paramount Comedy Channel, The Sci-Fi Channel, Sky One, Tara, UK Gold, UK Gold 2
Music (8): The Box, MTV, MTV Extra, MTV Base, M2, UK Play, VH-1, VH-1 Classic
Kids (5): Cartoon Network, Cartoon Network (+1 hour), Fox Kids, Nickelodeon,  Trouble
Lifestyle (7): Granada Breeze, Granada Men & Motors, Living, Sky Travel, UK Arena, UK Style, Discovery: Home & Leisure
News/Factual (13): Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, Discovery (+1 hour), Discovery: Animal Planet, Discovery: Civilizations, Discovery: Sci-Trek, Discovery: Travel & Adventure, The History Channel, National Geographic Channel, Sky Sports News, [.tv], UK Horizons
Sport (1): British Eurosport

Ten Music Choice channels are also included in all above packages.

Prices in brackets are those charged to subscribers who bought their Digiboxes prior to them being available for free.
* Sky's own literature includes Sky News and QVC in all above subscription packages. However, since these two channels are available free without subscription, I have not included them.

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2. Premium Packages

To the entertainment package chosen above, you may add a premium package. Note that the monthly costs in the table below are total costs, i.e. the price shown depends on and includes the cost of your chosen entertainment package.

Premium Channels

Value Pack Popular Mix Pack,
Knowledge Pack,
Kids & Music Pack
or Lifestyle Pack
Family Pack
(No premium channels) £7 £10 £13
Sky MovieMax £19
(was 16.99)
20
(was £17.99)
21
(was £18.99)
Sky Sports 1 or 2, Sky Sports 3* 21
(was £18.99)
22
(was £19.99)
23
(was £20.99)
Sky Premier 23
(was £20.99)
24
(was £21.99)
25
(was 22.99)

Sky Sports 1 or 2, Sky Sports 3*
and Sky MovieMax

23
(was £20.99)
24
(was £21.99)
25
(was £22.99)
Sky Sports 1 or 2, Sky Sports 3*
and Sky Premier
27
(was £24.99)
28
(was £25.99)
29
(was £26.99)
Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3*
and Sky MovieMax
27
(was £24.99)
28
(was £25.99)
29
(was £26.99)
Sky Sports 1 or 2, Sky Sports 3*,
Sky Premier, MovieMax and Cinema*, Disney Channel*.
28
(was £25.99)
29
(was £26.99)
30
(was £27.99)
Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3*,
Sky Premier.
29
(was £26.99)
30
(was £27.99)
31
(was £28.99)
Sky Sports World: Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3* 25
(was £22.99)
26
(was £23.99)
27
(was £24.99)
Sky Movie World: Sky Premier, MovieMax and Cinema*, Disney Channel*. 25
(was £22.99)
26
(was £23.99)
27
(was £24.99)
Sky World: Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3*,
Sky Premier, MovieMax and Cinema*, Disney Channel*.
30
(was £27.99)
31
(was £28.99)
32
(was £29.99)
* denotes bonus channel
Prices in brackets are those charged to subscribers who bought their Digiboxes prior to them being available for free.
Sky Premier comprises 5 channels, one of which is widescreen.
Sky MovieMax comprises 3 channels and Sky Cinema comprises 2 channels.

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3. Extra Premium Channels

Four channels are available to buy on their own at extra charge (although Disney Channel is available free as a bonus in some of the Premium Packages above).

  Extra Monthly Cost
Disney Channel 5 (was 4.99)
MUTV 5 (was 4.99)
FilmFour 6 (was £4.99)
Music Choice Extra 5 (was 4.99)
Prices in brackets are those charged to subscribers who bought their Digiboxes prior to them being available for free.

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Pay Per View / Near Video On Demand

Just as with the analogue service, certain live events such as boxing matches and pop concerts will be available to viewers, each show costing a one-off fee.

And the four analogue Sky Box Office channels, showing recent movie releases, are expanded to a maximum of 48 channels showing up to 15 films a night in total. By spreading the movies over a greater number of channels, Sky can offer "Near Video On Demand", which means the movies begin as often as every 15 minutes. So you can pay to see the movie of your choice at the time you want to watch.

Proper "Video On Demand" may be available on Digital Cable. This is where you can watch the movie at exactly the time you want rather than keeping to the broadcasters' timetables.

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Interactive

A company called British Interactive Broadcasting (BiB) are subsidising the cost of the satellite equipment so that most viewers will have their Digibox connected permanently to their telephone line. This connection will allow interactive applications such as home shopping, home banking, booking hotels and travel tickets and playing games. Also promised are an information service (offering the same sort of data as teletext does) and an Education service. BiB will also offer an e-mail facility to those who buy a keyboard.

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Does SkyDigital have audio channels like Sky?

Every subscription to SkyDigital includes Music Choice, ten 24-hour music channels with no commercials and no DJs. Sky's EPG will show details of each recording as it is being played. The channels are:
  • Hit List
  • Generation Rock
  • Love Songs
  • Dance
  • Country
  • Jazz
  • Classical Favourites
  • Blues
  • Gold (70s and 80s)
  • Easy Listening
A further 34 music channels are available in Music Choice Extra for an extra £5 per month.

NB: Other audio services available on Sky analogue, such as BBC Radio and Virgin Radio, are available on SkyDigital.
 
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How long before Sky's analogue service is turned off?

Originally, Sky's web site claimed that it expected "to continue to broadcast a full service on the current analogue system for a number of years". However, with the launch of its give-away offer Sky now says that it plans to end its analogue service in 2002.

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Can I videotape SkyDigital channels? What is Macrovision?

According to Sky's web site, viewers are not permitted to tape from the Sky Box Office channels.

Further, some films on Sky Box Office are copy-protected with Macrovision. This means that although you can tape the film, when you come to play it back, the picture is so unstable (it rolls) it is unwatchable. Copy-protected films are marked with a "C" in the information banner in the SkyGuide EPG.

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Are there any hidden menus in the SkyGuide EPG?

Thanks to James Cridland and Tim Hewett for this information.

To access the hidden installers menu, press SERVICES - 4 - 0 - 1 - SELECT.

This allows you, among other things, to change the prefix of the telephone dialler, so that you can use Mercury 132, for example.

Also, to force your Digibox to download the latest firmware, hold down "back up" on the main unit and then turn the power on.

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Digital Cable

Introduction

Cable are to go digital from early this year. Unlike the other two services, there's unlikely to be a single launch date - each cable company will go digital separately. As of yet, I have no information on Digital Cable. That will change...

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Miscellaneous Questions

Is digital widescreen different from analogue?

On analogue TV, a widescreen picture is enclosed by black bars at the top and bottom. This means that if you have a widescreen set, and expand the picture (zooming into it) so it fills the wider screen (thus eliminating the black bars) then you suffer a slight loss of resolution.

With digital, a widescreen picture is broadcast without the black bars in what is called "full height anamorphic". Viewers watching such a picture on analogue TV with a normal shape screen would see tall thin people in the programmes, since the picture would appear squashed in from the sides. With digital, the set-top box can then add black bars, so you can see the picture properly on a conventional set, or it can expand the picture sideways to fill the screen of a widescreen set. It should even be possible to lose the black bars on a conventional set, but then you would only see the centre of the picture.

On BBC One and ITV on analogue TV, most widescreen broadcasts will be in the ratio 14:9 (instead of 16:9). This means the black bars aren't so thick, but as a result there is a little bit of the picture missing from both sides. On digital, the widescreen broadcasts are in 16:9 - none of the picture is missing.

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Could digital TV be a flop ?

The last time the Government decided to set up a multi-channel television service, the result was British Satellite Broadcasting. To receive BSB required a squariel (a square satellite dish, much smaller than Sky's) and a decoder. The system provided five new channels featuring superior pictures and sound. But it was a disaster. BSB were forced to "merge" with Sky (to form BSkyB) who were offering far more channels using unlicensed frequencies.

The Government are also behind the setting up of Digital Terrestrial. Again the competition is with Sky and again Sky are offering more channels. So is DTT doomed to failure? Or will SkyDigital or digital cable flop?

Sky seems to have what it takes to survive. It also have a willing customer base - if customers are willing to fork out for a Sky dish and subscription, then they are just the people who might be filling to fork out for a SkyDigital dish. ONdigital on the other hand are offering a terrestrial service to viewers unaccustomed to paying.

A further nail in the DTT coffin is that the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are offering their channels on SkyDigital. So apart from the reception of ITV and the second ITV channel (e.g. ITV2), viewers don't have a compelling reason to stay with a terrestrial service.

In DTT's favour, the intention is that analogue TV will eventually be switched off, and before then more and more sets will have digital decoders built in. The majority of viewers in this country don't have a satellite dish, and when switch off day comes they may still not want one.

And, of course, ONdigital is far more flexible with its choice of channels - you choose the channels you want, rather than the SkyDigital way of having to buy a bundle of channels, some of which you won't want but are still paying for.

It will be an interesting battle for viewers. And hopefully it is the viewers who will win in the end.

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Does digital TV work with VideoPlus+ ?

According to reports in Usenet, the SkyDigital boxes are presently incompatible with VideoPlus. However, it certainly is possible to successfully record from SkyDigital using a VideoPlus video, because I've heard from someone who has done it! More details when I have them.

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Does digital TV have permanent on-screen logos / DOGs ?

Yes, most channels on digital TV have a permanent logo in the corner, even a couple of the BBC channels. The broadcasters argue that with so many extra channels to choose from, they have to keep their logos up there so you know what you're watching. Actually, the electronic programme guides will tell you which channel you're watching, so it seems to me the only real reason for these logos is to annoy viewers!
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What is a 'digital ready' television?

"Digital ready" is a piece of marketing hype dreamed up by the TV retailers to describe sets with SCART sockets. Since set-top boxes will also connect to the aerial socket, you can watch digital on any standard TV.

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Can digital support regional television?

SkyDigital broadcasts the same channels wherever you live. To transmit all of the ITV regional output would require nearly 30 ITV channels, which is one of the reasons that ITV are refusing to sign up to SkyDigital. Your local ITV station is already available on DTT - it comes from the same transmitter site as the analogue version.

BBC One and BBC Choice are initially providing four separate feeds each (for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). On SkyDigital, you will only be able to see the BBC One feed appropriate for your region (the other feeds will be blocked by your viewing card). However, you will be able to access all 4 versions of BBC Choice. With a DTT box, you will get the single BBC One and BBC Choice channels that your local transmitter provides. There is only one, nationwide BBC Two service on digital TV at the moment. Eventually DTT will provide all the other (English) regions for BBC One and BBC Two to match the analogue service.

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Does digital have teletext?

Some channels on SkyDigital have a normal (analogue) teletext service. There is a bug with the Digibox that means that sometimes teletext completely disappears. The solution for this is to switch of the power for 30 seconds and then wait another 30 seconds after switching back on. Teletext should now appear again. This trick should also work if you lose the background music in the Electronic Programme Guide.

It has been decided that Digital Terrestrial/ONdigital will not feature analogue teletext at all. Since digital teletext is currently not available, DTT currently has no teletext at all.

Both platforms will feature digital teletext services in the near future.

DTT will feature Digital Teletext from Teletext Limited and from the BBC, which should provide a faster version of teletext with better graphics, similar to the world wide web. Other DTT channels may also provide a digital teletext service at a later date.

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Does digital have subtitles?

Screenshot by David Boothroyd

Digital TV has optional subtitles, just as analogue TV has.

At the moment SkyDigital is broadcasting its subtitles from the teletext services, so you need a teletext set to access them as you would from analogue.

Digital Terrestrial now has digital subtitles available. These are similar to analogue subtitles but you don't need a teletext set to access them and you can even tape them with an ordinary video recorder.

Digital Subtitles use a new easy-to-read font, Tiresias, developed with the assistance of the RNIB. Text can be in italics and in more colours. The ITC has made it mandatory that subtitled analogue programmes simulcast on DTT must have digital subtitles. Further details are available at Intelfax's web site, address below.

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Does digital have PDC (Programme Delivery Control)?

According to BBC Reception Advice, the PDC feature seen in many modern video recorders will not function on digital television. However, according to the ITC it may be possible that the EPGs (Electronic Programme Guides) for digital will feature a "reminder" service to tell you a programme is about to start as well as some way of automatically video-taping programmes you select.

Contrary to what the BBC says, both Channel 4 and Channel 5 are broadcasting a full teletext stream on SkyDigital and this includes a working PDC service.

For a full explanation of PDC, click on the PDC Explained link at the bottom of this page.

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Channel Summary - SkyDigital v ONdigital

Free-to-air channels from the terrestrial broadcasters

  DTT Digital Satellite
BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Choice, BBC News 24, BBC Knowledge free and in 16:9 widescreen where possible. Currently there is only a national BBC Two service and no English regions for BBC One as DTT, but you are able to view all four regional variations of BBC Choice.
ITV free ITV says that since satellite cannot cope with its 28 separate (regional) feeds, it will not put the channel on satellite.
ITV2 / S2 / TV-YOU All free. ITV2 is available in England and Wales. Scotland's service is S2. Northern Ireland has TV-YOU. Not available.
Channel 4 free, and for the first time available to viewers in Wales. as DTT.
Channel 5 free (launched in December) free
S4C free (available only to viewers in Wales) free - launched to viewers in Wales on St David's Day 99 and now available to the rest of the UK.
Gaelic Programming free (available only to viewers in Scotland) - not launched yet ?
Notes free channels above are available without a viewing card. the BBC, C4 and C5 channels above are free but cannot be seen without either a Sky or BBC viewing card.
BBC Parliament Currently available in sound only Sound and pictures available free without the need for a viewing card

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Sport

  DTT Digital Satellite
Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 3 premium channel (Sky Sports 3 is free with Sky Sports 1.) premium channels (Sky Sports 3 is free if you take Sky Sports 1 and/or Sky Sports 2)
Sky Sports 2 available "later this Spring" premium channel
Eurosport primary channel available in Family Pack
MUTV may become available later this year extra 4.99 / month

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Movies

  DTT Digital Satellite
Sky Premier, Sky MovieMax 2 Premium Channels premium channels - Sky Premier has 5 "screens" (i.e. is spread across 5 channels), including a widescreen channel. Sky MovieMax has 4 screens.
Sky Cinema not available comes free with Sky World and Sky Movie World packages. The 3 Sky channels have a total of 11 "screens" and will show up to 5 different movies every night.
FilmFour extra 6 / month extra 6 / month
Carlton Cinema primary channel not available

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Entertainment

  DTT Digital Satellite
Bravo, Challenge TV, Sci-Fi Channel, Tara, UK Arena, UK Gold 2. not available available in Entertainment Packages
Carlton Select Shared primary channel. not available
Granada Plus primary channel - with more hours on DTT than satellite/cable shared channel, available in Entertainment Packages
The Paramount Channel not available until 2000 available in Entertainment Packages
Sky One, UK Gold, UK Play. primary channels available in Entertainment Packages

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Music

  DTT Digital Satellite
MTV, UK Play primary channels available in Entertainment Packages.
The Box, MTV Extra, MTV Base, M2, VH-1, VH-1 Classic plus 10 audio channels. not available available in Entertainment Packages. An extra 34 audio channels are available for 5 / month.

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Kids

  DTT Digital Satellite
Fox Kids, Trouble not available available in Entertainment Packages
Nickelodeon not available until 2000 available in Entertainment Packages
Disney Channel not available available free with Sky Movie World and Sky World packages or as an extra at 4.99 / month
Carlton Kids, Raw! Carlton Kids available until 1700. Raw! takes over until 1900. (Then from 1900 it's Carlton World.) not available
Cartoon Network available as a primary channel, 24 hours a day The Cartoon Network has two channels (one is a timeshift version of the other), 24 hours a day

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Lifestyle/Shopping

  DTT Digital Satellite
Granada Breeze, Granada Men & Motors, UK Style Shared premium channels. Granada Breeze is available AM, Men & Motors - with more hours on DTT than satellite/cable - PM. UK Style is available Mon-Weds. Available in Entertainment packages. Granada Men & Motors is shared with Granada Plus.
Discovery: Home & Leisure, Living, UK Arena not available available in Entertainment packages.
Carlton Food Network shares a primary channel. not available.
QVC, TV Travel Shop not available. available free without requiring a Viewing Card.
Shop! available free to subscribers available free without requiring a Viewing Card.

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Events

  DTT Digital Satellite
Sky Box Office not available movies/sporting events/pop concerts available on a pay-per-view basis.
First ONdigital sporting events and other one-offs available free to all subscribers taking more than one primary channel. not available

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News/Factual

  DTT Digital Satellite
Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, Discovery Timeshift, Discovery: Animal Planet, Discovery: Civilizations, Discovery: Sci-Trek, Discovery: Travel & Adventure, The History Channel, National Geographic Channel, [.tv], Sky Sports News, Sky Travel not available available in Entertainment packages.
Sky News, CNN not available available free without requiring a Viewing Card. (CNN was made available on 19th Dec. 1998.)
UK Horizons available Thurs - Sun. available in Entertainment packages.

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I want to know more!

Other sources of information

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Acknowledgements

I'm extremely grateful to those who have taken the trouble point out my mistakes, offer helpful advice and fill in the blanks, especially Tex Bennett, Dominic Jackson, Rob Hardy, Ed Ellers, Brian McIlwrath, Mike Brown, Richie Logue, Des Martin, Simeon Tankard, Peter Moore, Richard McCarthy.

Thanks to Darren Meldrum of the Meldrum Home Page for the ONdigital EPG screenshots.
Thanks to James Cridland of the UK Media Internet Directory for the SkyGuide screenshots.

If there are any errors in the text, or you have any other comments, then please feel free to e-mail me.

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