The digital TV revolution is nearly here. But are you switched on yet?
With the plug soon to be pulled on the analogue signal in parts of the UK, Simon Read shows how to put yourself in the picture, what extra services are available and how much it all costs
Sunday 10 August 2008
The big switch from analogue to digital TV starts in less than three months. Border Television, covering Cumbria and south-west Scotland, will make the move first, followed by other parts of the UK. The last television regions to go fully digital, in the Olympic year 2012, will be Meridian (in the south of England), Ulster, Tyne Tees and London and the South-east.
There is a bewildering array of firms offering digital TV services, some with some pretty nifty – but expensive – add-ons that promise to revolutionise the way we view television.
So if you haven't gone digital yet, how should you do it, what extra options are there and how much does it all cost?
The most popular choice is to buy a Freeview box. This gives access to the five terrestrial channels plus BBC3, BBC4 and commercial stations such as Dave and UK Gold, as well as the 24-hour rolling news channels. Boxes start at £25 – although the Government reckons that between 5 and 10 per cent of homes will require an aerial upgrade to go with it, which can cost between £80 and £150.
The good news with Freeview is that there are no subscription fees; remember, though, that each box will serve only one television. Fortunately, many televisions now on the market come with a Freeview receiver pre-installed, removing the need for a set-top box.
If you go for one of the subscription digital services, such as Sky, Tiscali, Virgin and BT's V-Box, you will gain access to a whole new range of sports and entertainment channels. However, if you want everything, expect to pay a subscription of as much as £500 to £600 a year.
The digital companies are trying their hardest to squeeze even more out of consumers by persuading them to sign up to personal video recorder (PVR) services. PVR allows you to watch your favourite programme when it's convenient rather than when it's broadcast. In other words, it enables you to schedule your own viewing.
"It sounds a cliché, but PVRs really have revolutionised TV viewing," says Charlie Ponsonby from Simplifydigital, a service that markets itself as "the UK's only impartial retailer of digital TV".
"It's no exaggeration," he continues, "to say that this fundamentally changes how you watch TV – you are no longer tied to the schedule and are free to pick and choose from the list of programmes that you've recorded on your box. So you can scan the TV listings, find the things that appeal to you – many of which may be on too late for you to watch – and zap them with your TV remote, and they will be automatically recorded for you to watch whenever you want."
And that's not all PVRs do. You can actually pause "live" TV – if you need to answer the phone or pop to the bathroom, for instance – and then fast forward through the adverts as the "recording" catches up with real time. You can also record other channels while you're watching a different one, and set up the box to record an entire series of your favourite programme.
There is a choice of PVR options, the main ones being Sky+, V+ from Virgin Media and Tiscali+, while BT Vision offers a range of programmes through its V-box. They don't come cheap, though. You'll have to fork out between £50 to £150 for the PVR itself, and installation charges may also apply.
As well as pushing their PVR services, the big media companies are in the middle of a price war over packages that combine TV, phone and broadband.
"As far as the companies are concerned, getting people to bundle all three services is their holy grail," says Rob Barnes, head of mobiles and broadband at the price comparison service moneysupermarket.com. "But, crucially, bundling works for consumers too – having your phone, TV and broadband with separate providers is the most expensive way to go."
In fact, an average family could save more than £200 a year by buying a bundled package of broadband, home phone and digital television from one firm.
For example, a top-of-the- range TV package – including sport and film channels – would cost £45 a month from Sky. A decent broadband connection – with speeds of up to 8MB and a 50GB monthly usage allowance – from the internet supplier Madasafish costs £29.99. Add to that BT's £10.50 monthly telephone line rental and £4.95 for its Unlimited Anytime Plan, and you'd be spending £90.44 a month.
Sky offers a bundled package of similar TV, phone and broadband for just £60 a month. You would still have to pay BT £10.50 for line rental, but you would save £240 a year.
Of course, you don't need to spend that much – cheaper deals are available, which come with more download restrictions or fewer free calls, or simply fewer TV channels. However, there is still money to be saved by choosing a bundle.
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 3 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
iJobs Money & Business
£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sales?Do you have a keen interes...
£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...
Day In a Page
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.