Good news for SA consumers who don’t have access to satellite pay-TV is that the country is set to get terrestrial high-definition channels. The bad news is that they’ll have to wait at least another three years to enjoy the crisper images served up by HD broadcasts.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), which regulates telecommunications and broadcasting services, says terrestrial HD TV broadcasts are on the cards, but only once the country has migrated fully to digital terrestrial television. The period of dual illumination, where both analogue and digital broadcasts coexist, will end in April 2013, at earliest.
In a “reasons document” accompanying the release on Monday of the latest version of Icasa’s digital migration regulations, the regulatory authority says the transition to terrestrial HD broadcasts will happen in terms of a review of the so-called “digital dividend”. This refers to the radio frequency spectrum that will be freed up by the move from analogue to digital.
The digital dividend spectrum will be used to provide HD TV and may also be offered to telecoms operators wanting to provide lower-frequency wireless broadband services.
“Given that limited spectrum is available for dual illumination of the existing services of the terrestrial broadcasters, the authority has decided to confine the broadcasting of digital television to standard-definition mode,” Icasa says. The transition to HD will take place only after all analogue television transmissions have been switched off, when there is “sufficient capacity for HD channels”.
HD broadcasts typically use between four and eight times the spectrum of standard-definition channels.
Until Icasa has begun its review of the digital dividend spectrum, it’s anyone’s guess as to which broadcasters will be licensed to offer HD channels. During the period of dual illumination, only the SABC, e.tv, M-Net and TBN will provide digital channels, and all of these will be in standard definition.
Consumers who rely on terrestrial signals for television are in for a long wait for HD. TechCentral yesterday broke the news that the country’s full migration to digital television has been delayed until at least 2013.
The only SA broadcaster to have launched HD channels to date is MultiChoice, which operates the premium DStv service. Naspers-controlled MultiChoice has introduced three HD channels, with a fourth expected to debut in the next few months. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral