For anybody who doesn't yet know, the analogue TV signal that we have all been using successfully for decades, will be switched off countrywide by 2012, and the frequencies sold off to be used elsewhere. What will the impact of this be to the boater?
Last year, due to my home analogue TV signal being turned off, see UK digital TV podcast , I decided I might as well upgrade and buy digital equipment for the boat as well. So, what did this involve, and how successful was the changeover?
First, there are two ways to watch digital TV. One is terrestrial, or in other words using a conventional TV antenna to pick up signals from a land based transmitter. The other is by satellite, the signals being received from a single, or group of satellite transmitters which are in Earth's orbit.
If you are already using an older TV and don't want to spend a great deal converting, then the best way forward is to purchase what is known as a Freeview box, which simply plugs into the older TV and this new digital receiver is used in place of the TV's own receiver to watch the new service. The only requirement is that the TV is equipped with what is known as a scart socket, which is a multi-pin socket to which the freeview box is connected.
If new TV equipment is being acquired, then it will need to be equipped with it's own internal freeview tuner.
There are a couple of points to make before leaving the terrestrial story, and that is there is now also available high definition TV, or HD. If you are purchasing new equipment, you might as well buy it ready for HD freeview reception. The other item of note is this. The older, analogue system, was quite capable of receiving pictures of poor quality due to a weak signal. There are many reasons for a weak signal, it could be a poor antenna setup, or simply the fact that you may be out in the country, moored in a deep cutting for example. The disadvantage of digital reception, is that if the signal is weak, you will get absolutely nothing as a result, which is quite annoying, and I am sure will affect hire boat companies in a big way, as their customers wrestle with the rooftop aerial trying to get a picture, when previously it would simply be a little "fuzzy".
The other option is to use a satellite dish to receive the many "free to air" or freesat TV stations. However, this option is a little more complicated for the amateur boater / TV technician to get to grips with. The equipment required will be a free to air, or freesat satellite receiver, which also now come in HD versions, a suitable portable, or mobile satellite dish, and a satellite finder. This is a simple little metering device that connects in line with the dish and the receiver to show the optimum position the dish should be in to receive it's signal. The problems are, that first you have to know the basic direction of the satellite you want to connect to, and secondly, any slight deviation from that line, even a couple of millimeters, and again there will be no reception at all. You may have already seen happy boat owners getting all hot and bothered with the satellite dish on the towpath after they have moored for the night. They can be quite fiddly!
An alternative to this is to go down the route of having a totally automated satellite dish installed on the roof of the boat. These units, although expensive, can cope with the movement of the boat, and the different daily locations, by tracking the satellite automatically. As can be seen, none of this is quite so simple as watching a fuzzy but acceptable TV picture as you could on the old system. A great source of information on equipment availability and cost can be found here: RoadPro
As always, I am not connected to this company in any way, I just found them useful in this area. I use a flat screen TV I obtained from Tesco, used through an old Sky digital box I had, having obtained, (and paid for), their free to air viewing card. This is connected to a Multimo portable mini dish, which I find is quite forgiving in relation to the direction it has to be pointed at the satellite.
What does the future hold? Stand by your beds, the rumour is that once digital TV is fully in place, the government's new target will be FM radio. We will all then have to obtain digital radio equipment to receive "radio broadcasting of audio signals in digital form" abbreviated to DAB. I haven't worked out yet to whose benefit all this is!