31 October 2008
South Africa enters a new era in broadcasting on Saturday, when the country officially starts the conversion of its television broadcasting signal from analogue to digital technology.
There will be a period of “dual-illumination” between 1 November this year and 1 November 2011, during which television will be broadcast via both analogue and digital signals.
After 1 November 2011, the analogue signal will be switched off, and viewers will need a set-top box to convert the digital signal for their analogue television sets. However, digital-compliant television sets, which do not require set-top boxes, will also be available by then.
“Broadcasting digital migration will bring many benefits, including efficient use of the frequency spectrum – a public and scarce resource,” Department of Communications director-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole said at the launch in Johannesburg this week.
“It will bring more channels and therefore more diverse content to the South African public.”
Special interactive services
Shope-Mafole added that the migration to digital also had the potential for providing special interactive services such as e-government services, as well as features audio descriptions and sub-titling for people with visual and hearing impairments.
Digital broadcasting was made necessary by “developments in telecommunications technologies, which enable a more efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum as well as better quality pictures and sound,” Shope-Mafole said.
Set-top box subsidy
Speaking at the event, Communication Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri said the department would provide subsidies for poorer households to purchase set-top boxes.
She said the change meant that there would soon be specialised television services dedicated to education, health, youth and sport, as well as three regional service channels.
South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) acting CEO Gab Mampone said the public broadcaster would provide up to eight new video channels in the same bandwidth as one analogue channel.
“The migration to digital process is expected to take a minimum of three years,” Mampone said. “Viewers will still be in a position to receive the current analogue services of SABC 1, 2, 3 and e.tV and M-Net.”
Two new SABC channels, SABC Entertainment and SABC International – a news channel – were also showcased during the launch.
Global shift to digital
The migration from analogue to digital signal was first agreed to at the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency for telecommunication.
The union took a decision that protection for analogue signals would cease in 2015. Member states were given timelines per region to comply with the decision. Africa forms part of region 1, together with Europe and the Middle East.