Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Digital Switchover























With just hours to go until the digital switchover, many people in Northern Ireland will be looking forward to being able to receive RTÉ and TG4, some of them, no doubt, for the first time.

An OFCOM factsheet includes a map showing those areas where reception of the NI Mux or Saorview is likely. While in the analogue age the strength of the RTÉ signal was capped so as not to interfere with Northern Ireland broadcasts, digital technology means that it can now be made a good deal stronger. Saorview overspill is in fact likely to reach 56% of the Northern Ireland population, which means that many people will now be able to receive channels such as TV3 and RTÉjr. The NI Mux, which will carry RTÉ 1, RTÉ 2 and TG4, will be available to an estimated 78% of the population. They will, however, need an HD TV or set-top box to view it, since, although the channels will be broadcast in standard definition, the late adopters down South will be using state-of-the-art space-saving HD encoding. This will, it is to be hoped, avoid the controversies surrounding BBC Alba in Scotland, which was able to gain a place on Freeview only after the BBC radio agreed to drop its radio channels during broadcast hours (bizarrely, some curmudgeons complained about losing the radio channels in the evening, most of which were already available on AM, FM, DAB, Internet and satellite).

One sad aspect of the map is that, while the NI Mux and Saorview overspill will together reach 94% of the Northern Ireland population, with many people able to receive both (albeit with two roof-top aerials), some areas will receive neither, including large parts of South Down and, ironically, the Glens of Antrim and the Sperrins, two areas where Irish survived until the twentieth century.

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