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Digital free-to-air channels a breeze to use

Published on May 2, 2014 7:12 AM
 

For someone who has not watched free-to-air channels or local pay TV content here for more than a year, I was rather pleased with the new free-to-air digital TV service when I tested it over the weekend.

I loved its mobility. I could watch TV in my study and bedroom and just about anywhere in my home as it does not need complicated cabling.

Unlike analogue TV, which requires you to hook your TV up to your wall antenna, digital TV is delivered directly to your TV via an indoor mobile antenna about the size of a pencil box. You will need a digital TV tuner, which is already built into most of the newer smart TVs here.

For older TVs, simply get a separate TV tuner set-top box in addition to the antenna. You can also get a USB dongle with the antenna and tuner built in, so that you can simply plug one into a laptop and make that your digital TV on the go.

With digital TV, you can get all seven of the free-to-air channels. Four of them - Channel 5, Channel 8, Suria and Vasantham - already stream in high-definition (HD) splendour. The other three will be switched to HD by 2016.

The digital TV service comes with a seven-day electronic progamming guide so you can plan your viewing schedule for the week. This may not sound new to those already on pay TV services. But for the free-to-air world, this is a big deal.

There is also support for multi-language subtitles but I did not manage to experience this during my test.

Digital TV is not new here. MediaCorp has been broadcasting HD5 - the high-definition version of Channel 5 - over the air via the older DVB-T standard. The new Digital TV initiative started in December and MediaCorp is switching to the newer DVB-T2 standard.

Digital and analogue broadcasts will co-exist for at least two more years but analogue ones will be turned off, latest by 2020. Only viewers in Bukit Batok, Ang Mo Kio and Jurong East can receive the new DVB-T2 signals for the moment. For a map of the roll-out plan, go to www.mediacorp.sg/digitaltv.

About six in 10 of all households here are pay TV subscribers. They will be able to view the new digital TV channels via their set-top boxes. The rest of us need extra hardware.

The Draco HDT2-7300 set-top box (top, right) and ANT-600A indoor antenna is sold as a bundle for $129 at all major electronics stores here. I tried them over the weekend and they were really easy to use.

I connected the indoor antenna to the set-top box and then connected the box to my home theatre receiver (or you can also go direct to the TV) via a standard HDMI cable. The set-top box needs a power source and the antenna draws power from the set-top box, so you really only need an extra socket. Once all this was connected, I activated auto-scan and the digital channels appeared after about five minutes.

I also tried out the Panasonic and Samsung smart TVs. These have TV tuners built in so I only had to connect an indoor antenna to the TV. Again, the antenna drew power directly from the TV set.

I prefer a smart TV's user interface to that of the Draco set-top box's. The HD channels were very smooth, with hardly any lag. But the standard definition channels such as Channel NewsAsia and okto were less smooth, oddly enough, and I experienced screen tearing quite often. Signal strength was very strong but this may be because I live a stone's throw away from the digital TV broadcast towers.

Overall, I enjoyed the ease and convenience of setting up digital TV. I look forward to testing the USB dongles, which would allow me to receive digital TV on my PC, so I do not need another screen in my home.