SINGAPORE - The authorities have pinned down when Singapore will pull the plug on analogue broadcasting: by end-2017.
The move to digital broadcasting started in December 2013 when national broadcaster Mediacorp converted all seven of its free-to-air TV channels to the digital format.
It has continued to broadcast in the analogue format, but this will end by next year.
"The freed-up spectrum will provide more capacity for mobile broadband and better support our Smart Nation development," said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in his ministry's addendum to the President's address on Thursday (Jan 21).
His ministry had said previously that analogue broadcasting could be turned off any time before 2020.
To continue watching free-to-air television channels after end-2017, viewers will need to buy and connect a digital set-top box and an indoor antenna to their existing TV sets. The equipment retails in shops for about $130.
Most of the TV sets on sale today already come with a built-in digital tuner and some vendors throw in a free antenna to sweeten the offer.
To be sure, consumers should look out for a label issued by the Media Development Authority (MDA) that indicates whether the TV set, or set-top box, is compliant with Singapore's digital format.
To ensure no one is left behind, MDA rolled out a help scheme in 2014 for low-income families.
Close to half of the 77,000 households that automatically qualified for help have installed their free digital set-top box, it said. These are people living in one- or two-room rental flats, or those on ComCare or self-help groups' help schemes.
The target is to have all 160,000 low-income households - those with monthly income of $1,900 and below, or an annual property value of $13,000 or lower - receive their free set-top box.
MDA also urged low-income households that have yet to receive their free set-top box to apply with the authority.
Singtel and StarHub pay-TV subscribers, whose platforms are already digital, need not do anything to prepare for the switch to digital broadcasting.
Pay-TV subscribers form about 60 per cent of households here.
Digital transmissions allow broadcasters to send more signals more efficiently, enabling viewers to receive higher quality images and sound.
Other benefits include the ability to toggle the display of subtitles and multiple language options included with programmes.
Six of Mediacorp's free-to-air TV channels - Channel 5, Channel 8, Suria,Vasantham, Channel NewsAsia and okto - are in high-definition (HD) format, which is possible only with digital TV. Channel U will go HD this year.
To date, 21 housing estates, or 65 per cent of all households in Singapore, can receive digital transmissions.
The rest of the island is on track for the digital transmission upgrade by the end of this year, according to Mediacorp's website.