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Switch from analogue to digital TV starts with 24 new channels from next month

From this year (2014), not only will the broadcasting industry be reshaped after the birth of digital terrestrial TV channels but 22 million households will also change the way they view content from free-TV channels, as there will be more choice and better viewing experiences.

From about February 24 new digital, terrestrial, commercial channels will take to airwaves. Some of these will be operated by leading content providers, namely GMM Grammy, RS, Workpoint Entertainment, the Nation Group, Amarin Group, True Visions and the publisher of Thai Rath and Daily News newspapers.

Meanwhile, existing analogue broadcasters such as Bangkok Entertainment, the operator of Channel 3; Bangkok Broadcasting and Television, the operator of Channel 7; and MCOT, operator of Modernine TV, also transform themselves into digital operators by offer channels more segmented for particular audiences. MCOT, for example, aims to have its own children's channels.

The 24 digital TV channels are divided into four segments.

First group is variety TV with high definition (HD) service. There are seven channels in this category.

Second group is called variety TV channels in standard definition (SD) service. There are also seven channels with such service.

The third segment also has seven channels in SD for news programmes and the remaining three in the last category are set for producing TV programmes for children and families. These will also be telecast in SD.

After the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial TV begins, Thais will learn more about functions of public broadcasting services on top of their experience with Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS).

Under the NBTC's broadcasting master plan, 12 channels are reserved for public services. These include Thai PBS and two state-run TV broadcasters - the Army's TV5 and NBT, the channel run by the Public Relations Department (PRD). In the near future, TV5 will transform to be a public TV station for national security, while NBT will change to public relations.

The transition will also provide communication channels for each community in the country to own and participate in broadcasting services by community-based digital terrestrial TV channels. The NBTC has reserved about 20 per cent of total available radio frequency for this purpose.

Besides having more choice and more participation, audiences will also enjoy high quality pictures and sound from digital TV, even programmes telecast in SD service. Broadcasts via a digital system will support 16:9 widescreen display, and for viewers it will be like enjoying a movie at the cinema.

Another important benefit is that digital TV signals penetrate into areas that analogue signals can't reach, such as inside a tall building.

And with digital technology, TV broadcasters can not only provide better quality service, they will also be able to offer new "cutting edge" services such as TV on mobiles, interactive TV, three-dimension TV (3D), plus multimedia and data broadcasts.

Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the NBTC's Broadcasting Committee, said: "The benefit of digital terrestrial TV is that the digital content can interface with different platforms such as online, on mobile and on air."

People will get access to digital TV programmes anywhere and anytime. Also in the near future, viewers will also be able to listen to digital radio via TV sets and watch archived TV programmes via digital on-demand services.

Importantly, NBTC commissioner Supinya Klangnarong said digital terrestrial TV was equipped with an assertive technology for disabled and elderly people. This includes audio descriptions, with spoken subtitling, closed captions and sign language, as well as emergency warnings.

However, before getting access to these new services, people must purchase an integrated digital TV (iDTV) set or digital TV set-top box. An iDTV is a television set with built-in digital TV tuner.

Viewers will be able to use the digital TV set-top box to convert digital signals to analogue for old TV sets, if needed.

To make this TV transition smooth and fast like many other countries, the NBTC plans to give subsidy coupons for all households - approximately 22 million across the country. Discount coupons valued about Bt690 per household will help people buy an iDTV set or a set-top box.

In 2013, there were about half a million iDTV sets and digital TV set-top boxes available here, but the NBTC expects the distribution to discount coupons to begin in about April while the country's first digital TV channels will go on-air in February.

Why should people follow this change? The answer is that in the near future all equipment and TV sets used for analogue broadcasts will no longer be sold.

In 2009, at the 10th Conference of Asean Ministers in Vientiane, ministers responsible for information agreed that Asean should adopt a phased "switch off" of analogue from 2015 to 2020.

So, the analogue era is coming to an end.


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