Will PH heed call to switch off analog TV in 2015?

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By Anna Valmero

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA—Is the Philippines ready for the big “switch off” in 2015 when fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) transition from analog to digital television (TV) format?

The Philippines may lag behind in terms of readiness to shift from analog to digital TV transmission compared with other ASEAN nations, said Renato Caluag, general manager of People’s Television – Channel 4 (PTV4).

The implementation phase may not exactly be in 2015 “but not too long after that” as the government is now formally adapting the standards and is remaining cautious of the “big decision” that will affect the masses who still use conventional TV sets, according to Caluag.

The ASEAN is strongly pushing for digital TV migration and while the agreement is not binding, members are most likely to comply to global standards.

Singapore and Brunei Darussalam are said to be among the “more prepared” to meet the 2015 switch off. Among the early adopters is Korea, which was reported to complete the analog switch off by 2012.

Not to be left behind, China committed to the switch off in 2015. In 2009, China had 174 million cable TV subscribers, including 65 million cable digital TV subscribers.

In the Philippines, the current analog TV transmission allows various “free TV” network channels such as PTV, ABS-CBN, TV5, GMA, RPN, and IBC13 to use the very high frequency (VHF) band for broadcast.

Viewership in the country is still predominantly on free TV with TV as a primary medium of mass communication, noted Caluag.

Data shows about  87 to 90 percent of total households nationwide own a TV set or two, most of which are still on free TV apart from those being serviced by cable networks.

Once digital TV transmission is in place, every Filipino would need to purchase and install a digital set top box installed on current TV sets to receive the digital signal for the channels.

It is estimated that around ten percent of all primary sets and 16 percent of subsequent sets will be subjected to nonvoluntary conversion in almost every country by the switch off deadline, according to this report.

Among the benefits of the shift from analog to digital TV is likened to the migration to higher audio and picture quality to DVD (from the Betamax format), owing to digital compression.

Apart from this, the bigger upside of digital TV is the creation of more content for consumers. Current TV frequencies will be subdivided into multiplex transmissions, which would mean more TV channels.

“More channels mean more room for product segmentation and information will cascade faster,” said Caluag.

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