TELEVISION viewers in Northern Ireland who do not have digital signal receivers will find they have blank screens after October 2012 unless they switch over to the new signal.
The analogue signal, which will be turned off on October 24, 2012, will be replaced by a stronger free digital signal that will reach virtually all Northern Ireland households, including half-a-million viewers who cannot receive it at present.
Older television sets without digital receivers need not be scrapped as small digital signal receivers can be purchased quite cheaply from electrical stores and supermarket chains. Aerials currently providing good reception should also be adequate to receive the new digital.
Denis Wolinski, Digital UK’s national manager in Northern Ireland, said: “Today is an exciting day for television in Northern Ireland. This announcement paves the way for the end of analogue TV and the dawn of a fully digital age in which everyone can enjoy more channels, more choice and better pictures.
“Digital UK will ensure people know what to do, and that advice and practical support are available to those who need it.”
At present only 66 per cent of Northern Ireland households can receive the digital signal but this is expected to increase to 98 per cent when the signal is boosted.
Viewers who are still watching analogue TV — an estimated 100,000 households in Northern Ireland — need to switch to Freeview, cable or satellite in the coming year, or face a blank screen when the switchover takes place.
Digital UK and the switchover Help Scheme are preparing to launch a public information campaign to ensure viewers are ready for the change.
The campaign, due to kick off in the spring, will include road shows, advertising and an information leaflet sent to every home.
The Help Scheme will write to eligible older and disabled people offering support in making the switch, including equipment, installation if needed and aftercare.
On October 10, 2012, two weeks before the switchover takes place, analogue BBC Two will be turned off as a final reminder to viewers who have yet to switch.
Viewers can check out the different ways of getting digital TV, including subscription-free options, on cable or satellite, at Digital UK’s postcode checker, which provides details of digital services available in your area. Visit digitaluk.co.uk or call 08456 50 50 50.
The Switchover Help Scheme will also help people aged 75 and over, who are eligible for certain disability benefits, registered blind or partially sighted or living in care homes and are entitled to practical help from the BBC-run Switchover Help Scheme.
People in this category will be given help to install the equipment, demonstrations and a help line number.
Everyone eligible will be contacted directly before the switchover. More information is available on 0800 40 85 900 and online at www.helpscheme.co.uk.
Saorview, the Republic’s new national digital TV network, launched nationally in May this year, will replace the analogue TV network in the south at the same time.