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What digital switchover?

A report by the UK public accounts committee has highlighted that the British public isn't fully aware of the implications of the digital switchover, despite the fact that it has already started in some regions. I am not sure how much it cost to produce those conclusions, but dare I say it, I could have saved them the bother and the expense.

The report found that almost half of the televisions sold in the first seven months of 2007 were analog sets. This is of no surprise at all. I have just carried out my own trawl through the websites of some of the UK's biggest TV retailers and whilst there is indeed much fanfare about the all the flashy digital LCD and Plasma TVs on offer, there are lots of analog sets still available at the discount end of the price spectrum. What's more, there is precious little information to warn purchasers that they will also need to buy a digital set top box in order to use their new acquisition once the switchover has taken place, unless they are planning to use it for purely ornamental purposes …

Commented Edward Leigh, the committee's chairman: “The voluntary labelling of the so-called 'digital tick' logo is not delivering the level of commitment to supplying proper equipment among retailers that was originally anticipated.”

Whilst I don't see any necessity to legislate to ban the sale of analog TV sets, as has been called for in the States (great idea – even more landfill), I would have expected vendors to take their duty of care to customers a little more seriously and at least update their technical specs to make it clear to customers that the analog TVs aren't digital compatible. My web search suggests this isn't being done.

I was recently on my own TV buying mission and found two independent retailers who, unprompted, explained the benefits of digital versus analog sets. However, in a high-street retailer who shall remain nameless, I found the general response to some probing went something like “I'll just go and find out for you.” Needless to say, the assistant never returned. The report came to a similar conclusion, saying the 'digital tick' label that flags up digital televisions in shops is “a mystery to many retail staff, let alone the people to whom they sell TVs.”

The BBC also came in for some criticism in the report, having spent £803million of licence fee money on funding a comprehensive digital switchover public awareness campaign that hadn't been as effective as predicted. In fairness to the BBC, this has involved a long-running advertisement campaign on all manner of radio and TV channels, but the Brits are a rather cynical bunch and we tend to go a bit hard of hearing when it comes to anything resembling advice.

My assertions are again based on good journalistic principle – I have just asked my Dad and the local Indian take-away owner what the digital switchover is. Both looked a little blank, despite being the proud owners of new digital TVs. Like many others, I suspect, their move to digital was more by luck than judgement. So far, 55 per cent of those aged 75 and over already have digital television and there are just 15 per cent of households remaining to make the switch to digital TV.

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