Digital Life: It's time for the big switch as digital TV comes of age
Those bureaucrats in the EU are a troublesome lot -- they're not content with buggering up our economy, banning bendy cucumbers and mandating we all speak German. Now they want to switch off our tellies.
Oh, all right then, maybe they're not so bad -- the idea behind the great TV switch-off is actually to improve the quality of our viewing by moving all broadcasts to digital across the EU.
The Eurocrats have set a deadline of the end of 2012 to close down traditional analogue broadcasts -- if you don't get on board the digital bandwagon before then, you'll be looking at a blank screen next year.
Although many homes already have digital TV via Sky and UPC, the rest of Ireland has been poorly served, with years of wrangling failing to produce a commercial venture able to provide a free alternative using an aerial.
But RTÉ has finally taken up the baton with its Saorview service, which officially launched recently with a familiar line-up including RTÉ One/Two, TG4, TV3 and 3e, plus a selection of domestic radio stations.
Like all technology shifts, it's going to cost you, though. You could go the more expensive but neat route and buy a new Saorview-approved TV with a built-in digital tuner from the likes of Sony and Samsung.
But most people will simply shell out for a small set-top box. They start as low as €80 for a basic model, but remember you will need one for every TV in the house and that could quickly add up. The other crucial requirement is an aerial -- an existing analogue roof aerial will do. If you're lucky, you might get away with a pair of 'rabbit ears'.
So what delights await us in the digital wonderland? The short answer is not a lot . . . yet. Obviously, you get the usual terrestrial line-up, often in better quality than analogue, depending on the weather or distance from the mast.
But don't expect any UK channels nor much in the way of high-definition -- only RTÉ Two broadcasts a tiny amount of sport in HD but there's nothing else.
Buying into Saorview, then, merely ensures continued access to free TV, with the hope that more channels and high-def programmes will follow. At least there's no ongoing subscription involved.
One nice bonus is the electronic programme guide, which covers the next seven days. With the pricier set-top boxes, you can even record your favourite shows as you would with Sky+.
About one-in-six Irish homes receive free TV via an aerial and they are the ones for whom Saorview will be crucial. The rest of us may just shrug and turn back to the dozens of channels on cable and satellite.