Analogue TV switched off amid last-minute rush
RTE and electrical stores have been hit by a last-minute surge in consumers trying to get ready for today's switch to digital broadcasts.
But despite the rush, tens of thousands of households faced blank TV screens when analogue broadcasts were switched off at 10am this morning.
RTE said it had received a surge of callers this week seeking advice, many of whom had already purchased Saorview-approved set top boxes, but still hadn't tuned them in to pick up digital signals.
The station's Saorview helpline will be open until midnight every day this week.
RTE presenter Miriam O'Callaghan switched off the analogue broadcasting signal at RTE headquarters in Dublin live on air.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte then welcomed viewers to the new service.
The Labour Party minister famously warned those who didn't switch over they would see "slurry" on their TV screens.
Meanwhile, installers and retailers of digital equipment also reported a sudden influx of customers. "We had one hotel today that has suddenly realised they need to get a set-top box for every room," said Tony Moore of satellite.ie.
Electrical retailer Peats of Parnell Street reported a particular surge in customers purchasing Saorview equipment for second TVs.
"While many people already have a satellite or cable TV service for their main TV, a lot have a TV in the kid's bedroom or the kitchen that depends on an aerial, so they need to get a box for that," a spokesman said.
RTE said it did not have up-to-date figures on how many households had failed to switch to Saorview in advance, but it was fair to say it was "tens of thousands".
Electrical chain Harvey Norman said the digital switchover was the biggest advance in home entertainment since the arrival of colour TV, with Saorview boxes costing from €69 in their store and Saorview-ready TVs from €139.
The store's Cathal McGee said some consumers were cutting down on costs by installing an all-in-one digital-ready service for around €550 that would give them free Irish and British stations with no ongoing monthly subscription costs.
RTE said fears about loss of picture during heavy rainfall were unfounded, as viewers would see three or four minutes of disruption a year at most.
Some 32,000 Irish homes that cannot receive the Saorview signal via aerial will be forced to rely on the satellite alternative Saorsat, which is more prone to disruption from heavy rain, but RTE again said there would be no problem if the right equipment was installed correctly.
"The downpours experienced in tropical storms is the type of rain that affects the frequencies used for Saorsat. Other than very occasionally, we do not experience (such) rainfall in Ireland," RTE said.
Some viewers who have switched to Saorsat have reported occasionally losing their picture in bad weather, and the Department of Communications has confirmed that there had been concerns about this in Co Kerry.
But RTE insisted: "We are not aware of any home that has had their Saorsat dish installed by a competent installer having rain-fade related issues."
The Saorview helpline is available on 1890 222012