SOME 335,000 households who rely on an aerial for their TV service will have to spend up to €100 each in order to avail of RTE's new "free" digital service, Saorview.
TV viewers will have no other option but to switch to a digital service when analogue broadcasts are switched off towards the end of next year.
Although Saorview, which was launched yesterday, offers eight Irish channels with no subscription or ongoing costs, viewers will have to purchase a digital-enabled TV -- typically priced from €400 -- or a set-top digital box -- priced at around €80 to €100 -- to use it.
The stations shown will be RTE1, RTE2HD, TV3, 3e, TG4, RTE News Now, RTE jr, RTE1+1 and Aertel Digital, but those who wish to receive free British channels will have to install a separate freesat system.
Tomorrow's Magners League Final and the Munster Hurling Quarter Final on Sunday will be the first high-definition broadcasts shown under the new service.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said he had not yet decided on whether a waiver might be made available to poorer households to allow them make the switch.
He said the department was in discussions with community groups and charities about helping senior citizens and less advantaged people make the transition.
However, he expected the biggest issue would be helping people install the new technology, rather than the cost.
Mr Rabbitte said a major information campaign would begin in October and that they would work intensively with manufacturers and retailers to make sure there was a plentiful supply of digital technology in the shops.
Those who already have digital services through Sky or UPC will not be affected by the change.