HOME Technology Nov 2007
Digital TV challengers
Seen on every screen

 The pre-programmed, pre-occupation of watching television is about to get a lot more interesting as viewers are given significantly more choice about what they watch, where,    when, and on which platform.


Digital pay TV operations like Sky Network, and TelstraClear’s InHome network in Christchurch and Wellington, have owned the digital market for over a decade but now face some serious challenges.

When free-to-air consortium Freeview went live in May, it was described as “the most significant event in New Zealand broadcasting since the launch of colour television in 1974”. The number of subscribers quickly exceeded expectations, reaching 41,000 viewers by August and possibly 80,000 by the end of the year.

As well as TV1, TV2, TV3, C4, Parliament and Maori TV it now has TVNZ Sport Extra, TVNZ 6 and a satellite exclusive version of Triangle, with everything on track for 15 services by the end of 2008.
The government chipped in $79 million over five years to help TVNZ reclaim its role as “champion of New Zealand content and culture”.

There are two approved set-top box makers, Zinwell and Hills Signalmaster, which sell through major home electronics chains for $250-$300.  The boxes deliver digital TV and radio reception, an electronic programming guide (EPG) to help plan viewing, an output for surround sound and widescreen support. Those with an unused Sky TV satellite dish can simply plug it into their Freeview set-top box.

 Meanwhile both Sky and Freeview are about to move to high definition – hopefully in time for the Olympic Games in China in August 2008. Sky will deliver by satellite and Freeview will broadcast terrestrially. Both will offer next generation MPEG 4 set top box recorders with Internet access for $300-$500 per unit.

 Tim Aitchison, New Zealand manager for Hills SignalMaster says the majority of people accessing Freeview satellite service are in outlying areas or places where existing reception is not up to scratch. The shift to HDTV will give more people the incentive to move across, as it gives greater clarity, particularly for watching sport or shows where there is a lot of action. “You don’t get the digital break up, it’s crystal clear.”

 Meanwhile broadcasters are looking sideways at telecommunications carriers and ISPs who are planning to add TV and movies to their bundle of phone and Internet services in line with global trends.  CallPlus has its sights set on IPTV as a third component of its wireless-DSL hybrid for voice and data.  Orcon is planning to deliver up to 50 channels of IPTV over the Internet and already has the back-end technology and content contracts in place.  

Telecom is planning to launch a similar service in 2009. Philip King, Telecom’s general manager of video, says IPTV is about quality on-demand TV content, initially augmenting free-to-air or pay TV offerings. “The world is moving increasingly towards an on-demand lifestyle for content.” Telecom could work with Sky and free-to-air players as well as other content providers. At least 5Mbit/sec Internet speeds would be required.

Meanwhile Sky TV has launched eight channels including cartoons, news, sport and MTV reality shows to Vodafone's 3G mobile customers.
Kordia is trialing technology to enable mobile phones to act as mini-TV sets and TVNZ has a five year plan to be seen on “every screen”. Its Ondemand service offers a mix of free streamed clips and paid-for downloadable shows and it’s also delivering content on YouTube.


New players are contending for TV, computer and mobile screens and it’s not as if you can sit back and ignore all these changes, traditional analogue TV will no longer be available after the off switch is thrown in 2015.

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