Monday, 16 February 2015

Digital Migration in Uganda: A consumer's experience



As of February 2015 only areas within a 65km radius of Central Kampala are covered by the digital signal.


However, by the end of the year the digital footprint is supposed to have increased to cover more parts of the country.


The Uganda Communications Commission has set June 15th as the date on which the switchover from analogue to digital will begin. It remains to be seen whether the country will be ready for this switchover by that time.


In the meantime, for those that are in the coverage zone the digital signal is up and running and quite clear.


For those seeking to make the switch to free-to-air digital television there are 2 important pieces of equipment necessary; a TV set and a set top box (also know as a converter). Also, depending on where you are, an external antenna might be necessary.


The TV set

Some people might be under the impression that to watch digital television one needs an ultra modern fancy High definition TV set.
This is simply not true.


Just about any TV set will do just fine if you want to watch digital TV all one has to do is hook it up to a set-top box that will convert the digital signal to an analogue one that all current TVs “understand”.


There are what are known as Integrated Digital TVs which come with the inbuilt ability to pick digital signals without any additional hardware. However, these TV sets are rare in Uganda and they are pretty costly at the moment.


It is also worth noting that not every flat screen High Definition TV you see is digital.
I personally use a 15 year old JVC TV and it works just fine.


The main thing you have to be careful about is that the TV set you have has a way to connect with the set top box you have purchased or are intending to purchase. This is most likely to be by RCA Connectors, which for some reason are commonly called banana pins. Some others may use RF connectors and newer TV sets will also probably have a HDMI connection.


The Set-Top Box

There are different kinds of Set top boxes out there.


The kind most people are used to are those sold by GoTV and StarTimes, which come pre-programmed to scan specific frequencies and pick specific channels that are encrypted and one has to pay a subscription to watch these channels.


Such set-top boxes will not pick the free-to-air channels, unless those channels are included specifically in the paid bouquets available.


Free to air set-top boxes

However, this is not the kind of set-top box I will be discussing. I will be talking only about free-to-air set top boxes. As the name suggests, these boxes will pick any free unencrypted channels that are out there just like your regular TV would.


While these free to air set top boxes also come in many forms, anybody buying one for use in Uganda has to keep in mind one very important thing, which is that the set top box ought to be DVB-T2 compatible.


I will not get deep into the technical issues here except to say that there are different standards for Digital Terrestrial Television in the world, the most common being DVB-T and DVB-T2. DVB-T2 is the more modern of the two and it is the standard that Uganda adopted.


Also, depending on what your needs are and how much you are willing to spend the DVB-T2 compatible set top boxes also come with some differences. For example, some have slots for smartcards others don’t. Some are HD ready and some are not.


However, all those are extras that may not be immediately important, because as of now the PayTV companies will not sell you a smartcard without you purchasing their set-top box. Also, to the best of my knowledge there are no High Definition channels broadcasting on the digital platform at the moment.


As the technology progresses and high definition broadcasting becomes more common it might be a good idea to “future proof” yourself and buy the most advanced set-top box out there so you don’t have to upgrade in a few years.


I personally use a Chinese made set top box I bought from a company called Widestar in Kampala at a cost of 150,000 shillings. It has a smartcard slot should I ever feel the need to pay for subscription. Its is HD compatible and it has USB port to which I can connect a hard drive that I can use as a PVR to record programmes or from which I can view digital media files in a variety of formats.


There are some cheaper models going for around 70,000 shillings that have no card slot and have no High definition capability.


Earlier I had mentioned that some people might need external antennae and others might not. The reason for this is that the set top boxes come with their own antennae and if you are in an area where the signal is strong then you will not need an outdoor or external antenna.


However most people are probably going to need external antennae especially as the digital signal is till very much in the test phases and also because the digital signal is slightly weaker than the analogue one most people are used to.


Channels


At this point some might be wondering, “What channels do I get after I have set everything up?”
Most, if not all, set top boxes come with an auto-search function which will allow you to pick any channels that are freely available in your neighbourhood-which means pretty much every channel you have been watching free to air with your analogue TV.


However if for some reason your set-top box cannot do an auto-scan then you will have to manually scan specific frequencies in order to get the channels on those frequencies.


In my trials I found that most of the common Free to air channels are on the 474MHz (474000 Khz) frequency. With a few others on the 594Mhz (59400 Khz) frequency. By these I mean channels like NTV, Bukedde, NBS and so forth.


There are a few new channels out their and some that are testing their signals. I hope that there will be more stations.


Channels Available on digital
 (February 2015)


UBC, NTV, WBS, Star TV, Record TV, Urban TV, Bukedde 1, Top TV, LTV, Miracle TV (Channel 44), Al-Jazeera, BBC, CCTV, CITIZEN, EA TV, Capital TV, ITV..
The following are testing their signal, HTV, ABS TV, Delta TV, RTV, Magic One, plus 2 others I cannot quite figure out.