sa TV set to change to digital next year

SOUTH Africa is just more than a year away from a television revolution.

SOUTH Africa is just more than a year away from a television revolution.

With the deadline for digital migration set for November next year, the process of converting the nation's television signal from analog to digital is before Parliament, according to the Department of Communications.

The government has set a deadline of a total switch to a digital signal for November 2011.

The digital migration comes after South Africa became part of an agreement signed by members of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2006.

The union set a target of having all its member states migrated by 2015 but the government targeted November 2011. This means that by then all South African households should have bought set-top boxes to receive the new digital signal.

Department spokesperson Tiyani Rikhotso said the government was committed to this deadline.

"The cabinet should decide on manufacturing standards and how the government will subsidise six million households who cannot afford the set-top box," Rikhotso said.

"We have not yet set a deadline as to when the set-top boxes will be available for sale to the public because of these processes that have yet to be completed. No tender has been awarded to any company to manufacture the set-top boxes. We have not even put out a request for proposals," he said.

Rikhotso said the country was currently operating on dual signals - digital and analog.

A set-box is expected to cost R700. Government is expected to subsidise families who cannot afford the full amount by about 70percent. This means that at least five million South Africans will pay R210 each for a box.

"The SABC finished its technical test trial of 3000 set-top boxes at the end of March. These were given to households last year.

"But we do not have a full report on how the technical trial went," SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said recently.

The introduction of set-top boxes will give South African viewers a clearer signal and the television channels might even increase to 16.

Sowetan spoke to Vusi Ndala, executive manager of Arion Bomema Technologies, one of the companies aiming to bid for the manufacturing of the set-top boxes.

"Maintaining the current analog system has proven expensive and inefficient," Ndala said.

"The boxes will also enable people to access government services with just a touch of a button on their remote control."

He said even people with DStv will have to buy the set-top boxes because if they do not have them by November 2011 they would not be able to receive SABC 1, 2, 3 and