Tech talk: with David Behrens

CHARACTERFUL: This is the face of the digital switchover.
CHARACTERFUL: This is the face of the digital switchover.
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MOST of us receive our TV signals digitally these days – but come this September we’ll have no choice in the matter.

That’s when they switch off the old analogue transmitters in Yorkshire. They’re the ones that have carried BBC and ITV programmes since the 60s, and they’ve radiated, with very few exceptions, a uniform service to town and dale alike.

But that will no longer be the case come the autumn, because the era of Freeview digital TV brings with it a two-tier transmission system that will see many in Yorkshire deprived of channels the rest of the country will take for granted.

Viewers in large swathes of Wharfedale, the Calder and Colne Valleys, the Peak District, parts of the Yorkshire coast and even the flatlands of Headingley will receive the BBC channels but only a few of the commercial ones. No History Channel, no Dave; not even ITV3. In fact, of the 66 channels available – including nebulous ones like home shopping networks – restricted viewers will see only 18.

Yorkshire is one of the regions most affected by the two-tier arrangements, and it’s our rugged terrain that’s the problem. Towns and cities hidden by hills from the main transmitter on Emley Moor are served instead by lower-power relay stations that lack the bandwidth to carry the full complement of Freeview channels.

Digital UK, the organisation overseeing the switchover, points out that even restricted homes will see more channels than the four or five carried on old transmitters. But if you’re one of those viewers, you might want to consider your other viewing options between now and September.

The most promising, and possibly least known, is a service called Freesat, which carries most (but not quite all) of the Freeview channels by satellite to your home, instead of aerial. Like Freeview, you buy the set-top box outright and pay no monthly fee. If there’s an old Sky dish on your house you can use it to get Freesat; if not, a dish installer will put one up for £80.