Today marks the closing of a nearly 76-year chapter in the history of television – the final three transmitters and their relays are being switched over to digital television tonight in Northern Ireland. The first production ‘high definition’ (that is 405 lines) black-and-white television service was introduced by the BBC on 2 November 1936, and although the number of lines has changed and a chrominance signal added to provide colour television, a lot of the technology used in analogue television is very similar today as it was then. Along with it goes several other related technologies which only existed on analogue TV, the first of which is NICAM 728 Digital Stereo (which stands for Near-Instantaneous Companded Audio Multiplex, and 728kbit/s was the bitrate) which introduced stereo sound on UK television for the first time in the 1986. The second is PDC (Programme Delivery Control) which was a way of instructing video recorders when to start or stop for a given programme, and was broadcast as teletext packets, so when CEEFAX gets switched off tonight, so does PDC. (Freeview does have digital equivalents of both of these of course).
It’s nice to see that BBC1 Northern Ireland and Ulster Television (UTV) are jointly producing a commemorative programme tonight to mark the occasion, something which none of the other English nations and regions did to my knowledge. It’s being shown on BBC1 Northern Ireland tonight at 2235, finishing at 2330, at which point the analogue signal will be switched off, taking with it over 75 years of history and good old CEEFAX.
So, as Phillip Schofield used to say a lot in the Broom Cupboard when BBC1 NI wished to opt out of the end of Children’s BBC – “Goodbye Northern Ireland” – for analogue television tonight in NI, it really is goodbye.
Don’t forget to switch off your television set.
Probably not the most exciting event for most people, but last night was ‘Oxford DSO Stage 1’ – that is, the first stage of digital switch over when one of the analogue channels was turned off (BBC2 in our case) and in its place (on the relays, anyway) goes the ‘BBC A’ digital mux containing the BBC channels (obviously, including BBC2).
Two weeks from now, on 28 September, all the other analogue channels get turned off and the relays start broadcasting all three digital muxes, with the main Oxford transmitter broadcasting all 6 muxes at full power.
Sad as it was, I thought I’d stay up till midnight to see BBC2 analogue disappear – there was a trashy film on BBC2, but instead of going off at midnight they actually waited until 01:13 (end of the film) to turn it off (I was yawning a lot by then!). Snow appeared on the screen, and BBC2 analogue was gone forever. At the same time, BBC1 analogue also disappeared, but that was to come back by the following morning.
Then I went to bed (understandably).
The following morning, I was expecting the worst. The powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to switch UHF channels 34 and 53+ around which could only have ended up in disaster. (The reasoning behind it was sensible – to get all the PSB muxes into Group C/D so existing non-wideband aerials could be used). Instead of the box thinking ‘oh, it’s the same LCN (Freeview channnel number) just on a different UHF channel’ it just refused to show it. Hmph. So I had to do a manual retune on the box. And just as I feared, this did the usual thing of deleting all my timers on the replaced channels. I really don’t understand why the manufacturers haven’t sorted this one out yet – it makes things very user-unfriendly.
Anyway, retune done, everything worked okay again and I had all six muxes back. I will have to do all this again on September 28 when more channels move (68 is moving to 60-, 51- moving to 62, and 34 is moving to 59-, and 29 moving to 55 – putting all the muxes in Group C/D at last). And I’ll lose virtually all my timers – again :(