Archive for June, 2010

Going digital

June 29, 2010

I have always looked forward to having extra choice on the telly, Channel 4 test cardChannel4 was a welcome breath of fresh air when it came, and the launch of satellite telly a few years later was really good too, and I recall hearing at the time Rupert Murdoch telling us how he would like to make all his programmes available free to air but the film companies would not let him.

Alas government regulation failed and competition was removed from the skies giving Sky the monopoly on satellite, with the inevitable subscription and overcharging that made it not worth the effort to put up a dish and just get Sky News.

Then around the turn of the millenium, another disaster – the telly broke. A quick trip to the shops and there were all these shiny newPhillips CRT televisiondigital tellys. £850 did not appear to be too bad for a very nice telly with built in digital tuner ready for digital switchover when it comes. Lots of warnings from the salesman. “It’s no good you getting a digital telly there is no signal in your area, it won’t work.”

It really is no good whatsoever telling me that. I am a ‘can do’ person. Not enough signal? There are ways round that. It is not like we had any analogue signal anyway, that got turned off in our area with the closure of the 405 line service in 1985!

Televés DAT75 television aerial against the sky

Televés DAT75 aerial

So get the telly home and not a jot of digital signal, and the analogue was pretty dire too. Not completely unexpected given the inadequate looking aerials on the chimney. A quick bit of internet research gives some indication of where the best digital signal is coming from, and how incredibly weak it is, but I can do.

The biggest aerial I can find with an integrated amplifier gives me 30dB gain, just enough to pull a bit of signal out of a transmitter 48 miles away.

There I am, all up and running and ready for digital switchover – or am I?

When I bought the digital telly there was no time scale put on when we would have proper digital coverage, and no indication that standards would be changing before we would go digital, but why should I worry about that. It is a brand new telly and aerial – it will last for ages.

It was not long before a power cut resulted in the digital tuner not working on the telly,  and taking it back to the shop for repair they of course tell me there is nothing wrong with it. Can’t try it in the shop because they don’t have a suitable aerial! Subsequently find out that the tuner fails if you turn the telly off for a short period (like in a power cut) and the only answer is to leave it turned off for a week or so. Not very satisfactory. Eventually I give up trying to get Comet to honour the guarantee – they think that all they have to do is to take my telly away for a fortnight and tell me there is nothing wrong with it, even when I have demonstrated the fault to their engineer. By now the BBC have updated their interactive service so that it crashes if you press the red button and Phillips are not interested in updating the software to make it work with the BBC, so time to buy a new digital set top box and at least have my telly back.

Sagem ITD602

Sagem ITD602 Freeview receiver

Needless to say this did not function for long before a change known as ‘Split NIT’ rendered it pretty useless, again with no software update available to fix it otherwise good hardware is now junk. And bare in mind that digital switchover is still a few years away.

So another purchase is required to be able to watch the telly. This time a nice Panasonic PVR.

Panasonic DMR EX78 PVR

Panasonic DMR EX78 PVR

Nothing cheap about a Panasonic you might think – apart from the Japanese having virtually no idea about aspect ratio coding and that broadcasters might feel the need to change aspect ratio occasionally to match the programme material!  If you copy a widescreen programme to DVD it encodes it as a 4:3 programme which makes it display incorrectly. If you record a 4:3 programme it takes the aspect ratio of the first bit and encodes the whole programme that way, i.e. the widescreen of the announcer introducing the programme! When 4:3 programmes are shown as widescreen (with black bars at the side) with a protected 4:3 section in the middle, the Panasonic instead of protecting the middle squishes the picture up to be tall and thin. When the weather is on and the protected bit of the picture changes as they show the weather maps the jumping about of the picture has to be seen to be believed. Has the art of testing anything before it goes into production just died a complete death?

So is that the end of the tale? Not quite. You would think that an aerial ought to last long enough, after all some people are still using Jaybeams that were installed in the ’60s for the launch of BBC2. No after nine years of sterling service the integrated amplifier has failed on the aerial.

Televés integrated amplifier showing water damage

Televés integrated amplifier showing water damage

As always it is the highest aerial at the top of the pole that needs attention, requiring the dismantling of the entire array to get to it. Not an expensive part, and it just clips on, but if the Spanish manufacturer had realised that it rains occasionally in more northern parts of Europe and fitted some rubber seals it would probably have lasted a lot longer. in future I will dismantle these and apply a little grease to seal it before fitting.

There is still time to go before switchover, I am sure that something else will go wrong yet – there is still plenty of time.

Suzie x

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