Friday, November 5, 2010

Philippine Television by 2016

Haven’t you heard the news? You cannot watch with your ordinary TV anymore by 2016?

No, you still can. Philippines will just switch off all analog TV channels by December 31, 2015 of 11:59 p.m., according to NTC. This is a part of the country’s migration to digital TV, and also the world’s standard imposed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to shift all television stations around the world to go digital.

By the way, here are also some reasons why the world wants to go digital:

· Some existing analog TV frequencies are not used, since analog TV transmission requires a channel spacing of 6 MHz which they call guard band. This is because if channels do come over one after the other, they might be interfering each other’s broadcasts.

· Analog TV broadcasts are very prone to impulse noise. Once you’ve been using, for example, a blender, plugged into where the TV is also plugged, this may cause some white lines and snowflakes appear on your TV sets.

· Today’s extent in increasing demands for mobile broadband had been circulating around the world. The ITU proposed to use the remaining analog TV frequencies to be part of the RAN or the Regional Area Network, which will be imposing the Super Wi-Fi, a technology faster than today’s WiMax.

· High definition television broadcasts are now being popular all over the world, since current analog broadcast can only handle low resolutions and cannot transmit HD video signals over the air in analog. Cinematic and panoramic viewing is also a part of HDTV broadcast.

· TV stations around the country do use different frequencies for every place, for example, a channel of a TV station in Manila would be different from the channel of the same TV station in Cebu and Davao, etc. This would rather eat very large amount of frequencies being used.

· Mobile TV is now in greater demands, since most of the people prefer on-the-go. Analog TV cannot do such, since it captures too much noise due to ionic discharges in the atmosphere, which brings snowy images and rolling white lines each and every run.

Philippines are not being left over into the world of television broadcasting. In fact, the country is ready to shift towards digitalization.


Current TV setups in our houses and even in buses do use analog. Analog TV transmission is the basic and the oldest concept of TV transmission way back 1940’s. Television-giant ABS-CBN, being the first ever TV network in the country, was the first to use and broadcast analog TV in 1953 using the American standard NTSC-M. This setup does only require your TV set and an antenna, either indoor or outdoor.

Cable TV as being introduced in the country way back 1960’s via ABS-CBN affiliate Nuvue Cablevision, was incorporated as an antenna replacement for household TV sets who would prefer to watch TV channels with not too much interference over the air. Cable TV setup does require subscriptions from cable TV providers, which will connect a coaxial cable from outside to your TV sets. This setup also offers TV channels in and out of the country, which is not available free-to-air.

Satellite TV setup was the baby among the three TV setup. This would require a satellite dish that will receive microwaves over-the-air, and that dish is connected into the TV sets via coaxial cable. This was first launched as “wireless cable TV setup” but since that dubbing made some misconceptions about being wireless and using cable. Satellites are used in places where TV broadcasts are cannot be reached through an ordinary TV antenna, like in some distant places over the mountains or even islands without TV transmitters.

As the technology goes even farther, this existing setup may require even more, as high definition video technology has been introduced in the 80’s. But analog TV cannot even transmit video signals over its largest, 720 x 480 pixel resolution. Plus, mobile TV in analog has impact to greater needs. This comes up with the birth of digital television.


Studies about the world’s migration to digital free-to-air television had been started since the 70’s by Japan. The Japanese had been the imposing standard for making the television signals go digital. At that time, that guideline was introduced to the Americans, being then innovated in the US over the years. In the 90’s, the FCC commanded that the US will go digital using its own standard, the ATSC, and will be shutting down all analog frequencies by the date levied by the standardization committee.

That American standard cannot be applied with the current television setup for European countries, therefore, the EU decided to have its own digital television standard, the DVB-T. This standard is required for all European countries to adopt this digital TV standard.

Just like the Europe did, China also did its own benchmark, the DMB-T. This was the only standard that will be used by one country only, including Macau and Hongkong as China’s affiliates.

Japan, on the other hand, who was the pioneer in digital TV industry, had gone way too long to study the best ever standard for digital television. The ISDB-T, which is very popular among the Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina, brings fixed and mobile TV into one broadcast.

Now, the world feasts with four major digital TV standards and every country has the right to choose which standard they will use. The Philippines, as we trace back the history of country’s television broadcast, passed by two digital TV standards, the European DVB-T and the Japanese ISDB-T.

On the other hand, cable television also made its way to go digital. The most popular standard for digital cable TV was the European’s DVB-C, which was launched in the past decade next to its terrestrial sister DVB-T. The United States only uses ordinary QAM and Japanese cable TV standard ISDB-C is not too much popular compared to DVB-C.

Satellite TV has gone its way to go digital, too. European standard again dominated the world’s migration to digital satellite television through its platform DVB-S and DVB-S2. This migration benefits satellite and direct-to-home (DTH) TV subscribers by having more channels, larger bandwidths and also the carriage of HD and the future 3D TV broadcast. ISDB-S was the Japanese standard for DST broadcast, but not that widely held around the world.


The country is also favor to migrate into digital, that’s why the National Telecommunications Commission had launched digital TV technology back in 2006, and necessitated that all analog TV stations will shut down their analog transmission by a minute before 2016.

Terrestrial or simply free-to-air, digital television setup was first tested by the Lopez-led multimedia conglomerate ABS-CBN back in 2007. This was their answer to the network’s rival GMA’s lead in Mega Manila ratings. According to ABS-CBN, their channel is located in the lowest channel number ever for a TV operation, which is very prone to any electronic noise. Added to this is its transmitter, located within its broadcast complex in Diliman and is now being surrounded by high-rise buildings. They invested for European’s DVB-T and used the analog TV frequency of Channel 51, bringing ABS-CBN, Studio 23 and ANC in one channel.

On the contrary, a small-time UHF channel GEMNET also commenced on testing digital TV standards back in 2007, switching off its GEM TV frequency of Channel 49. They also used first DVB-T, but after few months of testing, they switched to Japanese standard ISDB-T.

TV5, the revamped station of ABC, also applied for digital terrestrial television (DTT) license to test the digital mobile TV standard, DVB-H. This approach of TV5’s shift to digital was due to increasing mobile TV demands. The network used their defunct analog TV frequency of Channel 47.

Tracing back, the NTC had finally decided to push through DVB-T as the sole DTT standard in the country way back 2007. However, some media networks didn’t approved with this and decided to test again all the DTT standards available. The following was seen through the tests for all DTT standards:

· The American ATSC was the weakest among all digital television standards since it uses 8-VSB, a higher modification of the analog TV transmission VSB. ATSC is also prone to multipath distortion, which in this they cannot provide mobile TV broadcasts.

· European DVB-T was the next to ATSC, because what it lacks is the mobile TV support. DVB-H, also a European platform for digital mobile TV, needs different transmitter and frequency for mobile TV.

· Lastly, the Japanese standard ISDB-T was very favored by the NTC, since it carriers both fixed and mobile reception in one transmission, and very robust when it comes to multipath interference and error correction.

Before the 112th Philippine Independence, the NTC had finally decided that the country will be using the Japanese digital terrestrial TV standard ISDB-T as the sole DTT standard in the Philippines, which turns out to be very suitable in the country’s current analog setup.

Today, there are only two free-to-air digital television channels in Metro Manila. The government-owned NBN is now using Channel 48’s analog TV frequency and uses the Channel 1’s digital TV channel in Multiple SD setup.

The other is the Iglesia ni Cristo-based TV network GEM HD, still uses its analog TV frequency of Channel 49 and digital TV Channel 2 in 1080i high definition TV setup. Both are seen simultaneously in 1-seg broadcasts for mobile phones and laptop tuners.

On the world of digital cable television broadcast, ABS-CBN affiliate SkyCable, the leading cable operator in the country, was the first cable TV operator to go digital back in 2009. According to Lopez, the migration of cable TV companies to digital is the first step towards elimination of cable TV tapping. Added to this is more channels can now be offered and high definition cable TV broadcast are now available compared to analog cable setup. Current SkyCable digital cable platform is available within Metro Manila subscribers only, but in fact the company is investing millions of pesos to expand its digital cable TV subscription all over the country.

DTH operators GSat and Dream were the first among the satellite TV operators to migrate into digital. Also, the newly-born Mediaquest’s baby, Cignal, offered digital satellite TV standard in its first inception and incorporating full HD channels throughout its broadcast nationwide.

But what are its benefits for us people who are watching current analog TV setup?

· Nationwide TV networks that broadcast throughout the country will now have its single-frequency network (SFN), having only one channel for that station, unlike the past’s different channels for every place of broadcast.

· More channels can fit into television frequency by utilizing a Multiple SDTV setup (Multi-SD), having 3 to 4 standard definition (SD) sub-channels in one channel frequency.

· Current antennas used by our TV sets can be also used for receiving digital TV channels.

· TV networks can now utilize adjacent channel frequencies due to digital TV’s virtual channeling. Virtual channeling puts a TV station to its home channel, without interfering its analog channel frequency.

o Best example is today’s NBN Channel 4. In analog, NBN is using Channel 4 frequency. But in digital, its frequency uses Channel 49, but its home channel, its virtual channel is Channel 1.

o Another example is ABS-CBN. ABS-CBN uses the lowest TV channel, which is Channel 2. But when they go digital, they will be using Channel 19 frequency, but they will use virtual Channel 3 in the meantime. Since GEM HD uses virtual Channel 2 today, when Philippines shut down all analog stations, GEM HD will use a new virtual channel, and ABS-CBN will now back to its home channel, the virtual channel 2.

· Pause and play is now integrated for TV broadcast due to time shifting. If you want to take a break first, like having a pee, or even skip boring advertisements, and you cannot leave your favorite show on TV, digital TV offers pausing the program and is played back when you’re ready to watch it again.

· You can now view the next programs for the next hours, next days and even next month, because of Electronic Program Guide (EPG). This shows the current program broadcasted and the next programs on every channel. With also this feature, you can set a reminder for a TV program to be watched and have it being automatically changed for that schedule.

· Interactivity is what digital TV also features. While watching, you can view some data over the program’s topic, like for example, viewing the number of votes of each contestant while watching a reality show, or even you can join a voting session for a TV show with this highlight.

· High definition or HD TV broadcast is now incorporated with the digital TV, and supports current LCD TV setup which offers cinematic panoramic viewing and more vivid and clear pictures. Audio quality also turns out to be integrated with digital surround sound 5.1 channel and stereophonic sound setups.

· Converter boxes with built-in Digital Video Recorder (DVR) can easily record their favorite show on digital TV, from the preferred resolution up to full HD 1080i video recording.

· Mobile phones from Japan with 1-seg TV reception will benefit the most from digital TV, having clear quality of TV broadcast into handheld devices, compared with the analog. This will break through the use of digital mobile TV in the country.

· In line with mobility, public utility vehicles like jeepneys and buses can now offer much clear TV broadcast while running on roads. Even high definition TV broadcast can be received in mobile TVs.

There are some disadvantages though:

· Digital TV does not degrade as gracefully as analogue. For example, with low signal strength an analogue picture gets fuzzy (but is still viewable) while a digital picture freezes and stops updating, showing “NO SIGNAL” broadcast alert.

· Switching channels is slower because of the time delays in decoding digital signals.

· Set-top box (STB) or digital converter box is REQUIRED for all TV sets to receive digital signals and watch digital TV channels.

· Scanning is required to view all digital channels over-the-air.

· All TV stations throughout the country, maybe a TV-giant or a small-time network, are required to go digital, thus requiring stations to upgrade its transmitter facilities from analog to digital.


Yes, if we are going to look forward into this, 2016 is much nearer. Next year will be 2011, and after 5 years, analog TV will be ceased nationwide. So here’s a list on how to go-on-the-flow with the country’s migration to digital:

· The best way, and the cheapest way to migrate digital is to buy your own set-top box (STB). Current digital TV boxes may offer the basic prices from P 500 up to the most advanced converter boxes that support HD with prices up to P 3,500. This is a ONE-TIME INVESTMENT for digital TV.

· If you’re on-the-go, 1-seg tuners are also available, have prices from P 1,000 to P 2,500. These tuners can be plugged into laptops to watch digital TV instantly, but the quality of 1-seg is much different from full-segment STBs and converter boxes. Also, Japan-based mobile phones (which in the future may be available in the Philippine market) with 1-seg mobile TV application can receive digital TV broadcast.

· Too tense with it? Then go subscribe cable TV. Cable TV companies are exempted with the analog switch-off (even the analog cable TV setup), so you can still enjoy your favorite channels even after 2016.

· You can also apply for direct-to-home (DTH) satellite TV subscriptions. Like cable TVs, satellites are also excused from the analog switch-off.

· If you’re planning to buy a new TV before the analog switch-off, better look for TVs with built-in digital TV tuners. By incorporation, an external STB is not anymore needed. But as of today, selected TV manufacturers and producers sell LCD TVs with built-in DTV tuners in high-price range from P 60,000 to P 150,000, much afforded by rich personas.

Not yet ready? Now better get ready. Why not try to save a penny from now and by the last quarter of 2016, buy what you want to experience this once-in-a-lifetime switch from analog to digital?


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Jason said...

Actually, SkyCable had their first digital signal back in 2006. =)

Jason said...

Refer to this link. SkyCable Digital was launched April 2006.

jerson said...

here in Philippines, where can I buy digital converter boxes? pls email me tnx

Jade Graham said...

broadcast can only handle low resolutions and cannot transmit HD video signals over the air in analog. outdoor antenna