Digital tomorrow may soon arrive

European states retire analogue TV but is Belarus ready to shift to digital broadcasting?

Flickering images and extraneous noise shall soon become a thing of the past, with digital TV replacing analogue broadcasting, bringing in the highest quality of reception. Old standards will be retired, with the new taking over. Belarus is to leave behind analogue broadcasting by June 17th, 2015, with Europe achieving this three years earlier. Germany, Luxembourg and Scandinavia have already shifted to digital broadcasting, with Latvia retiring analogue broadcasts last summer. Lithuania joins them in 2012, as will Poland in 2013.

Belarus’ Communications and Informatisation Ministry is encouraging manufacturers of TV signal receivers to use digital technology. Nikolai Pantelei, who heads the Ministry, notes that the Council of Ministers has already received a proposal for consideration, prohibiting the production of TV sets without digital tuners (alongside their importing into Belarus). This will be the first step towards the public extensively owning digital receivers.

The first Belarusian digital transmitter appeared in Kolodishchi, in 2005, covering the capital and part of the Minsk District. At present, 46 radio-television stations operate countrywide, embracing 94 percent of the population. This year, another 15 stations are to be built. Already, Belarus leads in the CIS regarding digital signal coverage. Our domestic manufacturers are producing hybrid-analogue and fully digital TV sets, with attachments offered to allow the receiving of cable and aerial digital signals. In the first years of digital TV, Horizont and Vityaz sold no more than 100 such attachments; now, several thousand have been sold.

Digital television shares the same frequency as analogue TV, intending to be a direct replacement. Neighbouring states have been settling the issue for the past two years. In Belarus, analogue transmissions remain, with just eight TV channels having digital versions.

In 2008, Beltelecom and some Internet providers introduced IP-TV — also a digital broadcast. Specialists say cable operators can independently shift to digital television in cities but villagers will need to purchase special attachments (transforming analogue signals to digital) and UHF band adapters (as manufactured by Vertex-Brest, of the Belarusian Sight-Impaired Association). Some cable operators from Italy are keen to become involved in the technology (which is already on sale in Belarusian shops for about Br80,000).

“Manufacturers could reduce their prices for TV attachments,” notes Horizont’s Deputy General Director, Sergey Gunko. “The more they produce, the lower the prime cost. However, this won’t fall below $30. Belarus uses a MPEG-4 compression format. Europe — which began applying digital TV earlier — uses older MPEG-2, the attachment for which could fall in price to just $23.”
“The Government studied the issue carefully before adopting a state programme,” recollects Mr. Gunko, who was a member of the corresponding working group. “One of the proposals envisaged the state subsidising attachments, so they could be given free of charge to ‘socially vulnerable’ persons, as done in Russia. However, the Belarusian budget cannot afford to do this; moreover, defining the criteria for those in need would be tricky. Instead, loans are being offered, alongside paying in instalments.”

Belarusian TV producers are actively collaborating with cable operators. Horizont has been supplying equipment to Cosmos-TV (which has been digitally broadcasting via the DVB-C format since December 2009). Another large Minsk cable operator — MTIS JSC — has announced its plans to soon introduce digital broadcasting. However, its plans are being hampered by protracted talks with a TV producer. At present, the operator is owned by the Minsk City Executive Committee, which plans to sell some shares to a large investor operating in this field. MTIS’ Marketing Director, Dmitry Bushchik, notes that the cable operator must independently purchase attachments.

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