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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All the latest, and very interesting, details about M-Net and e.tv's joint DVB-T2 digital terrestrial television trial.


You're reading it here first.

I have and can bring you all the latest details first about M-Net and e.tv's joint DVB-T2 terrestrial television trial - as well as how the trial DVB-T2 set top boxes look, and some of the very interesting research findings from these commercial TV broadcasters and their DVB-T technical trial so far.

As I've said before (RIGHT HERE) the two commercial TV broadcasters in South Africa – M-Net and e.tv – are simply not getting the just praise and deserved recognition for the hard, dedicated and simply brilliant work they are both doing in the research and testing of DVB-T and the upgradeable DVB-T2 infrastructure and technology as part of South African television's transition to digital terrestrial television (DTT), in a process known as digital migration.


While the out of touch South African government is dragging it's feet in the switchover to DTT with a deadline that this country is all but set to miss, it's wonderful and shows great maturity from both broadcasters about their decision to combine their resources – ranging from human capital and innovative cutting-edge and organizational thinkers and broadcasting engineers to massive spending on broadcasting infrastructure and digital TV technology. Working together on this incredibly underreported, yet critical issue facing South Africa, it's actually almost sad and ironic that its been left to e.tv and M-Net as commercial broadcasters to take charge with their forward-thinking vision and lift South Africa out of the quagmire that DTT is fast becoming.

Both M-Net and e.tv are now saying that they're more than willing to share their research undertakings and technical findings with the South African TV broadcasting industry and fully support the DVB-T (or if you will the upgraded DVB-T2) digital standard. Here's the latest on these broadcasters DTT testing progress. . .


 M-Net and e.tv with signal distributor Orbicom started trial transmissions on 16 September this year with the second generation digital terrestrial television broadcasting technology known as DVB-T2 in Johannesburg. M-Net and e.tv are DVB-T2 technical trial partners. These trial broadcasts establish the first terrestrial broadcast using the second generation DTT standard, DVB-T2, in Africa. This DVB-T2 standard delivers at least 18 standard definition (SD) TV channels in the same spectrum capacity where first generation DTT standards (for instance ISDB-T and DVB-T) deliver between 9 and 12 channels.

I can tell you that regarding the technical configuration of the network, that M-Net and e.tv will currently use 1 transmitter at the Hillbrow tower of 6.4kw in Johannesburg, while Cape Town and Durban are still operating in the original DVB-T trial (in July the Johannesburg DVB-T trialists were converted back to analogue broadcasts to prepare them for the DVB-T2 technical trial.) For M-Net and e.tv's DVB-T2 trial the Philips / Pace 5520 decoder is being used and Pace modified the software to accomodate remote control audio level change as an option to viewers. Every DTT decoder also has a help desk number printed on it.


What is currently being tested is 18 normal SD TV channels or ''services'' (since some are ''interactive'' channels such as public government information services) which include the SABC, Soweto TV and e.tv as channels. The next phase of the DTT trial will test additional SD TV channels as well as possibly radio broadcasts from the SABC, some high definition (HD) channels to see how that would look as well as some coded download processes tests, that could for instance be used in the highly controversial (although probably never to be used) conditional access options.


There's already some preliminary findings from M-Net and e.tv's DTT DVB-T trial that should be of importance to the South African government, and should also be food for thought for the TV industry. It seems as if viewers, once they have this technology do experience some problems and do have questions. However, they don't call the helpdesk . . . because they don't have the money. The government – besides its as yet non-existent subsidy plan for set top boxes (STB's), should consider some form of pre-paid telephone voucher so that people would be able to call with problems. Some people don't understand or grasp the difference between analogue and digital broadcasts, loss of signal is the biggest problem and then people tamper on their own and make things worse. Its difficult for viewers to discover the signal strength coming through on decoders and sometimes the existing antenna is unreliable or insufficient.

The good findings? Viewers simply love the bigger choice of TV channels and also grade the picture quality on even normal TV sets as vastly improved (which is of course what happens with a digital transmission).

M-Net and e.tv working together on testing the future digital television standards for South Africa are doing what will eventually benefit the whole of the South African TV industry in a critical area that will alter and shape the South African TV landscape and the broadcasting industry in this country for decades to come.