The end of the race?

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Although the finishing line is finally in sight, customers are still confused with digital TV options on offer, both in terms of services and recording, reports George Cole.

By the end of the year, the UK will have completed the switchover from analogue to digital television. UK Digital, which has been managing the switchover, says the last analogue signal will be switched off on 24 October 2012, and at the time of writing, just four TV regions – London, Meridian, Tyne Tees and Northern Ireland – have yet to complete the switchover. Around 18 million UK homes now have Freeview, and Freesat sales have passed two million.

On track and under budget

The digital switchover (DSO) timetable is on track and more than £50 million under budget, so it’s no surprise that UK Digital believes the programme has gone well. Graham North, commercial director, Humax Electronics, agrees, “The digital switchover has gone relatively smoothly, given the size of the regions that have gone through the transition. Humax has received limited calls from consumers and we have seen an increased uptake in sales within the DSO areas of the country.” Peter Hainsworth, Sony’s field technical marketing manager, says, “As each region switches, we are seeing a steady reduction in the complexity and volume of calls related to the switchover event.”

Warren Hampton, Samsung’s general manager of STB [Set-top Box] division, notes that, “The UK is rapidly embracing the move from analogue to digital. Major sporting events and more TV channel choice have encouraged people to upgrade their home entertainment, and we expect to see this trend continue as the switchover goes through its final stages.” For Glenn Zanoni, Toshiba product marketing manager, TV & Blu-ray, “The digital switchover has had a positive impact on basic consumer awareness and understanding of the digital TV market.”

But some challenges remain. Warren Hampton thinks, “There’s the risk that some people may leave it until the last minute, or might need a little extra advice as they may be confused by the wealth of information already out there. Similarly, people may not know that set-top boxes are a simple way to switchover.” Graham North says there are still some big areas yet to go digital, including London. “However, many people within this region are already digital TV users and are therefore much better prepared than those in some of the regions that switched a few years ago,” he adds, “for Humax and our electrical retailers, the main opportunity will be communicating the need for a new digital recording device and high definition content, rather than introducing the concept of digital TV.” 

Peter Hainsworth says, “Whilst we are well on the road to completing the digital switchover, we must not be complacent. There will still be areas with transmitter overlaps and unique technical issues which occur in most areas. Regional marketing driving awareness of the switchover helps, but it cannot reach everyone. Therefore all parties involved – from the government and the manufacturer to retailer – have a responsibility to educate consumers about the switchover during each touch point.” The number of digital TV options presents a challenge, says Glenn Zanoni, “There’s a large number of technologies and services available – Freeview, Freeview+, Freeview HD, Freesat, Freesat HD – which leads to a great deal of consumer confusion when making a new purchase. Each service has its own benefits, but the offerings overall are quite complex. So the challenge for the industry is communicating these benefits and minimising any confusion.”

One of the challenges is making consumers aware of the various digital TV recording options on offer. There are hard disk, Blu-ray and DVD recording systems, with standard and high definition recording. “I don’t think consumers are fully aware of the digital TV recording options, but more information regarding this is gradually being picked up,” says Graham North, “to help educate TV viewers on the benefits of digital recording, Humax has been running campaigns of door dropping leaflets with regional advertising that explain the DSO and the digital TV recorder options now available.” 

George Mead, LG home entertainment consumer and product marketing manager, says, “Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to home recording and expect to be able to access content wherever and whenever they want.”

Warren Hampton adds, “There are a variety of digital recording products out on the market. Our set-top boxes have a wide range of functions to ensure we open up a new experience for viewers as they move to digital.” Glenn Zanoni says consumers face the challenge of understanding the options and deciding which one best suits their needs. “We’re seeing continued success across our range of DVD recorders and feel that we’re successfully communicating the benefits of these products to our customers,” he adds. David Preece, Panasonic’s category head home AV, thinks that the industry has done a lot to help educate consumers about the DSO, “There is a lot of information available. In switch-over areas, packs are sent out explaining the different options including recording,” he says. 

The main focus of the switchover has been on television sets, set-top boxes and TV aerials, but there are lots of digital recording products on offer. The Humax range, for example, has three Freeview+ models: the PVR-9150T and the PVR-9300T are standard definition products and the HDR-FOX T2 is a high definition recorder. The Humax FOXSAT-HDR is a Freesat+ HD model. Samsung’s line-up includes the SMT-S7800 Freesat+ HD PVR and BD-DT7800 Freeview+ HD PVR, which both have 500GB digital storage. LG offers a number of DVD and Blu-ray digital TV recorders, with hard disk capacity including, the RHT498H, RHT497H and DRT389H models.

The Samsung BD-DT7800 Freeview+ HD PVR, also includes access to the Samsung Smart Hub, while Sony’s Freeview+ HD SVR-HDT500 is a hard disk recorder that can record up to 300 hours of video.  Panasonic Freeview+ HD recorders include the DMR-HW100 hard disc recorder with Viera Connect, the DMR-PWT500 hard disc recorder/ 3D Blu-Ray Player combi, and the DMR-BWT700 and BWT800 Freeview HD Blu-Ray recorders. Toshiba’s offerings include the DR20 DVD Freeview recorder, DVR20 DVD/VHS Freeview recorder, and RVXD60 Freeview+ hard disk, DVD and VHS combi.

Many consumers have gone straight from VHS to hard disk recorders, so have hard disk recorder sales overshadowed Blu-ray recorders and DVD recorders? Warren Hampton thinks not, “As these products address different consumer needs, hard disk recorders sales have not overshadowed Blu-ray and DVD recorders so far.” But Graham North notes that, “We are seeing the hard disk market grow as people are moving away from DVD and Blu-ray for recording. Key to this is the trend for recorder products to become part of the home network.” Glenn Zanoni says that, “We’ve seen excellent sales of both hard disk recorders and DVD recorders. Each product category has its own set of benefits and we believe there is still room in the market for both.” David Preece says that, “The market for hard disk recorders has outgrown optical disc recorders, but the DVD/BD recorder market is still good business during the digital switchover.”

Added value features

Digital TV also offers additional features, such as HD and catch-up TV, and many consumers are opting for these, says Graham North, “Many Freeview and Freesat consumers are opting for added value features now, and HD is probably the main driver. I believe that demand for catch-up TV will also grow, but it needs to become more user-friendly and offer easier access.” According to Peter Hainsworth, “Consume
rs are looking for an increased variety of features. Catch-up TV services are now a standard feature across many of our products, including internet enabled Bravia TV’s and Blu-ray players.” 

George Mead says, “We believe that SmartTV is hugely important in driving this trend, allowing people to watch content on demand via services such as BBC iPlayer and YouTube on the big screen.” Philips’ 21:9 Gold, 50-inch LED Freeview HD TV for example, includes YouTube viewing, while Sony’s EX523/EX723 series of Freeview HD TVs include YouTube, iPlayer and LoveFilm.

Toshiba has seen a strong increase in sales of TVs with integrated Freeview HD, but Glenn Zanoni says, “I feel there’s still a job for the industry to do when it comes to communicating the benefits of features such as HD, on-demand content and recording. It’s essential that the industry promotes the user benefits of each service ­– consumers want to know what content they can receive, rather than the technology that delivers the content.” Interest in catch-up TV and movie download is increasing on connected TV products, says David Preece, while Warren Hampton notes that, “We are certainly seeing consumers choosing products that support value added services like catch-up TV.” 

 YouView offer

This year will see the consumer launch of the YouView service, which combines Freeview, catch-up TV and movie download services. A new generation of YouView TVs and PVRs are set to be launched. It sounds like an enticing prospect for TV viewers, but are companies planning to support it?  “Humax is the lead technology partner for YouView and as such, will launch a product this year,” says Graham North. Glenn Zanoni says, “YouView is a very interesting concept and there are certainly a lot of potential benefits offered by the service. We’re continuing to observe the evolution of YouView and look forward to seeing how it develops in the future.”  Warren Hampton says Samsung is still considering YouView for set-top boxes but is focusing on its Smart Hub platform for televisions, while David Preece says, “Our focus is on developing our Viera Connect platform.” By the looks of things, the home straight of the digital switchover will prove to be an interesting finale.

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