OPINION: The analogue television signal is being switched off in the South Island in less than 100 days from now. Greg Harford of Going Digital tells you what you need to do to keep enjoying your favourite shows.
Digital television has been available in New Zealand for several years now - and the old analogue TV system is being progressively switched off across the country, with Hawke's Bay and the West Coast having already gone digital, and the rest of the country being rolled out in three stages.
The South Island goes digital on April 28, and viewers need to go digital before then if they want to keep watching TV.
Going digital offers better pictures, better sound quality, more channels, and new services such as onscreen programme guides.
It also makes it easier for broadcasters to provide services such as audio description for the visually impaired and captions for people with hearing impairments.
It will free up radio spectrum which is currently being used for analogue TV, and gives us the ability to use them for next- generation mobile telecommunications and data services which promise to be faster and cheaper in the long run.
Before New Zealand goes digital, people with analogue TV sets will need some new equipment to keep watching TV.
For most people, all that is needed is a set-top box that plugs into an existing television, and a UHF aerial or satellite dish.
Freeview is the free-to-air digital TV service, while subscription services are available from Sky or Igloo.
TelstraClear's cable TV service is also available in Christchurch and Wellington.
If you already watch Freeview, Sky, Igloo or TelstraClear, you are already watching digital TV, so don't need to do anything - unless you have another analogue TV or a recorder.
If you have not already gone digital, you will need to do so in order to keep watching TV.
It's good to know that almost any set can go digital with a set-top box. A new TV is not required - in fact, you may remember the Going Digital competition, Search for New Zealand's Oldest Telly, where a 53-year old set from the West Coast was named as New Zealand's oldest working TV set.
The DIY kitset TV from Hokitika appeared on Breakfast on TV One in June 2011. It had been assembled by the late Winston Reynolds, a former mayor of Hokitika, and was donated to the Hokitika Museum.
The Going Digital Search for the Oldest Telly was launched to demonstrate that New Zealanders don't need a new set to go digital.
Almost any TV, no matter its age, can go digital with the help of a set-top box. However, if you have decided that you want to buy a new TV, and you're not passing your old set on to friends or family, it's a good idea to dispose of your old TV responsibly.
This is because old TVs contain hazardous substances such as lead, and older models may contain barium, which can harm the environment.
The best way to minimise the environmental harm from the disposal of old TVs is to take your equipment to a reputable, specialist e-waste recycler.
The Ministry for the Environment's TV TakeBack Campaign has been created to boost TV recycling services in New Zealand. You can find out more at tvtakeback.govt.nz. Alternatively, contact your local council or specialist e-waste recycler to find out what recycling services are available in your region.
Going digital also affects second television sets, video recorders and some DVD recorders. While you will still be able to play tapes and DVDs on your old equipment, if you want to record with it, it will need to go digital.
If recording programmes is important to you, you may wish to consider a new digital personal video recorder (PVR), which is designed to work with digital TV. These also act as a set-top box for your main TV.
A Targeted Assistance Package is available, and is aimed at those groups most likely to face the greatest financial and technical barriers in going digital. The package is eligible to those who have only analogue TV and who are either:
Aged 75 and over, with a Community Services Card; or
Recipients of a veteran's pension or invalid's benefit; or
Former veteran's pension and invalid's benefit recipients who transferred to New Zealand Superannuation at age 65 or over.
We estimate that up to 58,000 households will benefit from the package, and we have written to everyone in the South Island who might qualify to let them know about it, and how to apply.
If you think you may be eligible but have not received a letter, you can use the freephone helpline, 0800 838 800.
Going Digital has a comprehensive website, goingdigital.co.nz, which tells you exactly what you need to do to go digital, simply by entering your address.
Going Digital's freephone helpline (answered here in Christchurch) is available to help people get the information and advice they need about switching to digital TV.
Alternatively, you can ask your appliance retailer for advice and information on what is the best option for you.
In addition, over the next 100 days, Going Digital advisers will be out and about throughout Canterbury, chatting with people and discussing what needs to be done to make sure everyone can keep watching TV.
Whichever way you look at it, if you're confused and need information, there's a lot of advice out there to help you go digital - all you have to do is ask.
Greg Harford is the national manager of Going Digital, the Government's information campaign to make New Zealanders aware of the move to digital television.
- The Press