The television transformation

by Peter Griffin / 30 November, 2013
Analogue TV was switched off at 2am on Sunday morning; Peter Griffin outlines the options.
It really will be the end of an era come December 1 when analogue TV services cease in New Zealand, but one I’m more than happy to see the back of.

The switch to digital is the biggest technological transformation of our lives. Distributing content as a stream of ones and zeros – tiny bits of data – is making content more accessible than ever. We have witnessed the advent of high-definition quality, video time-shifting and movie downloads all thanks to digital.

The end of an era for analogue TV. Image/Thinkstock

The Government has already auctioned off the airwaves that for decades have carried our TV signals, netting a cool $176 million in the process. The buyers – Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees – will use the freed-up radio spectrum to provide 4G mobile services.

If you don’t want to be left staring at a blank screen over Christmas, you had better move now if you haven’t already. That’s because going digital may require a technician to climb onto your roof to put up an aerial. Digital TV is mainly received two ways in New Zealand – via a satellite dish and via a UHF (ultra high frequency) aerial. Some Vodafone customers get TV over their broadband connection, a sign of things to come.

Sky subscribers are already digital-ready, but if you are watching free-to-air TV and are not on the Freeview service, you’ll need to switch to it. Installation will cost about $275. Check the Freeview site to see which method is best for you; UHF doesn’t reach all regions, but it delivers crisp high-definition pictures, so you’ll want to connect that way if you can. Satellite Freeview transmits in standard definition but is available everywhere in the country.

A bare-bones Freeview receiver costs $79. A MyFreeview HD recorder will set you back about $350 but has the added bonus of letting you record TV shows. These devices can be plugged into any type of TV, but to get the high-definition picture that Freeview users connecting to the UHF service enjoy, you’ll need a newer TV that can handle HD.

Many new flat-screen TVs come with a Freeview tuner built-in, and some offer a recording feature too, saving you the hassle of plugging in a separate box.

After a dismal start, the Sky TV-TVNZ Igloo box seems to be getting some traction now that the price has been slashed to $89. Internet provider Slingshot is giving it away with selected broadband plans.

If you can, choose Freeview via a UHF aerial rather than a satellite. Image/Thinkstock

The nice thing about Igloo is that it lets you subscribe to Sky on a pay-as-you-go plan – 11 channels for $25 a month or get Freeview for no cost at all. The box is technically inferior to MySky – there is a recording function but no hard drive to record to, so you’ll have to plug in a USB drive.

For those cutting the cord with Sky TV or Freeview, an increasing amount of live TV is streamed over the internet. Current affairs programmes such as One News and 3News live stream their news programmes. TVNZ on Demand puts most of its flagship shows on the internet, including classics like Coronation Street and Country Calendar.

An app is available for the iPhone and iPad, with a separate app for One News. There’s a dedicated app for Samsung TVs that is pretty slick.

TV3’s on-demand library is less fulsome and there is no app to enhance the viewing experience on mobile devices and smart TVs. But the big titles are there for catch-up viewing.

Maori TV puts a large amount of content on its website, and services such as Quickflix offer movie downloads for a fee. A lack of live TV news via the internet is the drawback.

Whether you are willing to pay for the luxury of MySky or just want basic free TV via a cheap receiver, the technical options for receiving TV are pretty decent in New Zealand, even if the content line-up doesn’t always meet our expectations. There’s not much digital can do on that front other than give us more channels to choose from.

Go to for a switch-over guide.

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