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Berlin’s TV Goes Digital

The days of adjusting the antenna on the TV set to get a clearer picture are over -- in Berlin at least. The capital and surrounding state of Brandenburg have switched over exclusively to digital TV.


Look, no antenna!

Monday morning at 7:59, Berlin said good-bye to analog television broadcasting. It wasn’t a bittersweet, prolonged parting. In fact, most people didn’t notice a thing. But starting at 8:00 a.m., broadcast television in Berlin and Brandenburg became a purely digital matter, with a sharper, more stable picture and a channel choice that jumped from 12 to 21.

The Berlin-Brandenburg region is Europe’s first television broadcasting area to go completely digital.

Since most televisions cannot read digital signals on their own, households without cable or satellite reception had to purchase so-called “set-top boxes” to take advantage of the technology. In fact, the purchase of the boxes, which cost between €88 and €279 ($100 and $316) wasn’t optional. Starting Monday morning, viewers of analog sets who had put off buying the decoder found only blank screens.

However, blank screens were in the minority, according to Susanne Grams, spokeswoman with the Berlin-Brandenburg Media Authority. Of the 170,000 households who depended on analog broadcasting for their television reception, some 150,000 had bought the set-top decoders before Monday's changeover.

The Future of TV

The advantages of digital television, or DVB-T (digital video broadcasting – terrestrial) are many, according to proponents. Having to deal with blurry pictures, “snow,” or “ghost” images on the screen while watching your favorite sitcom will be a thing of the past.

“For relatively low investment, you can get digital quality television in your home,” Wilfried Runde, DW-WORLD's expert for multimedia, explained. Once the decoder has been purchased, unlike cable, there are no monthly costs. A small antenna about the size of a pencil gives viewers access to 21 television channels and 11 radio stations with significantly improved sound and picture quality.

DVB-T also breaks the analog chains that have limited the reach of television until now. Digital TV backers say its primary advantage is its ability to be received theoretically anywhere, in the car or even on handheld devices such as Palm Pilots. With the widespread adoption of digital television technology, analysts say it is only a matter of time before television pictures start popping up on PCs, mobile phones or even wristwatches.

“We will start seeing the possibility of personalized TV offered on mobile devices,” said Runde, who is working on ways for DW-WORLD to integrate television into websites. “We will see the advent of new hybrid models that will connect television with other information sources.”

Coming to a TV near you

Berlin won’t be the only digital TV area in Germany for long. Next year the federal states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and North Rhine-Westphalia will be following in Berlin’s footsteps and doing away with analog broadcasting. The old technology’s days in Germany are numbered. The country’s parliament decided that analog broadcasting should be completely replaced by its digital successor by no later than 2010.

Germany is a European leader in digital broadcasting, but not the only player on the block. Finland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain have also made inroads in the transition to digital TV, as have Singapore and Australia outside of Europe. France, Italy and Switzerland are currently planning their own DVB-T programs.