By | June 6, 2001 | Feature

Former Channel 5 CEO David Elstein has roundly condemned current UK thinking on the analogue switch-off date, which will take place when 95 per cent of homes have converted to at least one TV set and is in his view flawed. He has also criticised the around GBP100 million (E167m) a year being wasted by duplicating analogue and digital simulcasts of the same channel by stating that “if you cannot get a rapid switch over then you could be running parallel signals for decades. So, 20 years of transmission means a GBP2 billion transmission bill primarily for simulcasting”.

Elstein also questions how UK DTT outfit ONdigital, shortly to be rebranded ITV Digital, can compete when faced with the programming diversity from satellite and cable. “If people want to invest in DTT then good luck to them, but what you cannot do is promise analogue switch off. And it is equally difficult to run a business, as ONdigital is finding, based on the prospects of an analogue switch off because the City eventually works out that [switch off] isn’t going to happen quickly. You cannot cheat the consumer by switching off analogue before ensuring that every TV and VCR has been converted to digital. The notion that you can switch off analogue when 95 per cent of homes have just one set converted for digital is nonsense because of multiple sets and videos”.

Elstein is now chairman of XTC, which is developing a potential solution to the problem, namely an ultra low-cost set-top box that will retail at below $30 (E35.4). XTC’s technology calls for broadcasters to insert XTC data into the null packets of the transmission stream. “Our device, which we call a Virtual Hard Drive, means that provided the signal reaches the home then anyone can upgrade their analogue set [or VCR] exceptionally cheaply”.

Elstein adds that his new box will also deliver interactivity and the enhanced TV services that are in the broadcast signal. Besides being ” the ideal analogue to digital bridge in all technologies”, it will be “particularly useful to DTT because a large component of the DTT mix. The BBC just wants free-to-air applications and is not looking for smart card-driven complexity. They are immensely interested in it”.

XTC will be demonstrated at IBC this autumn and, says Elstein, is available for licensing “immediately”. Furthermore, it will have just as much validity for satellite as for cable operators.

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