Changes in TV technology may trump new format

The transition from analog to digital television has already begun in Costa Rica. But there are several questions still left unanswered by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. And the technological landscape may change so quickly that answers today may not be valid in a few years.

A long-awaited reply from the ministry said that regardless of the premature problems the country’s change to digital transmission will happen in 2017. Marcos Arroyo, vice-minister of Telecomunicaciones, in an email message, said that the country isn’t ready for the digital transition. The entire country is supposed to run on a digital format only in 2017. That gives five years for Costa Ricans still getting shows out of the air to either buy a new television that is compatible to the new Japanese format, ISDB-T, or purchase a digital cable adaptor known as a set top box. The Subcomisión de Solidaridad, a commission from the ministry created to help the transition electronically, said the adaptors will be available in the country in the middle of this year. There is no specific date.

As far as commercial stores Monge, Gollo, and La Curaçao are not prepared for the change. One presumed television specialist at a La Curaçao in downtown San José said residents had five years to worry about that change, so the store had the televisions that they had and that was it. Workers at the electronic stores are not educated about the change. All they know is that there is a five-year deadline.

As for the differences in price, there was no answer provided by the vice minister. Arroyo replied the cost of the change was going to be broken into two parts. One, a television programmer is going to have to make an economic investment to have the new technology. And second, the mandatory update or replacement of the television to receive the new transmission will depend on the investment made.

The benefit of digital-ready television is a better quality of video and audio. With the new format, all programming will be in high definition. And digital television will reduce electric consumption as the digital format requires far less power.
The government’s approach applies only to television signals that are transmitted over the air. Many cable users already have translator boxes that make their older analog television set compatible with digital signals carried by cable. Other cable users have digital-ready televisions, although probably not using the Japanese format.

President Laura Chinchilla welcomed the change to digital transmission by Canal 13 of the Sistema Nacional de Radio y Television in late March and announced that the government transmitter was the first to use the Japanese-Brazilian digital format.

North American sets use the Advanced Television Systems Committee standards or ATSC. The Japanese-Brazilian system is called ISDB.Tb.

Ms. Chinchilla negotiated a grant from the Japanese to obtain the equipment for the Canal 13 transmissions. A committee had been set up to study the various digital systems and pick one for the country. Former president Oscar Arias Sánchez issued a decree in 2010 adopting the Japanese-Brazilian system.

Despite the government’s pronouncements, there has been little explanation of what it would mean to the average citizen. There also is the possibility that by 2017 there will be far fewer television signals broadcast over the air because many stations will be available on a more flexible Internet with broader capabilities. Internet broadcasts is much less expensive than sending high-power signals over the air. There are thousands of Internet radio stations that only broadcast that way.

Local commercial television stations are now broadcasting news and some sports via the Internet, although the signal is sometimes spotty. Services like iTunes and YouTube have full movies available for viewing, as do other commercial services. The wireless Apple TV, which is available in Costa Rica, used a high-definition multimedia interface that is compatible with most digital television sets and also computer monitors.

Residents here who have a cable connection and a computer with a large-screen monitor will not have to worry about any changes in the format of commercial television broadcast formats.

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