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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Digital switch-over waste and Lessons not learned

Anyone want a free TV, exactly 5 years old, good working order?

What, Freeview? No, sorry.

Thought not.  It's hard to believe that 5 years ago when this TV was bought it was impossible to buy a reasonably-priced* integrated digital TV, despite the legislative wheels towards digital switch-over set in motion nearly a decade earlier with the Broadcasting Act 1996.

To be fair it wasn't until 1999 that parliament was informed of the Government's intention to switch off the old analogue signal... Still, this was 6 full years before this particular TV was purchased.

Given the original target switch-over date of 2010 one might have thought that manufacturers might by 2005 be offering a future-proof telly?

Without being over-cynical, why should they?  This is their chance to sell two TVs instead of one.

All this is rather ironic as it overlaps with attempts at the European Commission to reduce harmful electronic waste in landfill (WEEE - Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) dating back to 2002.

To add insult to injury the reason we need a new telly is because the Freeview receiver box, purchased at the same time as the TV, fried itself.  Knowing a bit about electronics I dissected the device and found a rather old design dating back to the dinosaurs.

The receiver ran hot, even when on standby, due to reliance on an internal inductive transformer as a power source, rather than the more modern and far more efficient "switched mode" power supplies which have been around for a good few years.  Manufacturers cutting corners. Yet more waste.

And now we're in danger of repeating past mistakes.  Last year two family members bought new cars.  Guess how many have integral DAB radios?  That's right.

Radio and car manufacturers are continuing as the TV manufacturers did.  Not only that, but consumer demand for digital radio is muted by the poor quality of the signal in many areas.  Even when a good signal is available, Hi-Fi enthusiasts argue that regulators went for quantity over quality when deciding on the technology to deliver digital radio.

In fact anyone watching football or any other event where many objects move about the screen simultaneously may see that the technology chosen for digital TV isn't that great from a quality perspective, hence the move towards high definition; further equipment upgrades and more electronic waste.

Yes, HD is better than standard definition, but for me HD solves a fundamental problem with Freeview in that not enough bandwidth was allocated for some types of programming - although broadcasters and notably the BBC have taken steps to solve this through various advancements.

The digital switch-over has been and continues to be a wasteful disaster, damaging to the environment and wallet alike.


* - From memory, TV and digi-box combined cost around £110 compared to £240 for cheapest integrated digital TV.


  1. People complain about the cost of separates when it gives them the freedom to avoid monopoly and then complain about being locked in when it gives them cheap.

    People are idiots, I am starting to realise this now. And I fully include myself in that.

    What's wrong with enjoying the new technology instead of finding every which way to show it as a bad thing. Technology has given us so much which we have never had before. I owe my life and my livelyhood to it.

  2. It's the lack of foresight that gets me. Even 10 years ago we all knew we were going digital and despite questions over the chosen technology it was pretty much decided - in law - what the future was going to be.

    In many cases digital waste is a by-product of innovation, but not here. Not when the technological decisions have already been made by parliament.

    I'm not a Catholic but I'm somehow riddled with guilt about waste. That's why I hang on to so much tat!

  3. You make a good point about companies putting profit before waste but I'm not sure TVs are the best example.

    Your picture is of an old "tube", digital or not I guess you'd want a flat screen by now anyway.

    Flat or tube aside, I think 5 years is pretty much half the expected life of a TV anyway, so you're arguing the toss after getting half the expected life out of your set. Add to that many folks refresh their gadgets on a regular cycle anyway I think holding the digital switchover to account is stretching it... A lot.

    You'd be far better to focus on printers and other computer equipment sold at a knock-down rate in order to sell over-priced consumables. Surely that's a bigger contributor to electronic waste than a TV.


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