Older people in Northern Ireland have nothing to fear from next year’s digital switchover, it was claimed last night.
Leading local charities were speaking after it emerged the old analogue television signal will be switched off for good from October 24, 2012.
It will be replaced by a stronger Freeview signal that reaches almost all households here, including half-a-million viewers who currently can’t receive it.
Anyone who hasn’t upgraded their television sets by then will have no access to the five standard terrestrial stations, or any of the potential 45 others.
It is thought that around 10,000 elderly homes are among the 79,000 to 100,000 houses which still tune in the traditional way, and must now switch to Freeview, cable or satellite or face a blank screen.
Age NI last night quickly moved to allay any fears surrounding the technological changeover.
“Obviously there are some elderly members of our society who may be nervous or a bit anxious about the digital TV programme,” said a spokeswoman.
“We recognise that and Age NI will be working closely with Digital UK to provide all the help and support needed during the switchover.”
As D-Day approaches, BBC Two will disappear from TV screens two weeks ahead of the other stations as a final reminder to viewers. The Republic will be swapping over at the same time as Northern Ireland — whose switch marks the completion of the UK-wide initiative.
Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action chief executive Seamus McAleavey said more vulnerable people, like the elderly, are likely to be apprehensive.
“Whether they are ready for the changeover, or need to take action because they are sitting with an old analogue TV, we understand some senior citizens might be worried because this represents upheaval,” he said.
Denis Wolinski, Digital UK's national manager for Northern Ireland, said it is an exciting time for television in Northern Ireland.
“This announcement paves the way for the end of analogue TV and the dawn of a fully digital age in which everyone can enjoy more channels, more choice and better pictures.”
He said Digital UK will ensure that people know what to do, and that advice and practical support is available to those who need it.
A campaign will begin this spring including roadshows, advertising and an information leaflet sent to every home. A help scheme will be offered to older and disabled people providing support, including equipment and installation.
According to the NIDirect website, about one-in-four UK households cannot get the full range of digital TV services available free through the traditional aerial, while one-in-five UK households cannot get Channel Five through their aerial.
Northern Ireland will be the last region of the UK to be fully switched over to the new signal on October 24, as almost everywhere else is already using digital TV. An estimated 100,000 households will need to change to Freeview, cable or satellite in the next year or face a blank screen.
Anyone over the age of 75, who is eligible for certain benefits, blind or partially sighted, may be entitled to a special BBC switchover scheme. Age NI has said it will be working closely with Digital UK to provide all the help and support needed at this time.
What it all means for the viewer
Q What is happening?
A Northern Ireland is moving to digital-only TV in October 2012, marking the end of the analogue TV era.
The process will mean better pictures and more choice for viewers, with Freeview coverage extending to virtually all homes.
The analogue TV signal will be switched off in two stages.
Stage one: October 10, analogue BBC Two will close and the first group of Freeview digital channels will become available for the first time to thousands of homes watching local ‘relay’ transmitters.
Stage two: October 24, the remaining analogue channels — BBC One, UTV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 — will be switched off forever and replaced with additional TV, radio and text services.
Q Who is affected?
A 650,000 households in Northern Ireland are affected and must be made ready for digital switchover.
Q What do viewers need to do?
A Viewers must ensure that all TVs in their home that they wish to continue watching are capable of receiving a digital signal.
Virtually any TV, even black and white ones, can be converted with a digital box.
Q What are the three main options for going digital?
A Convert your existing TV with a digital set-top box (e.g. Freeview, Top Up TV, BT Vision, which requires a broadband connection).
Get a service like satellite or digital cable TV installed for you (e.g. Sky, Freesat, Virgin Media).
Get a new TV with digital built-in (e.g. Freeview, Freesat).
The postcode checker at digitaluk.co.uk tells viewers which options are available now and after switchover.