What is DVB-T2 & Why Should I Care?

What is Digital TV & DVB-T2?

Major TV brands, like Samsung, LG, Panasonic, and Sony all have TVs with a built-in DVB-T2 tuner. 


What is Digital TV & DVB-T2?

With content these days being produced in digital format, the move to digital terrestrial television (i.e., digital TV) from the decades-old analog TV standard makes sense. For end users, it allows you to get sharper images (e.g., HD formats up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels) and wide screen formats (e.g., 16:9), compared to the 720 x 576-pixel resolution and 4:3 aspect ratio limits that analog TV has. With digital TV, it’s also possible to enjoy better sound quality (e.g., surround sound; if the content supports it, and you’ve the correct equipment), multi-language subtitles, and electronic program guides (EPGs).

Digital TV benefits the industry too, as it helps to alleviate the spectrum crunch (a bit). This is because digital broadcasting requires fewer frequencies than analog broadcasting. The freed up spectrum can then be put to other uses like wireless broadband services.

Short for ‘Digital Video Broadcasting - Second Generation Terrestrial’, this ‘DVB-T2’ term that you’ve been hearing and seeing frequently these days is simply the latest broadcast transmission standard for digital TV. Adopted by many European and Asian countries (including Singapore), it offers higher bitrate compared to its predecessor, DVB-T, thus making it more suitable for transporting HDTV signals.

In truth, the decision to switch to digital broadcasting in Singapore is really old news. As early as June 2012, the Media Development Authority (MDA) has announced that local free-to-air (FTA) channels will go fully digital by the end of 2013. And true enough, MediaCorp has been transmitting all its FTA channels in digital format using the DVB-T2 standard since December 16, 2013. This is the main reason why you’re hearing more (ever noticed those posters at bus stops and major electronics stores?) about digital TV and DVB-T2 these days: they’re already here.

Beyond Singapore, ASEAN countries have also agreed to switch over to digital TV between 2015 and 2020.

Singapore DVB-T2 transmission frequencies and signal bandwidths. (Source: IDA/MDA DVB-T2 IRD TS.) 


So, Must I Buy a New TV Now?

In short: no. While it’s already possible to get island-wide outdoor reception of MediaCorp’s digital TV signals, the broadcaster is still progressively rolling out indoor reception for residential homes, which it expects to continue up to 2016. So until then (or 2020 at the very latest), analog TV signals are still being broadcast alongside digital TV signals.

That said, there’s no harm adopting digital TV early. All seven MediaCorp channels are already being broadcast in digital format, with four of them - Channel 5, Channel 8, Suria and Vasantham - available in HD. Channel NewsAsia, Channel U, and Okto will go HD by 2016.

Of course, when the rollout is completed, there will come a time these analog signals will be taken off the air totally. By then, if you still don’t have the appropriate equipment to receive digital TV, you will not be able to watch any MediaCorp TV channels. In other words, there’s no escaping digital TV.

MediaCorp's digital TV broadcast rollout map. (Image source: MediaCorp.)


Is My Estate Covered?

If you’re indoors, check if your area is able to receive digital TV signals. As of now, residential homes in Bukit Batok, Jurong East, and Ang Mo Kio are covered. Bukit Timah and Clementi are next. (Update: As of 30 June, 2014, Bukit Timah and Clement residents can also receive digital TV.) When your estate is ready, you will also see posters being put up around the estate.

For other estates who aren’t under the coverage yet, you can get digital TV signals if you use an outdoor antenna.


OK, I’m Ready. What Do I Need to Buy?

First of all, if you’re a pay TV subscriber (e.g., SingTel MioTV, StarHub TV), you’re all set. The respective set-top box that you’re using with your pay TV service already allows you to watch MediaCorp channels in digital format. However, if you’ve an SD set-top box, you may want to upgrade to an HD-capable one in order to watch the HD channels. (By the way, StarHub sends DVB-C signals.)

For free-to-air or over-the-air channels (i.e., you aren’t a pay TV subscriber), there are a couple of ways to receive digital TV:


1. Get a DVB-T2 Set-top Box & an Indoor/Outdoor Antenna

An IDA/MDA-approved DVB-T2 set-top box (the Draco HDT2-7300) can be found at major electronic stores and it's usually bundled with an indoor antenna. The cost is around S$129.

There are also many enthusiasts who source their own set-top box/antenna (some even went as far as to DIY their own antenna). One of the main reasons is to save cost. For example, a China-made DVB-T2 set-top box can often be had for around S$50. Of course, there’s always the risk of compatibility, warranty, and even safety issues if you decide to go down this path. So, you’ve been warned.

Also, if you’ve multiple TVs in your house, you need to get a set-top box/antenna combo for each TV set.

(Image source: Skycom Satellite Systems website.)


2. Get a TV with Built-in DVB-T2 Tuner & an Antenna

Your existing TV may be compatible with DVB-T, but not DVB-T2. A simple way to know that is when you see that it receives Channel 5 in HD (which is broadcast in both DVB-T and DVB-T2 currently), but not Channel 8, Suria, and Vasantham in HD (because they’re broadcast in DVB-T2 only).

TVs with an integrated DVB-T2 tuner (a.k.a. IDTVs) are already in the market since mid 2013. For a start, you can refer to MDA’s list of such set-top boxes and IDTVs. For TVs especially, this list may not be comprehensive, since there are always new models being launched. To know about the latest models, you can keep your eyes peeled on HardwareZone, or check out our very active forums. Remember, you still need an antenna, because the HDB rooftop master antenna can't be used for receiving digital signals. And in case you're wondering, it's no use connecting to the StarHub TV cable point either, since it sends analog and DVB-C signals meant for StarHub's set-top boxes. Regarding digital indoor antennas, the Daiyo EU1702 is well regarded by our forum members.

The Daiyo EU1702 indoor antenna can be found in megastores like Best Denki and Courts.


What Else Must I Take Note Of?

Whether you’re buying a set-top box or IDTV, there are two labels to look out for. Either one of these labels indicates that the product complies with Singapore’s receiver specifications, and is suitable for use to receive MediaCorp’s digital channels.

If you see this label, it means that the product supports Singapore’s DVB-T2 channels in stereo sound.

If you see this label, it means that the product supports Singapore’s DVB-T2 channels in surround sound. Of course, to enjoy surround sound, you also need the correct equipment, such as a home theater system with surround speakers.

To help low income households transition to digital TV, there’s also an assistance scheme available, and this will kick off in September this year. More information on eligibility criteria and application procedure can be found on MDA’s website. MediaCorp also has a very thorough introduction to digital TV and DVB-T2 should you want to learn more outside of this article. Have more questions or want to share your experiences? You know where to head to.