This article first appeared in the Home section of The Straits Times, an SPH publication, on 9 March 2013, Saturday.
From next month, consumers will be able to tell from a special label if a new television set can receive new digital TV signals for free-to-air channels.
These digital signals will start transmission from the end of this year.
The new labels are to help consumers buy new TV sets that are "future proof" and therefore enjoy better quality images and new services such as onscreen electronic programme guides.
Announcing this at the Committee of Supply proceedings on Friday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim also said the existing analogue signals will continue to run simultaneously with the new digital ones for at least two more years to ensure sufficient time for households to make the switch.
To receive the new digital signals, viewers will need to pair their existing TV sets with a set-top box, or purchase new generation "Integrated Digital TVs" (IDTVs). Compatible set-top boxes will also carry similar labels as the IDTVs.
Pay TV subscribers will be able to receive the digital broadcasts without buying any extra equipment.
While retailers here are already selling IDTVs, most are not compatible with the new generation digital video broadcasting-terrestrial 2, or DVB-T2, signals which Singapore has adopted.
Compatible ones, which have a built-in tuner to receive the DVB-T2 signals, will be rolled out at major retail outlets here from next month.
Japanese electronics giant Sony, for example, will bring in as many as seven LED IDTV models, with screen sizes between 32 inches and 55 inches. These will be available here by the end of next month and will cost between $900 and $4,000, some $300 to $700 more expensive than regular LED TV sets.
Panasonic will bring in a mix of 13 plasma TV and LED TV models that will be equipped with DVB-T2 digital tuners. The screen sizes will range from 32 inches to 65 inches and they will cost between $800 and $7,000.
Digital transmission lets broadcasters send signals more efficiently, enabling viewers to receive more high-definition channels. They also free up valuable "spectrum" or airwaves for other uses, such as carrying Internet data to smartphones.
With the change, national broadcaster MediaCorp will start delivering more programmes in high-definition (HD), and not just on its current HD 5 English-language channel.
Channel 8, Suria and Vasantham will be in HD format from the year end; Channel U, Channel NewsAsia and okto in 2016.
As 40 per cent of households here are not on a pay TV service, Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad stressed it was important that poorer households are not left behind. Dr Yaacob said that the MDA is already looking at ways to assist them. These plans will be ready by next year.
"It has been 50 years since Mr S. Rajaratnam went on air to launch our television service. It was a momentous occasion for our people," he said. "And it is fitting that this 50th year will herald another milestone in our broadcasting history - going digital."