StarHub pay-TV goes fully digital

February 17th, 2009 | by Alfred Siew

The writing’s been on the wall, but StarHub is finally going to turn off its analog cable TV channels and go fully digital from June 30, 2009.

Already, 96 per cent of its cable customers are on digital – a result of switching over customers since 2004, when the first digital set-top boxes went out to homes.

Over the years, StarHub’s mostly used the “carrot” rather than “stick” to encourage homes to go digital. New programmes were offered on its digital tiers, and when old analog boxes went bonkers, subscribers were encouraged to switch to the digital boxes.

Then, there were stuff like the Hubstation, essentially a digital set-top box rolled in with a video recorder, free phone line and 1Mbps broadband. Why would you want an analog box that has been around since 1995?

I actually think digital TV hadn’t come fast enough.

It means you can get:
1) EPG (electronic programme guide) that tells you what’s coming up next – drives me crazy when I watch TV in hotels without EPG
2) More TV channels (because the operator can now squeeze more digital channels over a cable than regular analog channels, which take up more bandwidth)
3) Interactive stuff, like scores from other matches during live EPL matches (yes, I use that!)

Now, the bigger problem for Singapore is with free-to-air TV (SingTel’s mioTV is digital at start). How do you convert the rest of homes now to digital?

Folks from MDA had previously told me that this will be done gradually, possibly over the next few years and they are not mandating that Mediacorp come up with a timeline, as the FCC in America has for broadcasters there.

The problem with free-to-air is that most TVs – and that probably include that new LCD you just bought – do not have digital TV receivers built in. This means you have to buy a separate set-top box and plug into your TV.

In the US, this has meant the government doling out coupons to homes to buy these set-top boxes. There’s also the headache of helping these folks plug in their TVs correctly.

With these tough times, I don’t see that happening soon here. But I sure hope the airwaves will soon be used in a better way than to broadcast stuff that is taking up more space in the air than they need.

Meanwhile, for StarHub customers, the cable operator is offering this:

To ease the transition from analogue to digital, customers will enjoy a $2 ($2.14 with GST) waiver off their monthly Digital set-top box rental fee for a period of six months for each Analogue set-top box that is upgraded to a Digital set-top box.

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