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Chris Llana, Editor


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Sweden Goes Digital Early, One City at a Time

June 29, 2005

Sweden is leading Europe in the transition to digital TV, with analog broadcasts being shut down as early as this September. Instead of setting a single date for the whole country, Sweden is making the switch in small increments.

The process will be complete by January 31, 2008, almost a year before the U.S. will break with analog.

Sweden's task is made simpler because there are only three analog broadcast channels in the country. Between five and seven digital channels can be added using the spectrum required for one analog channel. That efficiency was one of the main motivations for the switch to digital in the first place.

Swedish broadcasters, like their U.S. counterparts, have been broadcasting separate analog and digital signals. The high cost of running two parallel systems was one of the factors in the decision to shut down the analog channels early.

Fewer than 25% of Swedes get their TV programming over the air; the rest rely on cable and satellite service. The new digital broadcast channels for the time being appear to be standard definition, although since Sweden has used the European analog PAL TV standard, their standard-def is 625 lines per frame, significantly better than the U.S. NTSC standard.

Prices for digital-to-analog converter boxes will start at less than 1000 SEK ($128) for accessing free channels. More sophisticated models, with more features and accommodating a program card, will cost more.

The first city to convert is Gotland (Sept 19, 2005), then Gavle (October 10), and then Motala (November 21). The three cities are in different parts of the country.

Analog transmitters in other parts of Sweden will be powered down during 2006 and 2007. Stockholm will bid goodbye to its analog channels in March 2007.

Sweden's Digital TV Commission has put out a 3-page educational piece to help Swedes make the transition. Click here for an English-language version (pdf file). It begins:

Sweden is converting to digital television!
Is your television ready?

It provides basic information about the transition in clear language, with important information repeated throughout the document.

Because most people relying on over-the-air broadcasts will need a converter box, it focuses on that. It describes specific circumstances when telling people whether they will need a converter box: Have an aerial? Live in a house or apartment? Cable or satellite?

An FAQ section answers common questions. Topics include recording programs with a converter box, need to buy a new TV, need for a new antenna, etc.

At the end of the piece, a checklist repeats the basics: TV, box, coverage, channel selection. If there are still questions, a web site address and telephone number are provided.