Norfolk wakes up to digital TV

It was a flick of a switch for engineers, but a new era for TV viewers in 75,000 homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk as the old analogue signal was turned off and replaced by digital transmission.

At midnight, the days of poor TV aerial reception and 'fuzzy' pictures came to an end as the analogue transmitter and mast at the Tacolneston station near Norwich was switched off to be replaced by a new transmitter broadcasting a digital signal, which should produce a much clearer picture for viewers from West Runton to Aldeburgh.

But there was almost a poignant air among the team preparing for the big switchover yesterday as they prepared to turn off power to the 505ft mast and four analogue transmitters which have faithfully provided analogue pictures to homes across the region since 1956.

Bruce Randall, spokesman for telecommunications firm Arqiva, which provides infrastructure and broadcast transmission facilities, said: 'This is the end of an era. This station has been broadcasting analogue pictures for the last 55 years.'

The Norfolk and north Suffolk area is among the last five regions to switch to digital TV since the switchover process began, region by region, in October 2007 when Whitehaven in Cumbria became the first area to change.

London is set to change next year, before Meridian and Tyne Tees and Ulster next autumn.

Each of the four giant transmitters sits in an individual room and provides the picture for one of the TV channels by receiving a signal from the TV studio, which is fed in on a fibre cable and converted into a carrier signal and put through a power amplifier before being fed to the antennae on the mast to be broadcast to the region.

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The signal is boosted by 16 relay stations dotted around Norfolk and north Suffolk.

However, with the new digital system the signal for between six and 10 TV channels can be broadcast in a single data stream, dramatically reducing the amount of equipment needed.

Mr Randall said much more computer hardware is used in the digital server, which was contained in a couple of rooms.

The signal is then sent through giant electrical wires with a copper interior, similar to wires used at home, up to a new 676ft tall mast ready for broadcast to aerials and digital TV boxes which will decode the signal for use by the TV.

The new digital mast was already up-and-running yesterday to ensure there was no loss of pictures during the transfer from analogue to digital.

The Tacolneston transmitter already provides a limited digital service to homes with Freeview boxes, but the signal is expected to be 10 times stronger now that the analogue signal has been switched off.

'It is not just a flick of a switch. The switchover is the culmination of years of planning and hard work,' Mr Randall added.

Peter Monteith, digital manager for Digital UK for the Anglia TV region, said existing digital TV viewers with Freeview boxes could not pick up some channels prior to switchover because the signal was not strong enough.

However, he said this should no longer be the case, although picture quality in some east coast regions such as Yarmouth and Aldeburgh may be affected because of the risk of interference from TV signals from the European continent.

'If you have already got a Freeview box then you will already be used to the picture quality, but if you are experiencing blocking or pixelating of the channels that are coming in then this should go away and you should also be able to access high definition channels.'

The equipment used to produce the analogue signal is set to be either recycled or used as museum pieces; the National Media Museum in Bradford and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London have expressed an interest in taking the transmitters and amplifiers.

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