What is digital terrestrial television. Picture: City Press
The functionality and capabilities of the Government subsidised DTT Set-Top- Box/decoder (STB) has been a subject of idle criticism for a while, with self-proclaimed ICT punters calling it a grey box and some calling it a dummy box.
This is unfortunate, especially considering that these 30% of the components for these set-top-boxes have been manufactured locally, thus giving the country’s electronic manufacturing sector a much-needed boost.
More so, these set-top-boxes are put together as per the National Compulsory South African Standard SANS862, published by the South African Bureau of Standards. In order to trade in Digital Terrestrial Television, Free-to-Air Set-Top-Boxes in South Africa, they need to be approved by the South African Bureau of Standards.
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The fact is that these STB’s have built-in capabilities and are architecturally equipped for other applications. This further gives an opportunity for developers to write applications that will add more value to the already existing digital broadcast service.
Gone are the days of poor quality, snowy pictures. One of the capabilities of the box is the ability to display high definition pictures with capabilities of copy protection to eliminate content piracy. With that protection in place, any attempts to copy content from STB to a secondary device will be futile.
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These STB’s do not prohibit any manufacturer from adding additional features, such as PVR etc. to the minimum specification if they wish to do so. It is worth noting that these STB would also be able to receive the existing free-to-air channels, plus all the new free-to-air channels.
Perhaps what’s very profound about this transition is that digital viewing will not be limited to the higher income households. It is for this reason that the government has deemed it necessary to mandate an electronic programme guide (EPG), which also includes an eight day programme schedule for each channel. Now the beneficiaries of these STBs can plan their viewing better.
The device allows for PIN protected parental guidance levels. This means that parents can limit the viewing for unsuitable content to children based on age restriction control available on the decoder. A very important feature allows broadcasters to cater for people living with disabilities.
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This is done via closed captioning that will benefit people who are hard-of-hearing, and audio descriptors for visually impaired individuals. All this was not possible on analogue television. Now thousands of South Africans with hearing and visual challenges will be able to enjoy the benefits of government’s subsidised STB’s.
Is this dummy box? You be the judge.
*Mish Molakeng is the spokesperson for the Department of Communications.