Uganda’s Digital TV migration – Set-Top Box Industry

June 4, 2015

Since the beginning of television broadcasts, programs have been transmitted using the analog signal. In the past decade, the advent of digital technology has allowed programmers to deliver more channels, better picture and sound, and electronic programming guides, among other improvements. Importantly, the switch on June 17th 2015 will allow Ugandan governments to free up the analog spectrum for sale to mobile phone operators and internet service providers.Back in the mid-2000s Ugandan government guaranteed a common standard for Set-top Boxes.According to Uganda Communication Commission report on digital migration two years ago, STB is an infrastructure technology and should not be used to create a monopoly.The regulator’s argument then was to have one single signal distributor.In nutshell, that represents the information highway gateway to interactive services over broadcasting technologies (free-to-air TV like NTV-Uganda, UBC, NBS, WBS, Bukkedde, cable TV like Zuku and satellite TV like DSTV, AZAM, Star Times), yet there is still no common standard.A significant proportion of flat screen plasma and LCD televisions sold in Uganda are now built in digital Free To Air tuners, removing the need to have a separate digital Free To Air Set Top Boxes.”A good analog signal is no guarantee of a good digital signal,” says Richard Tomusange, a student researching on digital migration in Uganda.

”It’s worth borrowing a digital set-top box to test a digital signal strength in Luweero, so you’ll know in advance if you should get advice from a local antenna specialist before making a purchase.’’ he added.In my home town of Mbarara’’If you run into interference issues, with the picture freezing, one has to upgrade aerial cable to remove unnecessary signal splitters. Sometimes these changes alone are enough to fix the problem.”High-definition set-top boxes are slightly more expensive in Ugandan market than standard-definition boxes, but Tomusange told me it’s worth the extra money to gain access to the five additional HD digital channels. If you don’t yet own an HD television, an HD set-top box can downscale these channels for old television. This way Ugandans can still watch the HD channels but they won’t look any sharper than the others.A cheap HD digital set-top box is the easiest way to prepare for the jump to digital TV in Uganda. Looking for a digital set-top box with an antenna output as well as input,so that viewers can loop the aerial signal through the box to their television.

A digital set-top box will plug into an old television’s composite or component video inputs, just like a DVD player.’’Now to watch digital television in Uganda, viewers have to turn the television to the AV channel, a concept people should already grasp if they own a VCR. They can keep their old VCR for watching programs they’ve recorded previously, or watching movies they’ve purchased on tape, but the VCR won’t be able to watch or record the digital channels like UBC, Urban Tv or NTV Uganda.’’ I spoke to an engineer working with Chinese owned Star Times, one of the most dominant STB market player and he revealed to me that if a viewer is running out of video inputs on the television, an AV switch allows to plug several devices into the one video input and choose between them.If the television set is so old that it only features an aerial socket, then Ugandans will need to look for a digital set-top box with a built-in RF modulator which sends the digital channels to the television through the aerial cable.He added that some set-top boxes feature an aerial output but lack an RF modulator, so Ugandans need to be vigilant. Alternatively Ugandans migrating to digital Tv can use a VCR as the middleman, plugging the set-top box into the VCR’s video inputs and then the VCR into the television’s aerial socket.With the digital set-top box running through a VCR, it is possible to record the digital channels, but it’s a rather cumbersome workaround.

It’s easier to upgrade to a digital video recorder with a built-in hard drive, known as a personal video recorder(PVR). PVRs can perform impressive tricks such as pausing live digital television, recording several shows at once and even allowing a viewer to watch the start of a movie while still recording the end.The downside of PVRs is that they tend to be more complicated than old VCRs, with their time-bending abilities presenting a steep learning curve for some. Some selected PVRs such as the one offered by Multi-choice Uganda operating under the DSTV brand, require a constant internet connection in order to download to the program guide and aren’t suit people without broadband access to their room.However, DTSV does offer other PVRs that have capability to extract the program guide from the broadcast signal.Thankfully many set-top boxes and digital televisions can record digital broadcasts to an external USB hard drive. Ugandans sacrificing the bells and whistles of a dedicated PVR, USB drive could be a handy first step for homes looking to bring their lounge room into the digital age as migration deadline looms this month.

Contador Harrison