Various TV related grumbles

7. Cricket on TV (Summer 2001)

 For a change I thought I'd have a peaceful hour or so watching cricket on TV. Of course Channel 4 has cornered the market for test matches on "Free TV" now and when I switched on the set, for a moment or two I thought it was the commercial break... but it wasn't. I could tell because when the real commercial break came on there were fewer adverts than on the broadcast. Right across the middle of the picture was this huge piece of painted grass and when we got a close up of the batsman there was this enormous advertising hoarding across the screen, advertising slogans all over his clothing, and even adverts on the stumps. It's a crying shame we have to put up with this. I guess the cricketers are happy because they presumably get more money and the cricket ground proprietors are happy because they get more money but the long-suffering public have to put up with ugly distracting advertising. I made a mental note not to grace the advertisers with my custom, which was all I could do really... except turn off the cricket which I did a few minutes later. I even thought there was an Indian advert at the back of the wicket but it turned out to be the same as the bowling end but upside-down. Did my eyes deceive me but I thought on one occasion a fast moving ball hit the front of the advert and bounced into the air. The advertisers had saved 4 leg byes!

Do you realise we are paying twice for this sort of stuff.. first for the privilege of watching TV and second in the price of the goods or services being advertised!

The frequency of the cricket commercial breaks is an absolute disgrace. What the broadcasters seem to forget is that to be interrupted by an advert after every single over ruins one's enjoyment of the game. Not to mention the extra loud audio which accompanies the adverts (and which is itself a breach of their guidelines!) but one misses out on the discussion which adds interest to the match. British TV is getting close to that which the long suffering US public have had to endure for years. Over there it is not always easy to distinguish between a program and an advertising break. They often deliberately merged together and breaks may be every five minutes.

Not that a quiet introduction is a bad thing! What really annoys me are the commercuial breaks on ITV during the motor racing which are heralded by an ear-blasting carcophony of noise. Do broadcasters ever watch TV themselves I wonder and see what we have to put up with?

I can't finish this without mentioning Sky TV. During re-broadcasts from the US, subscribers who have been persuaded to part with their cash have to put up, both with the five minute US breaks when the UK commentators have to dream up something very contrived and infinitely boring to say to fill in the gap as well as loads of advertising from Sky themselves.

BBC TV now believes that their viewers want to watch advertising also. Between programs we now have to sit through lots of in-house stuff as if we would feel lost without it. Not only that but we have to suffer the same sort of presentations given to ITV adverts... gravelly voices, mysterious thick regional accents, poor, ungrammatical English and uncouth language.

I re-read this in 2017 and can add that I've noticed more and more BBC people whizz off to foreign climes at the drop of a hat. Loads of free holidays for overpaid reporters and these pseudo-technical entertainers. No doubt each "celebrity" reporter is accompanied by their entourage (sound man, video man, director, directors friend etc etc). Let me say that since 2017 I just couldn't care less.. why.. you may ask? Because I no longer have to pay for a TV license!

21.Digital publicity (Autumn 2001)

 Most of my customers are completely ignorant of their digital TV options. I guess the Sky subscribers know enough to swap their dishes but the non-satellite viewers know nothing about the cost of installing a digital system, and nothing about the digital terrestrial option. Most imagine they need a brand new TV set with the consequent cost of many hundreds of pounds. All those questioned also believe they'd need to subscribe loads of money to Sky. Those to whom I've explained that they don't need to buy a new TV and for £100 they can receive noise free pictures instead of the abyssmal quality of the local Rowridge signals said they'd go and arrange it straight away. Why the lack of clear advice from the two organisations supposedly going all-out to market their services?

Since that Government chap involved with the Digital Switch Over tried to buy a digital TV for the "FREE" channels the other day and found he couldn't, I understand there's going to be a huge publicity campaign to rid the public of their ignorance and push the "Digital Option"! Will the TV shops be flooded with people also unable to purchase a digital TV? Maybe, because certainly around here, one can't receive DTT, the terrestrial option, and to get a "Free" digibox from Sky you need a telephone line... subscription or not! Good news for BT maybe!

A friend told me a neighbour went to the local TV shop last week and ordered a digital terrestrial receiver for On-Digital. The salesman assured him there would be no problem with reception. When it was fitted there was only one multiplex receivable. "Your aerial needs changing", was the retort. Here we use a low band aerial to receive Rowridge from the IOW but the digital multiplexes are scattered all over the band. Rowridge is something like 500kwatt and On-Digital was 5kwatt (unless its crept up a little by now). The new aerial man came and without even trying said reception would be impossible. Presumably the postcode had been misheard or the salesman forgot to ask! I get the free digital channels via satellite. We're getting used to the slightly soft pictures but they may now be better than analogue terrestrial because of patterning on the latter. Is this interference from the Digital Terrestrial channels which are sandwiched between the analogue ones? I know there were plans afoot to increase digital power levels. What annoys me though are the glitches in the digital signal. These happen every few minutes when there's a picture freeze for a frame or so as the amount of picture information exceeds the available capacity of the system. Is this going to be a permanent feature of digital or will it go away when the technology is perfected? I believe there's even a name for it. They are called "artefacts". The dictionary describes an artefact as "Product of human art and workmanship". This doesn't sound right!! I'd say the correct word should be defined as "Product of lack of workmanship". How about the word "Botch" described in my dictionary as "Bungled work". Would you be happy with a car whose engine cut out and restarted every few minutes!


23. "Digital", the latest buzz word (December 2001)
 Not many things annoy me (23 at the last count) but when people describe their products as "digital" it really gets my back up. I mentioned somewhere else about my customer who bought a digital TV and asked me to install it because he couldn't. The "digital" referred to the on-screen display (I think) because it certainly wasn't designed for either digital terrestrial or digital satellite TV. Computer manufacturers are just as bad. Most vendors describe their computer monitors as "digital". Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought the last digital monitors went out with the ark. They were the "EGA" types which followed the old "CGA" things. "VGA" and so-called "SVGA" are analogue monitors. Nearly all the monitors sold these days are SVGA and are supplied via their leads with a number of analogue signals to produce their pictures. The colour drive and sync signals are analogue although these are derived within the graphics card inside the computer box from digital signals. The "digital" refers to the push buttons used to change the brightness etc.!!


28. Digital Interference to Analogue TV (Jan 2002)

 Since I penned the paragraphs below about digital interference I've noticed what appears to be another cranking up of the local digital terestrial power levels. Now we can't receive clear analogue pictures any more. It started with faint patterned cross-hatching but now its a random horizontal noise as well as patterning, which is quite objectionable. Now when the barometric pressure rises and we get a signal lift, it's not interference from French stations which is annoying, it's digital interference. (Jan 2002)

Now here's something I bet many of you didn't realise.

When Digital Terrestrial transmissions started the broadcasters' technical people realised that there wasn't enough spectrum space to properly support the simultaneous transmission of the two standards.

The compromise was to use the spaces in between analogue station channels in which to place the digital multiplexes. Because this space had always been considered a "guard" space the power allowed for digital was severely restricted.

Some digital power levels are therefore a little on the low side and a new and better aerial system is often needed to resolve stable pictures.

It has now been realised that insufficient coverage is possible with the low powers being used. Many people trying out digital cannot receive the lower power multiplexes although they can receive the stronger ones located well away from the analogue stations.

This is a vital point for the politicians. Without good digital coverage they cannot close analogue transmissions, sell off the spectrum, reduce our taxes and of course keep their well-paid jobs.

What can they do? The answer of course is to increase the power of the multiplexes so they are all the same. Then anyone receiving some should receive them all. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT IS NOW HAPPENING.

Simple! Hang on though: If the technical people thought there was a problem a year ago how come it has suddenly evaporated?

It hasn't. The new policy is this: If anyone gets interference from digital transmissions they will complain about it.

When the level of complaints reaches a certain level, yet to be decided, the digital transmissions will be stepped down again.

What does the interference look like? Can it be confused with the usual UHF propagation quirks prevalent in Summer? To whom do the general public complain? I understand one now has to pay to get a complaint looked into? At what level of interference do we lose our patience and complain?

And what do you do if you are told your aerial is to blame? Buy a new one?

What about the people who buy a digital system, given the higher transmission powers, then suddenly find half their stations disappear overnight?

Who will win the argument? The few members of the analogue viewing public who take the trouble to complain or the multi-million pound company responsible for digital broadcasting?

What about the next step? Crank up digital power another notch or two and if necessary also crank up the complaints thresh-hold. Open a special telephone number for complainants. Play them music while they are waiting for someone to complain to and charge them £1 a minute for the privilege. Easy!

Of course, in general the position will be much like I predicted some time ago; analogue transmissions which were really first class will gradually deteriorate to the point where we shall have to switch to digital to continue watching half decent pictures.


July 2003

 I see what I predicted is happening... our local transmitter on the IOW which serves the South of England is now sending digital pictures to a wider area. Inputting my post-code to the website digital checker now says I can receive digital terrestrial. I wondered why till I checked the transmitter information. 20KWatt is now being pumped out. No wonder all my analogue pictures are marred by an annoying cross-hatch pattern. What used to be crystal clear reception is now absolute rubbish. Like looking at a TV through net curtains. Why did they bother with mathematics when they first did the checks to see if digital coverage in parallel with analogue was possible? No doubt in my mind that On-Digital then ITV digital failed due to the puny transmitter powers allowed under their license conditions. How is it that the BBC led "Free-View" initiative managed to get the transmitter powers cranked up to a level that most people could receive them?

I bought a Free-View box and sure enough all the available digital transmisions rolled in perfectly. See elsewhere for the real reason for buying this box!


34 Digital TV…again (Feb 2002)

 The following has now been superseded. BBC with Sky in tow (or the other way round) has bought the licenses, with the predicted demise of ITV digital. Surely now a monopoly??? Presumably thought not to be so??? How can the new owners' manage when the last one's couldn't? A deal on the transmitter power is in the offing. More power... more coverage. More power... more interference to analogue TV.

Readers of these grumbles may remember my previous notes on digital TV.
Well.. it's eventually happened.

On-Digital not faring too well was taken over by ITV-Digital…..
That must have been a good idea, insofar as the name change went at least, but not in terms of business.

It's all very well ensuring there isn't a monopoly by having two or more providers but there are too many "challenges" in starting a terrestrial digital TV service compared with that offered by satellite.

There are also "challenges" in getting to grips with cable distribution of digital as well.. but that's another story. Wait for the insolvencies and mergers and further insolvencies on that front too.

None of this is helped by having people in charge of policy who are totally ignorant about the technicalities of the matter.
Yesterday (end of April) an important government person (in charge of the whole affair) said, about digital terrestrial TV, "a couple of people are willing to give it a go"…
This was in respect of picking up the pieces of ITV Digital…
"Give it a go" indeed! What an off-hand statement about a multi-billion pound business!

She also explained that one of the problems was "picture quality".
Doesn't this just amplify the fact that the people in charge are totally ignorant, and no doubt, in turn, advised by totally ignorant people?
With digital TV there isn't a question of "picture quality".

A picture is either there or it isn't !

Quality doesn't enter into the equation, except insofar as the digitisation, and we can expect pictures to decline in definition (because picture definition is proportional to how much money the provider is willing .. or can afford .. to pay). Taken to the limit, for those of a mathematical bent. You get a blank screen when the provider has no money!

Improving coverage is the real answer to a successful digital terrestrial TV business, but a dead duck because any extra increase in power of the digital terrestrial signals will just upset peoples' viewing of analogue TV.

It wouldn't be so bad if everyone could be given free set top boxes for all their TV sets and all their VCRs and magically switch to digital terrestrial overnight but unless one can get first class analogue pictures, the truth of the matter is that not everyone can.
Unless you can get photographic quality pictures from analogue you can forget about reliable reception of digital TV so there are always going to be viewers that have to fall back on analogue (or satellite). To this end, plans are on the table for maintaining low power analogue fill-in stations after analogue turn-off.

The answer maybe to switch over to satellite digital TV and forget about using terrestrial broadcasting ?

This being so, the monopoly situation has to be resolved.

Not like it was when Sky were fighting with BSB in the early days though...
Do you recall?

The Competition was using D2MAC, a rare breed of signal, from a satellite high above Brazil, would you believe!

The government obviously thought there was a "level playing field" and essentially by their total ignorance of the technical facts, and their procrastination, handed the whole UK satellite broadcasting concern over to Sky on a plate (or should I say "dish").

What did Sky do with government blessing?

They bought out BSB; and their satellite was sold off to another gullible broadcaster. "Squarials" the pitiful only thing going for BSB all ended up in the bin and many subscribers palmed off with second-hand Sky receivers.

Then they proceeded to capitalize on their monopoly by attempting to close down as much free-to-air satellite competition as they could.
They effectively closed down Screensport on the grounds that there wasn't enough sport, or interest to fill two channels, waited a few minutes and opened up their own second sports channel (and more later!)
Eurosport still holds out on analogue satellite but soon fell into line with a subscription package for digital. Children's Channel became scrambled and Discovery Channel also. Super Channel disappeared and NBC scrambled into a Sky package.

The level-ness aspect of satellite analogue broadcasting as it came to be, is now no different to what's currently happening to digital TV.

I said nearly a year ago that technical people MUST be brought into the equation, not to have their views politicised, but to be listened to in respect of the realities of digital TV.

Sky understand the intricacies very well and they are run by people just as government is run by people.

The difference is that Sky is run by professionals and Government is run by a bunch of amateurs.

I heard today that Channel 5 is now being eyed with interest as suitable for being swallowed up.

To be closed down on the grounds that there are too many channels (or should I say too many channels in the way of universal subscription) ?


35. Are BBC standards going down the drain? (Feb 2002)

 I was watching "24" a few weeks ago on BBC Choice. The thriller series was a gripping set of episodes leaving the hero each week in a particularly nasty situation. The "thrill" bit was therefore taken right to the end of each episode. Suddenly at a pretty tense moment, five minutes from the end, a loud common-sounding female voice shouted over the dialogue that, "Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps was going to start next!". It killed off the tense moment.

I wrote a letter to the Beeb and was eventually rewarded with a sort of apology. "It had been a mistake", I was told. "The said female voice had come on too early".

Not content with mere voice-overs....

Last week, same time.. same programme.. the tense bit at the end had just reached a climax when the picture suddenly twisted around and went into a little box at the bottom left of the screen. In the little box could then be seen (but certainly not read) the final scenes and the credits. Across most of the TV screen was a picture of men being sick with disgusting accompanying noises, together with an announcement about the next programme.

I was a little annoyed. I wrote another letter of complaint to the Beeb.

The following is the reply...

"We take care to ensure that these announcements are done sensitively and tastefully, however, I do recognise that you do not feel this way. Network Directors and Announcers try to do this in such a way that it does not spoil the pleasure of the audience who may be listening to the end sequence of the existing programme, and they are generally achieved within a few seconds. Feedback received through correspondence suggests that the vast majority of viewers and listeners are attuned to this convention and find it a beneficial service."

I ask you, "what is sensitive and tasteful about men vomiting?"

I asked this of the author of the above and did not get a reply.

Who remembers the days when any sort of mistake was accompanied by a message on the screen or a very cringeing and apologetic announcement at the end of the programme? The BBC even had a special booklet telling broadcasters the correct pronunciation of words and bad language was certainly never heard.

Presumably the BBC think that viewers are now perfectly content to put up with the lowest possible standards? You just can't get the staff these days!

And 15 years later in 2017... BBC Musak


37.More Widescreen Rubbish? (Feb 2002)

 A customer brought in his widesreen TV the other day. A very expensive Japanese model.

"It won't come on", was the complaint

I removed the back with its extra speakers and plugged in the set.

It came on when I pressed "1" on the remote control.

The picture was awful.

To be honest I'd just looked at a cheap portable with a nice, sharp, ordinary picture and this was still working next to the digital model.

The widescreen set was blobby. That's the best way I can describe it. Poor definition was the order of the day. Colours were just blobs with no gradations.

There was no picture size setting that looked right other than 4:3 and that only came on in the centre of the screen leaving great black areas at the top and bottom and either side. Admittedly I had a second, ordinary, set on as well and I could see that the people in the pictures weren't supposed to be short and squat, like they were on the widescreen TV.

It's a newish "digital" set. Not just digital numbers that appear when you change channels; the picture is converted to digital form before being converted back to analogue and applied to the tube.

Why convert it to digital when you have to convert it back again?

Well you can freeze the picture. Just like a VCR picture. Very useful. I don't know how we managed for so long without this.

I can't think, offhand, of any other reason other than that rather dubious feature.

Maybe there's some clever design reason why this should be so. Maybe it's connected with the 100Hz scan rate? Less flicker: more blobbyness. I recall reading the first bit in advertisements but not the latter.

Whatever it is does not make up for the abysmal picture definition.

Maybe it's in keeping with digital terrestrial or digital satellite transmission?

If it is then I think the public are being taken in by all this "new technology".

You can either have five excellent pictures on an old TV or a couple of dozen or more rubbishy pictures on a new digital TV.

Big business of course will go for the latter because they can make loads more money.

Where does the money come from?

You may say, like myself, "not me, I don't subscribe to pay TV".


Apart from BBC the new stations all have loads and loads of advertising. We pay for this in the price of goods. Firms are certainly not going to pay for advertising from shareholder's dividends, they slap it on the price of goods in the shops and anyway the BBC will hike up the licence fee to fund their new channels.

At the end of the day we'll have loads of channels having atrocious picture quality and carrying mostly repeats or plain rubbish and everything costs more money.

I don't know what's supposed to be wrong with the Japanese digital set because it's worked for a week without going wrong.

Perhaps he just couldn't stand the distorted blobby picture and wanted an excuse to use his old analogue portable?


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