Private buildings slow to upgrade for digital TV age

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am

Of 3,000 private residential buildings that will be able to receive high-quality digital TV signals from December 31, only about half are ready or intend to upgrade their systems to support digital terrestrial services, a government survey has found.

The figures have alarmed the makers of the set-top boxes that viewers will need to plug into their televisions in order to receive the improved digital service.

Ngan Sai-fong, managing director of Value Platforms, which makes set-top boxes, said the industry was concerned about the reception problem in the buildings.

'The progress [to upgrade the in-building distribution system] may not be as optimistic as we expect,' Mr Ngan said, adding that this might hinder people's incentives to turn to digital television.

'People will be confused as they do not know whether their buildings can receive the digital signals or not.'

Lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, who is also a district councillor in Sham Shui Po, said the implementation of digital broadcasting had added to the difficulties facing elderly people in the district.

'One-third of the buildings are old and obsolete and many do not even have an owner's corporation to monitor the property,' he said. 'The government has to offer assistance to these buildings to adapt to the new technology.'

Half of the city's population - those living in Kowloon Peninsula, the northern part of Hong Kong Island, parts of Sha Tin and east Lantau - could have the first taste of digital services by the end of the year when a transmission station at Temple Hill in Tsz Wan Shan goes into operation. Five more stations will be added next year.

The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) estimated that 19,000 buildings would be covered in the first phase of the scheme.

But according to estimates by TVB, only 1 to 3 per cent of households capable of receiving the digital signal will buy set-top boxes or televisions that support high-definition TV each month.

Li Chi-shing, chief telecommunications engineer of Ofta, said he expected more than 100,000 set-top boxes, both basic and higher-tier models, to be available on the market next month. Prices range from about HK$1,000 to more than HK$2,000.

A labelling scheme has been launched for consumers to distinguish between the two.

TVB and ATV will provide eight more options when the service starts, including channels for news and business, sport, entertainment and fashion, and culture.