Digital Terrestrial DVB-T2: the guide to understand what changes

Less than a month before the start of the "switch off" to the new digital terrestrial: on October 20, RAI and Mediaset will change the encoding of the first channels, passing from the current Mpeg-2 to Mpeg-4. This is only the first move: the definitive switchover to the second generation digital terrestrial (DVB-T2) will, in fact, only be completed in January 2023.

However, already in October many users may have problems viewing the channels that will change encoding and will only be the first of a long series: in two years' time all broadcasters will transmit a TV signal encoded with the new HEVC Main10/H.265 standard, which is different from the Mpeg-4 that arrives in October. Therefore, the technological leaps will be two and not one, and the consequences of the first technical change will be different from the second. Ecco perché c’è tanta confusione in merito al digitale terrestre di seconda generazione e perché è necessario fare chiarezza.

Digitale terrestre: che succede a ottobre 2021

Il primo passo dello switch off avverrà il 20 ottobre 2021, quando i primi canali RAI e Mediaset cambieranno codifica: dall’attuale Mpeg-2 alla futura Mpeg-4. I canali interessati sono questi (ma a breve se ne aggiungeranno altri):

  • Rai 4
  • Rai 5
  • Rai Movie
  • Rai Yoyo
  • Rai Sport+ HD
  • Rai Storia
  • Rai Gulp
  • Rai Premium
  • Rai Scuola
  • Boing Plus
  • Italia 2
  • Radio 105
  • R101 TV
  • TGCom24
  • Virgin Radio TV

Tutti questi canali potranno essere sintonizzati solo dalle TV o dai decoder compatibili con l’Mpeg-4, altrimenti otterremo una schermata nera. Even those who have a compatible TV, however, will have to retune these channels or they won't see them anymore.

Digital terrestrial: what happens in January 2023

The second technical step of the switch off will take place on January 1, 2023, when broadcasters will begin to change their encoding again: from Mpeg-4 to HEVC Main10, also known as H.265

The new Government roadmap does not set precise dates for the completion of the switch off and the speed with which the switchover to HEVC will take place will probably be determined by the number of TVs compatible with this standard in Italian homes.

Even if a TV is compatible with Mpeg-4, in fact, it is not certain that it is also compatible with HEVC: they are two different standards, which require different electronic components inside the TV.

Digital terrestrial: do you have to change your TV?

All recent TVs, in theory all those sold from December 22, 2018 onwards, are compatible with both Mpeg-4 and HEVC and, therefore, should not give problems either in October 2021 or January 2023. The problem is that, not too seldom, in electronics stores and e-commerce you can find very old models that are passed off as DVB-T2 compatible but are not really.

This, to tell the truth, has happened mainly in the past years but it is possible that today someone has a TV in his home that he thinks is compatible and that, instead, is not compatible at all. Luckily, there are test channels: to know if your TV (or external decoder) will pass the Mpeg-4 test on October 20, 2021, just try to watch the channel RAI 1 HD (501).

This channel is encoded in Mpeg-4: if your TV displays it without any problem, then we are ready for the passage of October 20. If it does not display it, then it is better to go and buy a new TV or a new decoder because, in a few months, all broadcasters will switch to Mpeg-4 and will not be able to be displayed on that equipment.

To understand if the TV will be ready in January 2023, instead, we need to go to channels 100 or 200: if we will be able to display the writing "Test HEVC Main10", then our equipment will have no problems. Otherwise, once again, we will have to buy a new TV or a new decoder.

Smart TV, 4K and DVB-T2: what you need to know

For several years now, televisions have become Smart TVs, that is, smart TVs connected to the Internet, which can run apps like smartphones. How does this affect the switch to DVB-T2? Can those with Smart TVs rest assured?

The answer is no: the smart part of a TV has nothing to do with its ability to receive and process the second-generation digital terrestrial signal. There are, for example, older Smart TVs that can process the Mpeg-4 encoded signal, but not the HEVC Main10 encoded signal. They will therefore be fine in October 2021, but not in January 2023.

Similar discussion for the resolution: today on the market there are only TVs with HD (1,280 x 720 pixels, or 720p), Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels, or 1080p) or 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels, or UHD) screens.

The DVB-T2 standard requires a minimum HD resolution, but many broadcasters will transmit in Full HD or even 4K. To watch Full HD or 4K channels at the highest possible quality, therefore, you will need a TV with these resolutions.

The fact that a TV is HD or Full HD, however, does not guarantee that it is compatible with HEVC, which will be released in January 2023, while it is certain that it is compatible with Mpeg-4, which will be released in October 2021: all HD and Full HD channels, in fact, are now encoded in Mpeg-4, so the TV manufacturer had to include in the model the necessary electronics to decode these channels.

As for 4K, finally, in theory the same could apply as with HD. But in practice it's very unlikely that a 4K TV won't be able to decode the HEVC Main10 signal, because 4K TVs have only very recently arrived on the Italian market. Unless it's one of the very first 4K TV models, perhaps imported from foreign markets, we should therefore be comfortable with both October 2021 and January 2023.