B’casters fine-tune Brit digital TV sked

LONDON — British broadcasters on Tuesday stepped closer to launching digital television on schedule next year by unveiling two pacts that will be crucial to the introduction of multiple TV channels in the U.K.

Both deals involve the set-top boxes that all viewers will need if they want to receive the new digital programming.

The difference is how the new channels will be delivered — digital terrestrial TV (DTT) will offer some 30 channels via viewers’ existing TV sets and aerials, while subscribers will need to buy a new dish to receive British Sky Broadcasting’s 200-channel digital satellite TV service.

On the terrestrial side, Britain’s top DTT broadcasters, including Carlton and Granada, said they had agreed on the industrywide decoder technology that will be wrapped into DTT set-top boxes.

Not to be outdone, BSkyB and Franco-Italian chipmaker SGS-Thomson Microelectronics said on Tuesday they would collaborate to help manufacturers start mass production of set-top boxes in the spring of 1998.

SGS-Thomson planned to supply chips for the set-top boxes and use the same reference platform as the basis for its own digital terrestrial decoder design.

Analysts said the rival deals reinforced the market’s view that Britain will see digital TV next year.

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