Free Digital TV Channels available in SA

A few weeks ago I bought a new TV. A nice shiny, new Sony Bravia 40″ EX400 series digital LCD TV. It’s a nice step up from our 28″ Philips CRT TV that we’ve had for almost eight years now.

It’s a great TV and I’m glad we made the choice. It’s a full HD digital TV with a great picture and flexible set of features. It has a digital and analogue tuner built in, multiple analogue and digital inputs as well as a USB port for watching DivX encoded movies directly off of a USB stick (I bought a 16GB memory stick just for that purpose).

But I digress – the actual reason for this post is related to the digital tuner. When I first plugged in the new TV and went through the setup process, part of which is auto-tuning, it picked up 12 over-the-air digital channels as well as the 5 terrestrial analogue channels.

I know there’s been a lot of media reports about digital TV coming to South Africa and it being a requirement for broadcasting the 2010 FIFA World Cup (which by the way got off to a cracking start, even though it’s difficult to work with vuvuzelas blaring in the city all day and night long) but I was always under the impression that you needed a set-top box to decode the over-the-air (not satellite) digital channels. So when I did the initial setup of the TV I wasn’t surprised that none of the digital channels the digital tuner in the TV picked up were not displaying, since I didn’t have a decoder.

However, this morning I happened to switch to the digital channels accidentally and they were being broadcast and displayed on my TV. The following channels are being broadcast and unscrambled by my TV’s digital tuner:

  • e-TV (a free terrestrial channel)
  • eAfri (not sure about this seems to be airing similar programs to e-TV)
  • Mstar (showing infomercials in between airing movies, not latest block-busters)
  • National Geographic (the one reason I wanted satellite TV)
  • eClassic (e-TV broadcast programs, not same airtime as e-TV)
  • BBC Lifestyle (one of my wife’s favourite satellite channels)
  • Koowe (kids channel, by the looks of it a South African channel)
  • MK (music video channel)

Yes, I know, for those who have satellite/cable TV this is nothing exciting – but for those of us, like me, that don’t think paying the premium price you have to pay to get satellite TV is worth it, without having full choice of which channels you want to watch – I think it’s great! Yes, we’ve got loads of movies on DVD but it’s now nice to have a little bit more choice in our TV viewing, and we’re not (for now) paying anything above our usual annual TV licensing fees.

I’m hoping this is not a once-off (testing) thing or at the very least it’s accessible to us through-out the broadcasting of the World Cup, and of course first-prize, available to us in future.

Are there any other South Africans out there that have seen this with their own digital TVs?

Update:  28 September 2010

It would appear that testing has resumed again since there are 8 digital channels available free over the air again. I’ve picked up the following channels again:

  • e-TV (a free terrestrial channel)
  • eAfri (not sure about this seems to be airing similar programs to e-TV)
  • VUZU (wide variety of programmes)
  • Blitz (SuperSport blitz sports news and highlights)
  • Mstar (showing infomercials in between airing movies, not latest block-busters)
  • Action TV (movies and TV-series programmes)
  • Mzanzi Magic (local music, documentaries and TV-series programmes)
  • Koowe (kids channel, by the looks of it a South African channel)

Tune in and enjoy while they’re available.

Update:  23 October 2010

For about a week now we’ve also been able to tune into MNet and CSN (Sport channel showing Supersport and Indian movies when not broadcasting sport). Not complaining, just saying 🙂

Update: 14 March 2011

For the last couple of days transmission has been scrambled and none of the channels were showing anything – not even the digital version of free channel, e-TV. Tonight, however, it appears test broadcasting has resumed – free digital TV for a little while longer – yay!