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Leaping the digital TV divide

by Ashley Thompson

Reader JC asked about the upcoming analog-to-digital TV changeover on July 24 and how to prepare for it. The available options are so varied that it can be overwhelming to sift through and try to understand exactly what you need, especially if you can’t read Japanese. We did some searching, and here’s what we found.

If you own a digital TV that is compatible with digital terrestrial broadcasting (地デジ (chideji), or DTV) (most newer models are), then you’re set — so long as you have a UHF antenna. If you live in an apartment building, the landlord or building owner will need to install a UHF antenna. In some locations with great reception you may be able to use an indoor UHF antenna instead. The only case in which an antenna isn’t required is if you have cable, although you will need to confirm that your cable provider is providing digital terrestrial service.

If you do not own a digital TV, you can purchase a digital tuner (dejitaru chūnā) that is digital terrestrial-compatible (again, look for chideji). You will also need a UHF antenna installed at your home or building for this to work. And fortunately, albeit confusingly, there are a wide variety of options when choosing a tuner.

The cheapest option is just a basic digital tuner — you’ll want to ensure it is DTV-compatible by checking the specifications, although most are. Many of these (though not all) also include compatibility with BS and/or CS broadcasting and will show symbols for each if they are. If you want a tuner to work for both your computer and television, look for one that says “terebi ya pasokon“(television and personal computer).

Most tuners have an option for subtitles (closed captions) — look for 字幕 (jimaku). However, nearly all models with this option (from as far as we could see) only display Japanese captions. We found a few online that can be programmed to use a second language, and our local electronics store carries one brand with this function, but availability of this option will depend on your location and the store you visit. Some stores, especially in areas with a larger foreign population, may carry more of a selection. Ask about or look for 二言語 (nigengo) or 英字 (eiji). Also keep in mind that subtitles are not available for all broadcasts.

Similarly, not many tuners appear to offer an option for bilingual audio broadcasts. Checking the manufacturer’s website for specifications seems to be the best way to find out if a tuner has this option or not. You could also ask at an electronics store. Either way, check for マルチ音声 (maruchi onsei, meaning “multi-voice”).

Prices for a basic tuner vary anywhere between ¥3,000 and ¥30,000 and potentially more, depending on extra features; the most basic tuners typically cost less than ¥10,000.

Another option to consider is a digital tuner with an internal hard drive for recording shows. Usually these will indicate in the description or on the box, “HDD” or “hādo disuku” along with the size of the hard drive, e.g. 500 GB. If you get a basic tuner without an internal hard drive, some models have an option to plug in an external hard drive, usually via USB, for recording. Look for: 外付けHDDでレコード機能を搭載 (sotozuke HDD de recōdo kinō o tōsai). Prices for a digital tuner with an internal hard drive average around ¥20,000 to ¥30,000.

Finally, and probably the most expensive option aside from buying a new TV, is to purchase a DVD, VHS or Blu-ray recorder (or a combination of these, such as DVD/Blu-ray, or DVD/VHS) with a built-in tuner. Most of the recorders we saw at the electronics store had internal digital tuners — again, look for the “chideji” sign to ensure they are compatible. Prices run from ¥20,000 to ¥60,000 yen and beyond.

You can find an English guide about the analog-to-digital switchover here. Readers, please share with us your digital tuner-buying experiences and what you found to be the best option.

Ashley Thompson writes survival tips and unique how-tos about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Send all your questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp