More than half a century has passed since commercial television debuted in Japan, and now TVs are a main component of the mass culture.

The nation’s TV scene has entered a new era since terrestrial digital television broadcasting, or “chideji,” began in 2003 as part of the transition from analog broadcasting to digital by July 2011.

Following are some basic questions and answers about terrestrial digital broadcasting:

What is chideji?

Chideji stands for “chijyo” digital television broadcasting.

Television arrived in Japan in 1953 when NHK began broadcasting and Sharp Corp. introduced TVs to the market, priced at ¥175,000.

In December 2003, digital terrestrial TV broadcasting services began in the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya areas. In the following three years, services spread to all prefectural capitals. By July 24, 2011, the new system will be nationwide.

Why must the current analog broadcasting be replaced by digital terrestrial?

The shift is part of a national project mainly spearheaded by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. On its Web site, the ministry says switching from analog to digital will be space-effective for radio waves, whose capacity has nearly reached the limit. It will open up more space that can be used for other information technology developments.

What’s special about digital terrestrial broadcasting?

Digital terrestrial broadcasts have more capabilities than their analog counterparts, including better graphic quality, known as digital high vision, as well as better sound.

The new system can provide subtitles and audio guidance, and allows viewers to adjust speaking speeds — services considered helpful for the elderly and people with sight or hearing impairments.

Viewers can also watch several channels simultaneously on one screen. Information including news, weather, sports and other TV programs will always be accessible via a remote. Cell phones using the One-Seg service can receive digital terrestrial programs.

How can we watch digital terrestrial programs?

Such programs at present are accessed by subscribing to various cable television services. Otherwise, a UHF antenna is needed.

Analog TVs rely on VHF antennas, which are not compatible with digital terrestrial broadcasts. UHF antennas can be purchased at electronics shops, with prices generally ranging from ¥3,000 to ¥8,000.

It is possible for many parties, such as residents of an apartment complex, to share an antenna, depending on the available service in a given area. Cable TV viewers may not need to install a new antenna, again depending on the available service.

Many televisions already in homes are equipped with digital terrestrial broadcasting tuners that merely need the UHF antenna.

Analog-only TVs, however, will require an external terrestrial digital tuner, which costs about ¥20,000.

The Association for Promotion of Digital Broadcasting offers more information on its Web site at www.dpa.or.jp

Will it cost more money to switch to and view digital terrestrial broadcasts?

Preparing compatible equipment can be costly. If viewers have to buy a new antenna, a specialist will have to install it in most cases.

According to Tetsuro Ikeda, president of Aicom, a company that provides cable installation services, an average installation fee, including the antenna, ranges from about ¥20,000 to ¥65,000 for a regular house, depending on the current antenna system.

Digital terrestrial TVs are also more expensive than current analog TVs. Although prices have come down from about ¥15,000 per inch when they first came out, the cost is still about ¥4,000 to ¥5,000 per inch.

In the coming years, millions of analog TV are expected to be discarded and replaced with the new system, although older TVs can still be used if a ¥20,000 digital terrestrial tuner is installed.

Is there any relief for people who find the new system cost-prohibitive?

The government is trying to find ways to help low-income people prepare for the changeover. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has asked manufacturers to produce tuners that cost around ¥5,000.

The manufacturers say this will be difficult, however. Lawmakers have meanwhile mulled the idea of providing the tuners free to people short on funds. According to the ministry, the government hopes to come up with specific plans by summer.

Why does the change have to take place by July 24, 2011?

The government on July 25, 2001, approved revisions to the Radio Law to change the frequency of analog broadcasts, providing a 10-year window for users to make the switch to digital terrestrial.

Will analog broadcasts end then?

The government aims to end them, but there are still uncertainties.

According to a Nomura Research Institute survey in 2005, 40.52 million homes will have digital terrestrial-compatible equipment by 2011, or about 81 percent of all homes in Japan.

The remaining 19 percent would be unable to watch TV if analog broadcasts end. But there are still some kinks in the new system.

Some users are expected to suffer problems with digital terrestrial broadcasts compared with the current analog signals. A ministry survey compiled in September found that up to about 600,000 homes may not receive the new signals when analog broadcasting ends.

This is mainly because UHF is more susceptible to geographical disruptions than VHF, especially in mountainous areas.

The ministry is currently working with broadcasting stations and local governments to work out these glitches. Satellites may provide one solution.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk

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