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Restart Podcast Ep. 45: “No TV left behind” – the quiet importance of television standards

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Television has changed so much during the past couple of decades, from the way signals reach our living rooms, to the way television hardware and software is designed. Correspondingly, we have changed our viewing habits. Behind the scenes, there are teams of engineers working throughout the “ecosystem”. We often see our products as stand-alone physical objects, but these days they are embedded in ever-complex networks and software systems.

Behind the screens

Dave talks with two television standards engineers, Ben Skidmore with Freeview (part of Digital UK) and Ian Medland, Director of Testing with DTG (The Digital Television Group). They peel away some of the technical layers that might be ‘invisible’ to the average viewer of television. Skidmore explains how standards developed from radio through digital television, towards internet connectivity. Most of what we take for granted in the UK when we turn on a television is actually specified by detailed product standards.

So many different actors are involved in the development and maintenance of these standards, and Skidmore explains how it is largely in their interest to work together.

Longevity and support for older models

Skidmore and Medland talk about how standards, and careful planning and coordination can prevent obsolescence of television sets. Skidmore explains how the digital switchover was managed so that millions of sets were not turned into waste overnight. However, the lifespan of televisions did drop with the advent of digital television. But that trend is reversing. And as televisions have reached great energy efficiency in the use phase at this point (thanks to EU ecodesign standards), but still have a large footprint in manufacture, we’re encouraged to hear that longevity and support are increasingly seen as priorities by those creating standards.

A visit to “the zoo”

DTG tests every television that goes on the UK market to ensure they meet these standards. They have a “representative receiver collection” more affectionately known as “the zoo” in their London offices. Medland takes on a tour of the zoo and learn that they keep over 350 models as far as four years back. The collection is fairly irreplaceable and the zoo is a very protected space.

The episode closes with a reflection on how viewing has changed and how television content now caters to so many more tastes. And Skidmore shares how his love of fixing (he’s a volunteer with Restart) enters into his work.

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[Photo credit: The DTG]

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