Buying a new television set now might be like buying a record player before CDs took over, writes Robert Laing in the Times.

South Africa is scheduled to start broadcasting digital TV on November 1 and will discontinue analogue broadcasts in 2011.

President Thabo Mbeki indicated that the plans for digital TV were on track, in his state of the nation speech on Friday.

He said: “We aim to provide digital broadcasting to 50 percent of the population by the end of the year. Attached to this will be a manufacturing strategy for the development in South Africa of set- top boxes, which should be finalised by the middle of the year.”

The government announced it would switch to digital broadcasting as part of hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Just as analogue TV was divided into different technologies for North America, Europe and Asia, the globe’s major trading blocs are implementing incompatible digital terrestrial TV standards.

Two years ago, a local technical committee opted to join the Europe and Australia camp by selecting DVB-T .

Last month, speakers at the third annual Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum called on the government to set digital TV policy as a matter of urgency.

A key outstanding issue is standards for set-top boxes, devices that enable analogue TVs to receive digital signals. They are expected to cost about R500 but the government might subsidise them.

Click here to read the full report, posted on The Times website.