UK Television Reception Advice

Reception Advice


Why are some commercials much too loud, and who should I complain to about this?

Many factors can contribute to a sense of loudness; for example, the sound level of the preceding programme or advert. We do not allow broadcasters to make deliberate changes to increase the loudness of commercials. To complain, make a note of the channel, the commercial, the date and time then contact the appropriate broadcaster or the list of Ofcom licensees can be found here.

I can't hear the dialogue clearly, why is there so much background noise?

As with loudness, this occasional problem is found to be highly subjective, varying from one individual to another and often related to an individual's hearing abilities, which can change with age. The effect can also vary according to the type of television set, whether stereo, mono, surround-sound etc. Make a note of the programme and contact the broadcaster and preferably direct your comment to the programme's producer.

Why do some programmes have black bands at the top and bottom of the screen?

Today, many programmes are produced in a widescreen format with an aspect ratio of 16:9, or are films made in widescreen for the cinema. They are often transmitted in widescreen on digital services. In order to show more of the width of the scene as the director intended, small black bands are placed at the top and bottom of conventional analogue 4:3 aspect ratio screens. Digital widescreen sets do not show these bands, and most widescreen TVs allow the viewer to "zoom" into the picture. By selecting this option the bands can be made to move out of sight.

Some TVs and set-top boxes have menus that allow viewers to set their preferences for the way pictures are displayed.

My picture is marred by lines and other forms of interference. Who do I report this to?

This depends on the nature of interference. Generally, if the interference is on one service only and constant throughout the day - but has only recently appeared - then it is possible that the fault may be at the transmitter. If so, contact the appropriate broadcaster. Contact details for commercial broadcasters can be found here. If it is intermittent and affecting a number of services it could either be local interference, or it could be weather-related 'co-channel' interference from distant transmitters. The former can be reported to Ofcom here. Temporary interference from distant transmitters can occur from time to time, particularly during settled anticyclonic weather conditions.

Why aren't all programmes subtitled?

Most Public Service (PSB) channels (analogue and digital) now carry subtitling on more than two thirds of programmes, with more increases to come. On ITV1, 80% of programmes will be subtitled by 2004, and 90% by 2010. Channel 4 aims to match the same number of programme hours provided by ITV1 by 2010. Channel 5 will subtitle 80% of programme hours in 2008, compared to 50% of programme hours in 2002.

Not all the newer digital services necessarily need to carry subtitles, as the legislation varies between terrestrial, satellite or cable. New terrestrial channels must carry a limited amount, about 10%, but this is set to grow over the years to 80%. Apart from the terrestrially broadcast channels there is no regulatory requirement for subtitles on other services, or on satellite, but we expect this to change as part of the new Communications Bill.

I'm a TV licence payer, what are my entitlements?

To own and operate a TV set, but there is no entitlement to reception of any particular service, or of the quality of the received signal at individual locations. The Ofcom's Technical Performance Code requires the Ofcom's terrestrial licensees to maintain high standards of service reliability and, for Channels 3, 4 and 5, and S4C digital, to maintain high standards of technical quality for pictures and sound. While the Ofcom and the BBC endeavour to ensure a wide range of TV services are available throughout the UK, unfortunately there are inevitably some areas which receive a limited range of services, or where local geography or other factors prevent good reception.

My television reception is poor. What can be done about it?

Check that your aerial installation is in good order, and that it is suitable for the transmitter serving your area. Contact a reputable aerial installer for more detailed advice.

I receive some channels better than others. Why is this?

Apart from some Channel 5 transmitters, the main four analogue channels are broadcast at the same power and are “co-sitedon” the same transmitter masts. Aerials are designed for specific bands of frequencies or channels. It may be that your aerial is the incorrect type for the transmitter ie, it does not have the correct bandwidth. A higher gain aerial may help, and the positioning of the aerial is also important.

Why can't I receive Channel 5, and when will I be able to?

Channel 5 was introduced later than the other four UHF analogue services, and because spare frequency channels were not available in some areas, it was it wasn't possible to build as many transmitters. Look at the Ofcom's transmitter information pages or on Channel 5's web site ( to see if you are in range of a transmitter and check whether your aerial is of the suitable aerial group. Channel 5 is also available from digital satellite and cable services.

My teletext and subtitles are showing 'garbled' words. Where is the fault?

This is probably the result of the aerial receiving two signals: one direct from the transmitter and the other reflected from an obstruction such as a large building, trees, a hillside or similar. This is an effect similar to 'ghosting', but results from short-term echoes which are not necessarily visible on the picture. There are number of techniques that can be used to reduce or remove the problem. Contact a reputable aerial installer to see if improvements can be made to your installation.

I think my local transmitter is faulty. Who do I contact?

The appropriate broadcaster of that channel - but not TV Licensing or the transmitter operators. A list of the commercial broadcasters can be found here.

Why is my ITV1 channel about the 'wrong' region ?

Most likely because local topography prevents signals reaching you from a transmitter which does carry the most appropriate regional services for your area. Try contacting a reputable aerial installer to see if a signal is available.

Why does my digital picture break up and 'freeze'?

This is usually due to a low signal level or interference. Ask your installer to ensure the decoder is receiving the minimum levels of signal required.

Some digital terrestrial channels don't show a picture but just a red dot. Why is this?

This is caused by a weak or poor quality signal being received.

I have a digital terrestrial (DTT) receiver, and some of the programmes have a deaf-signer in the corner of the screen, which I find distracting. Why is it there?

The Broadcasting Act requires a small number programmes on each channel to be signed. The broadcasters are seeking a technical solution which will let the signer be "hidden", much like subtitling, for viewers who don't require signing.

My sight is impaired. There are subtitles and signing for deaf people; what about me?

Audio Description is becoming available on digital terrestrial services. Currently the amount is 4%, rising every two years to reach the current target of 10% within 10 years. However, receiving equipment is still under development, and is not generally available at the moment.

Ofcom - the Office of Communications