The BBC’s announcement of the end of standard definition (SD) channels will have a knock-on effect on Sky satellite viewers in the UK and Ireland.
Switching to an all-HD service means the BBC will be able to harmonise BBC Three’s channel number in more of the UK. But the HD switchover could have some impact on recordings and it will also affect viewers in the Republic of Ireland.
Still recording SD channels, despite having HD?
The BBC SD channels were still popular with a small number of Sky subscribers who liked to record programmes from the SD channels instead of the HD channels because it took up less disk space. But with storage on Sky’s newest receivers now being measured in Terabytes and the seemingly neverending growth in on-demand catch-up TV, recording SD TV to preserve disk space has had its time.
Current series links
Sky satellite viewers who record programmes from BBC One in England or BBC Two in Northern Ireland will, in early 2023, need to check their scheduled recordings once the changes begin. You’ll be able to schedule recordings on the new HD channels as the switchover progresses.
Fortunately, nothing is changing until after Christmas and the New Year, so any festive recordings won’t go awry because of this. Exact dates will be announced by the BBC after the holidays.
Nearly a year after it returned to TV screens, BBC Three is available on range of different Sky channel numbers, depending where you are in the UK. For example, in London, BBC Three is currently on Sky channel 173, whereas in the rest of England, it’s on channel 117. In Scotland, BBC Three is now on 141.
This is due to regional variations on Sky’s channel list to cater for various local and national channels. Their location on Sky’s channel list is governed by Ofcom rules on the listing of public service broadcasters.
Sky only has until the middle of next year to ensure BBC Three is assigned a top 24 slot everywhere in the UK, to comply with Ofcom rules.
This is where the BBC’s HD switchover becomes relevant:
At the moment, BBC One HD in England and BBC Two HD in Northern Ireland occupy channel 115. They currently can’t move to channel 101/102 as they don’t carry relevant local services in HD.
That will change in early 2023, freeing up a slot that can be used to help shuffle BBC Three to a top 24 slot across most of the UK. It’s not expected to be possible in Scotland, due to BBC Scotland and BBC Alba also needing a top 24 slot. Here, Sky may need to move other channels to make way for BBC Three, unless there are other changes in the meantime.
Effect on viewers in the Republic of Ireland
Users of older Sky receivers won’t be able to continue watching BBC channels in Ireland either. This is also true for Irish households using an older non-Sky or Freesat satellite receiver.
In line with the transition in the UK, Irish satellite viewers have until early 2024 before the last BBC SD services end. BBC Northern Ireland will end SD transmissions earlier on satellite: BBC One Northern Ireland will be replaced by a single UK wide BBC One in 2023 until the final closedown. Meanwhile, BBC Two Northern Ireland will switch from SD to HD on satellite.
The BBC’s channels are offered on Sky in the Republic of Ireland on a commercial basis. The HD switchover help scheme in the UK does not apply to households in the Republic.
Still use an old Sky digibox just to listen to BBC radio? That won’t be possible from 2024 either, as BBC Radio satellite reception will also require an HD satellite receiver.
This is because the BBC will transmit all satellite services in the DVB-S2 broadcast standard from 2024. Older SD only boxes do not support DVB-S2.
Sky Glass/Sky Stream
Sky’s online TV service is already HD-only with regards the BBC, with full access to BBC One HD regions.
Overview of Sky satellite receivers and their compatibility
Sky Q (all variations) ✅️
Sky+HD / Sky HD ✅️
Original Sky digiboxes, including first generation Sky+ boxes ❎️
Why the need to switch to HD?
With larger TV screen sizes comes the need for TV pictures made up of more pixels, something that HD with its 1920×1080 resolution is better placed to deliver than SD.
Now that almost every TV in the UK is a flatscreen TV that supports HD and most Sky and Freesat receivers in use today are HD compatible, the BBC can close its SD services down on satellite without actually affecting many viewers. SD TV continues via Freeview for at least a few more years.
by Iain Hatton