111207-kctv-testcardNorth Korea began digital TV broadcasting trials last year, according to a report published this week.

There were no other details of the tests included in the report, which was carried by the Korea Computer Center’s Naenara portal as part of an article on upgrades to the country’s telecommunications systems.

“On the basis of the trial introduction of digital TV broadcasting last year the ministry is working to lay the material and technical foundation for applying it stage by stage while developing programs and introducing facilities,” the report said.

State media isn’t believed to have reported on the trials in the past.

A switch to digital broadcasting could have a big impact on the ability of people to receive uncensored TV broadcasts from South Korea and China.

Currently, North Koreans living within a few tens of kilometers from the northern and southern borders can receive overseas Korean-language broadcasts if they have a TV set that has been adjusted to allow tuning.

TV’s impact isn’t as important as foreign radio, which can be received nationwide, but it is one of a few sources of information from outside the government media. A survey published last year of defectors found 15 percent reported watching Chinese TV at least weekly and 4 percent watching South Korea’s KBS.

It’s importance was underlined recently when South Korea, which had been scheduled to switch off all its analog TV stations as part of a digital switchover, decided to keep them in operation near the border for North Korean viewers.

Digital TV introduces problems because there’s are several incompatible formats and because the signals are much less suited to reception in fringe areas.

On the standards front, North Korea is likely to be testing one of two standards: the DVB-T format used in Europe and much of Asia, or China’s DTMB system. South Korea uses the American ATSC system, which is unlikely to be used in the DPRK.

If the country goes for DVB-T, television sets won’t be able to receive broadcasts from either neighboring country. Selection of the Chinese system will mean the potential of receiving Chinese broadcasts in the border area, but only if the TV sets are capable of being tuned.

Depending on the sophistication of any limit on tuning, an after-market modification to allow tuning could be very difficult.

The good news is that a complete switch to digital TV is probably years away from happening.