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Digital Television and what it means for you

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Updated 27 May 2002

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Digital Television and what it means for you
Digital Television and what it means for you

What is digital television?
When does digital television commence?
What benefits will digital television provide?
What happens to my existing analog TV set?
Can my 4:3 analog TV set display Digital TV to its full effect?
Will my Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) still work?
Will digital televisions connect with VCRs, DVDs and sound systems etc?
Will I need to upgrade my antenna?
Why are digital TV pictures sharper than analog TV pictures
How expensive will digital set-top boxes and television sets be?
When will a range of digital television receivers become available?
What if I want to buy now?
When will interactive television (iTV) be available?
Is audio better on digital television than on analog?
What multichannel services are the ABC and SBS offering?
What radio services are the ABC and SBS offering?
Can I receive all my free-to-air digital TV services on Pay TV?
Is digital television likely to cause interference?

Explanations of Digital Television Terms

What is widescreen?
What is a digital television set top box?
What does a set top box do?
What is an integrated digital television receiver?
What are Standard Definition (SD) pictures?
What are High Definition (HD) pictures?
What is multi-view?
What is multichannelling?
What are program enhancements?
What is datacasting?
What are program enhancements?
What is closed captioning?
What is an EPG (Electronic Program Guide)?
What is interactive television (iTV)?

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What is digital television?
Digital television is a replacement technology for existing free-to-air analog services. It provides better picture quality and reception, plus a variety of new features that enhance the viewing experience.
The digital television industry in Australia is using the DVB standard, first developed in Europe, rather than the American-developed ATSC standard. DVB is proving to be a very high quality system and is being used in many countries around the world. In Australia it will replace the analog PAL system.
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When does free-to-air digital television commence?
Digital television commenced on 1 January 2001 in Australia’s five major capital cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth (from main transmitters only).
Establishment of the in-fill translator services in these metropolitan areas is planned to commence late in 2001 and extend through 2002.
Outside of the major metropolitan areas, regional broadcasters must begin digital transmissions by no later than 1 January 2004. Digital broadcasting in some regional centres (namely Darwin. Sunshine Coast, Hobart, Canberra Newcastle) has started on a limited basis. For further details go to Reception/DTV search on this web site.
A timetable for the commencement of digital broadcasting in remote parts of Australia has not yet been settled.
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What benefits will digital television provide?
Digital television is a far more efficient and flexible transmission system than the current analog system. It allows broadcasters to offer viewers a range of new and different services.
Australian digital television features will include

  • ‘Ghost free’ reception

  • Widescreen 16:9 pictures

  • Standard Definition pictures (SD)

  • High Definition pictures (HD)

  • High quality audio and surround sound

  • Multi-channel programming on ABC and SBS

  • Closed Captioning of programs for the hearing impaired

  • Electronic Program Guides (EPGs) with ‘now next’ program information for some channels

  • On-screen program guide channel with today’s program information (Ch 9 (Sydney) only at this time)

  • Multi-camera views and enhancements during selected programs

  • Viewer selectable ‘Program Overlap’, ie continue to watch the sporting event or switch to the scheduled news bulletin

Over time, interactive television services, including interactive programs, selected Internet services, home shopping, computer games, etc will be provided by broadcasters and datacasters.
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What happens to my existing analog TV set?
Free-to-air broadcasters will simulcast (ie, broadcast both analog and digital signals) for at least eight years in an area, so metropolitan viewers will continue to be able to use current analog television sets to receive broadcasts without the need for a set top box until at least the end of 2008.
After the end of simulcasting in an area, the addition of a digital set top box will allow viewers to continue indefinitely to display digital transmissions on the screens of their analog sets.
Viewers using set top boxes will be able to receive other features of digital, such as additional program streams. However, as most existing analog sets have a 4:3 screen aspect ratio (shape), using a digital set-top box with a 4:3 analog television set may affect the way widescreen transmissions are displayed.
Use of a widescreen analog display will enhance the digital experience.
The full picture quality benefits of digital television, including High Definition pictures, will require a High Definition digital receiver that is capable of receiving High Definition transmissions and a screen that is capable of displaying the HD television signal.
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Can my 4:3 analog TV set display Digital TV to its full effect?
No. You can view digital television on your 4:3 analog receiver with a digital set top box, but the picture display capability of the average 4:3 analog TV set is not good enough for displaying SD and HD widescreen pictures to full effect.
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Will my Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) still work?
Yes. During and after the simulcast period, you will be able to record the digital channel on view – provided that your set-top box or digital television has an analog output – and VCRs will also continue to play back pre-recorded tapes. Many will find the picture quality of recorded digital programs is better than that of analog programs.
During the simulcast period VCRs will be able to record any analog program while a different digital program is being viewed. However VCRs will not be able to record a separate digital broadcast from that being viewed.
Current VHS video recorders will still only record VHS-quality pictures.
In some cases, as the channel used by the video output may be the same as that used by a digital channel in the area, the video output on your VCR may need retuning or require the use of the audio/video (A/V) connection.
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Will digital televisions connect with VCRs, DVDs and sound systems etc?
Yes. Although connection options will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, all digital televisions are likely to have audio/video (A/V) inputs that accept external devices such as VCRs, DVDs, sound systems and video cameras.
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Will I need to upgrade my antenna?
The channels being allocated to digital television in the capital cities are mainly adjacent to existing analog channels. If your existing UHF/VHF antenna is in reasonable condition and is presently providing good reception, it should provide an ideal signal reception point for the new digital television services in most capital city areas.
Outside capital cities, digital channel allocations are expected to be within the same band, so reception should generally be possible using existing antennas.
Viewers in areas of poor analog reception may need specialist advice about antenna requirements for digital reception in their area.
In the metropolitan areas, ABC, Seven, Nine Ten currently only transmit from their main transmission towers on VHF channels, while SBS transmits in UHF.
DBA recommends that viewers use quad shielded cable from the antenna to the television to ensure electrical impulse noise does not interfere with the digital reception.
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Why are digital TV pictures sharper than with analog TV?

Analog television can suffer from multipath interference, which results in a ‘ghosted’ picture on your screen.
Digital television is not affected by multipath interference, ‘snowy’ pictures (common in areas of poor reception) and picture ‘flutter’. So the digital result is a sharper, cleaner and clearer picture.
DBA recommends the use of quality F-type connectors and quad shielded coax cables to ensure optimum picture and sound performance. For expert advice, please contact one of DBA’s antenna installer members.
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How expensive will digital set-top boxes and television sets be?
The recommended retail prices for Standard Definition set top box (SD-STB) range from $499 to $750. The recommended retail price for the first High Definition set-top box (HD-STB) was $899 at time of release.
The recommended retail price for first standard definition integrated digital television set was $4,499 at time of release in December 2001.
Prices can be expected to reduce as volume of sales increase. However, future prices will also vary depending upon the type and capabilities of receivers.
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When will a range of digital television receivers become available?
The first digital television reception equipment, in the form of digital set top box, was available in Australia when digital broadcasting began in January 2001. The first integrated digital television became available in December 2001.
The availability and range of digital television reception equipment has increased during the year, with a wider range of options becoming available during 2002.
The DBA web site provides information on new products as they become available.
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What if I want to buy now?
You can buy a SD or a HD digital set top box or a SD integrated digital television now.
A digital set top box can be connected to any analog television set to receive digital transmissions.
You can also buy a Standard Definition digital television set (SDTV) from December 2001.
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When will interactive television (iTV) be available?
To receive interactive TV services the set top box or the digital television requires special software.
Receivers with this software included are expected to be on the market during 2002.
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Is audio better on digital television than on analog?
Yes. Australian television has traditionally been broadcast with FM stereo sound.
Digital television will be transmitted with MPEG digital stereo sound and/or Dolby” Digital Sound (6 channels), thereby providing markedly superior audio services.
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What multichannel services are the ABC and SBS offering?
The ABC has launched its ABC Kids and ABC Fly channels. ABC Kids broadcasts children’s programs seven days a week, 6am to 6pm. The ABC Fly broadcasts teen and youth programs from 6pm to 6am.
SBS plans to provide a youth channel in 2002.
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What radio services are the ABC and SBS offering?
SBS is broadcasting its two multilingual radio services on all its digital television services.
The ABC is keen to use digital spectrum to transmit national radio services more widely throughout Australia. Parliamentary News Network and Triple J, for example, cannot be received by many people in regional Australia and could be transmitted via digital television when it is rolled out to regional Australia from 2004.
The ABC will assess the demand for radio services transmitted with digital television and the competing priorities for spectrum to determine whether this is a cost-effective use of those resources.
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Can I receive all my free-to-air digital TV services on Pay TV?
No. Pay TV signals are transmitted by either cable or satellite to your Pay TV set-top box, and are then displayed on your TV set in analog form. Pay-TV subscribers can expect to continue to receive the analog free-to-air channels via cable Pay TV services until the end of simulcasting.
Free-to-air channels are not presently provided by satellite Pay TV services.
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Is digital television likely to cause interference?
No. Digital television is not inherently prone to causing interference and is markedly superior to analog television in that respect. But the planning of channel allocations for digital television has entailed the occupation by digital television broadcasts of some channels formerly used for other purposes, eg, as output channels for VCRs.
Advice is available on the DBA Web Site and from the ABA of the alternative arrangements that can be made by those users.
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Explanations of Digital Television Terms

What is widescreen?
Digital television will be broadcast in widescreen mode. Widescreen television has a different aspect ratio (ratio of width to height) than traditional analog. The aspect ratio of a widescreen is 16:9, while Australian viewers have been accustomed to viewing a 4:3 aspect ratio since television began in this country.
Widescreen will, in many cases, literally mean you see more of the picture. Most movies are currently made in 16:9 and are converted to 4:3 to allow us to watch them on television or video, so there is a lot of information that you don’t see on your television that you would see in the cinema version of the film. Live sporting events will benefit in particular from the extra detail and wider frame.
For some time now television production has been converting to widescreen, both locally and overseas. Widescreen programming is becoming more readily available and will eventually become the global standard.
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What is a digital television set top box?
A set top box for digital television receives and decodes digital transmissions into a form suitable for display on analog television sets or other display devices, eg computer monitors or projection screens.
Analog television sets currently in use in Australia cannot display digital transmissions on their screens without being connected to such a set top box converter.
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What does a set top box do?
The capability of a set top box will depend upon its specifications.
A set top box, when connected to a 4:3 analog television set, will usually give viewers an improved signal, better picture quality and multichannelling. Some set-top boxes may also provide viewers with datacasting services and video, audio and data enhancements (see What are program enhancements?).
Set-top boxes can provide a picture output to either analog or digital screen displays.
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What is an integrated digital television receiver?
This is a television set with built-in digital capabilities to receive and display digital transmissions.
Integrated digital television receivers are generally distinguished by wide screens, high-level audio capability and high quality displays. They will not require a set top box for video and audio services.
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What are Standard Definition (SD) pictures?
SD picture quality is superior to that obtained from analog 4:3 sets, and is ‘ghost free’ and in widescreen format.
The SD picture resolution is 576 lines x 720 pixels @ 50Hz interlaced (576i).
The Federal Government requires broadcasters to provide a digital SD signal at all times, even when HD programs are being broadcast. This is to ensure that viewers with Standard Definition receivers will always be able to receive a digital television service even when the higher quality HD television signal is being transmitted.
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What are High Definition (HD) pictures?
HD pictures have image resolution which is superior to SD pictures and to the existing analog, with up to six times the improvement in detail.
The minimum HD picture resolution is be 576 lines x 720 pixels @ 50Hz progressive (576p).
This means that the benefits of HD pictures are particularly noticeable on larger screen sets and when using projection equipment.
HD pictures are also ghost free and in widescreen format. When viewed on an HDTV screen the viewer can enjoy cinema-quality viewing with Dolby surround sound.
Within two years of the commencement of digital broadcasting in an area, and in addition to their analog and Standard Definition transmissions, commercial television broadcasters and the ABC and SBS will be required to provide at least 20 hours per week of programs shot in HD.
The HD integrated television receiver (HDTV) or the HD set top box (HD-STB) are expected to cost more than SD integrated television receivers (SDTV) or the SD set top box (SD-STB).
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What is multi-view?
Multi-view lets you select from a variety of camera angles or may provide additional information related to an event. Multi-view is particularly suited to sporting events like cricket, tennis and motor racing.
On additional channels to the main program the viewer can select, via remote control, a different full screen views of the event or related information.
Viewers need to be sure their new digital set top box or set has multi-view capability.
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What is multichannelling?
Because a digital signal can carry much more data than an analog signal, more than one channel of television programs can be broadcast in SDTV at the same time. This is known as multichannelling.
The Federal Government has decided that commercial broadcasters are not allowed to multichannel, but that the ABC and SBS may do so.
The ABC and SBS are allowed to broadcast, in addition to their main services, a wide range of programs including educational programs, regional news and current affairs, science and arts programs, children’s programs, subtitled foreign programs, foreign language news and occasional dramas.
Currently the ABC provides two extra services ABC Kids (6am to 6pm) and Fly (6pm to 6am)
The ABC and SBS are able to transmit their radio services through their television channels, extending the reach of these services.
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What are program enhancements?
Viewers of digital television will have a wide choice of ‘enhancements’ to regular programming. Enhancements are separate channels of video, data or audio, which are related to the program on the primary channel.
Sports programs may offer the choice of a different camera angle, action replays, player profiles or other information. Across a range of programming, digital viewers will have a choice to select more information related to the regular program – product information, recipes, news background and much more.
In addition, if a sports event overlaps with the news, digital viewers may be offered the opportunity to watch the regularly scheduled news bulletin or the completion of the event on a separate channel.
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What is Closed Captioning?
Closed captioning provides deaf and hearing-impaired viewers with the text of what is being spoken on television. The text is usually shown in a black box at the bottom of the picture. Hearing-impaired viewers will be familiar with current analog captioning which can be received on analog receivers with teletext capability. Captioning is normally ‘closed’ to viewers but can be accessed by those who need it.
Closed captioning does not interfere with normal viewing. Digital television reception equipment is expected to have closed captioning capability. Analog television sets require the Teletext feature to display the closed captioning provided by a digital set top box.
Closed captioning of programming for hearing impaired viewers will be done for all English language news and current affairs programs as well as for all prime time programs (6.00pm to 10.30pm).
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What is an EPG (Electronic Program Guide)?
An EPG is the electronic version of a printed program guide. Using your remote control you will be able to see on-screen “what’s on now” and “what’s on next” for all free-to-air services. You may also be able to search for a particular program by theme or category, eg sporting programs, movies etc. Extra text and picture information (eg story line, episode description etc) can be called up as well. The EPG is always up-to-date and available at the click of a remote control button.
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What is interactive television (iTV)?
iTV allows the viewer to receive more information from television broadcast than analog can provide. iTV can be one-way (unconnected) or two-way (connected).
One-way iTV delivers information to your receiver that is additional to the main program and that allows you the option to view it or not. The viewer is able to view travel deals, concert dates etc.
Full, two-way iTV enables you to send information back to the broadcaster via a back channel. The viewer is able to vote in a poll, reserve concert tickets, etc.
Both one-way and two-way iTV can be added to commercials as well as programs.
A special icon will appear on the screen to notify the viewer iTV is available.
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