Digital Television in Austrlia

What is digital television?

Digital television is a replacement technology for existing free-to-air analog services. It will provide better picture quality and reception, plus a variety of new features that enhance the viewing experience.
The digital television industry in Australia will use the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) 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

When does free-to-air digital television commence?

Digital television commenced on 1 January 2001. Digital transmissions became available in Australia's five major capital cities - Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth - from that date.
Testing in those cities began in late 2000. Testing of metropolitan repeaters and in regional markets will take place during 2001.
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 may start on 1 January 2001 or soon after. Proposed commencement dates will be advised when they come to hand.
A timetable for the commencement of digital broadcasting in remote parts of Australia has not yet been settled.

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


Much improved reception capability, including the elimination of ghosting and other transmission errors


A 16 x 9 aspect ratio, or screen shape. This is also known as widescreen. It is similar to the aspect ratio that is widely used in the cinema.


Standard Definition television (SDTV)


High Definition television (HDTV)


High quality audio


Electronic Program Guides (EPGs). A basic EPG can be used by viewers to navigate between channels, identify the currently screening program and the next program ('now and next') on each channel. More sophisticated EPGs can be used to set reminders for program viewing, provide a short synopsis of the content of programs, identify programming in advance for several days, search for programs by genre, and provide access to some enhancements


Multichannel programs on the ABC and SBS


Radio programs on the ABC and SBS


Program enhancements on separate channels to the primary program, eg, additional camera angles on a sports match, statistics about a player, or additional information about a segment in a lifestyle or magazine program.


Broadcasters will be allowed to broadcast more than one channel when certain events, such as sporting matches, extend beyond time due to circumstances beyond the broadcasters' control, and overlap a regularly scheduled news program. This will allow viewers the option of continuing to watch the end of the event or the news bulletin.


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).

Over time, interactive television services and services, including selected Internet services, home shopping, computer games, etc will be provided by broadcasters and datacasters

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, so viewers will continue to be able to use current analog television sets to receive broadcasts until at least the end of 2008.
And, beyond the end of simulcasting, the addition of a digital-to-analog converter in the form of a set-top box will allow viewers to continue to receive digital transmissions with their analog sets.
Viewers using set top boxes will be able to receive other features of digital, such as additional program streams. Because most existing analog sets have a 4x3 screen format (shape), using a digital set top box with a 4x3 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 television (HDTV), will require a widescreen digital receiver that is capable of receiving and displaying a HDTV signal.

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.
However, VCRs will not be able to record a separate digital broadcast from that being viewed, although during the simulcast period they will be able to record any analog program while a different digital program is being viewed.
Current VHS video recorders will still only record VHS-quality pictures, even when an HDTV program is being recorded. 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-visual connection.

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 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 UHF band, so reception should generally be possible using existing UHF antennas.
Viewers in areas of poor analog reception may need specialist advice about antenna requirements for digital reception in their area.

How expensive will digital set-top boxes and television sets be?

Retail prices for integrated digital television sets are not yet known. The first known set-top box will retail for $699.00. Prices can be expected to reduce over time.
And prices will vary depending upon the type and capabilities of receivers.
Information about the products of DBA members will be provided as soon as it becomes available.

When will digital set-top boxes and television sets become available?

Some digital television reception equipment, in the form of digital set-top box decoders, was available in Australia when digital broadcasting began on 1 January 2001.
The availability and range of digital reception equipment will increase during 2001, with a wider range of options becoming available during 2002.

What if I want to buy now?

There are currently no digital television sets on the market in Australia. Some digital set-top box decoders will become available very early in the year. The best current option is to buy a good quality analog television set, ideally in a 16x9 widescreen format.
A digital converter set top box can be added later to any analog television set to receive digital transmissions.

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.

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 an analog television set, will usually give viewers an improved signal, SDTV-equivalent 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 capable of receiving and displaying a HDTV signal may not be available initially.
Set top boxes can provide a picture output to either analog or digital screen displays.

What is an integrated digital television receiver?

This is a television set which contains all the components necessary to receive and display digital transmissions.
Integrated digital television receivers will generally be distinguished by wide screens, high level audio capability and high resolution displays. They will not require a set top box

What is Standard Definition television (SDTV)?

Standard Definition television (SDTV) is digital television with improved reception capability when compared to the existing analog service.
SDTV will be in widescreen format, provide enhancements and multichannelling, and eliminate ghosting and other errors found in analog transmissions.
The Federal Government requires broadcasters to provide a digital SDTV signal at all times, even when HDTV services are being broadcast. This is to ensure that viewers will always be able to receive a digital transmission - without this requirement some viewers with a digital receiver capable only of receiving and displaying a SDTV signal would not be able to view the SDTV version of the program when the higher quality HDTV signal is transmitted.
SDTV-only integrated receivers and set top boxes are expected to be cheaper than integrated receivers and set top boxes that can display both SDTV and HDTV.

What is High Definition television (HDTV)?

High Definition television (HDTV) provides image resolution which is superior to SDTV and to the existing analog, with up to six times the improvement in detail.
This means that the benefits of HDTV are particularly noticeable on larger screen sets and when using projection equipment.
HDTV will be in widescreen format and provide 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 in HDTV.
HDTV integrated receivers and set top boxes are expected to cost more than SDTV integrated receivers and set top boxes.

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 will not be allowed to multichannel, but that the ABC and SBS may do so.
The ABC and SBS will be 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.
The ABC and SBS will also be able to transmit their radio services through their television channels, extending the reach of these services.

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.
Sporting events will offer the choice of different camera angles, 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.

What is Datacasting?

Because a digital signal can carry much more data than an analog signal, broadcasters and other licence holders will have the option to provide information services to viewers, in addition to regular program channels. This is known as datacasting.
Datacasting services can be provided both by broadcasters and by a new class of service providers known as datacasters. Datacasting services will be different from traditional commercial broadcasting services.
Datacasters will be able to provide services such as information programs, interactive home shopping, banking and bill paying, education programs and interactive games.
Datacasters will also be able to provide their customers with access to selected Internet services and electronic mail.
Datacasters will be able to provide news and current affairs programs, programs on business and financial information, and weather bulletins. These may be provided in the form of short broadcast bulletins, and through the interactive selection of stories on individual news items or topics.
Aspirant datacasters who are not broadcasters will be eligible to apply for datacasting licences from Australian regulatory authorities when they are made available for allocation.
Datacasting services are expected to commence in 2002.

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. All digital television reception equipment is expected to have closed captioning capability.


This Document was issued by DBICG Education Subgroup