Digital television FAQ | ACMA

Digital television FAQ

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What is digital TV?

Digital television is replacing the existing analog television services. It can provide significantly improved picture and sound quality including features such as widescreen pictures and digital audio. Digital television is more resistant to noise created by electrical appliances so tends to be less prone to interference. Importantly digital television offers more features such as electronic program guides and parental lock (a feature that supports parents and guardians in protecting their children from content on television which they might consider inappropriate or harmful) and more channels than have previously been available in analog services (such as ABC2, ABC3 or SBS TWO). Free-to-air broadcasters (Seven, Nine, Ten, the ABC and SBS) are progressively adding new digital channels and content.

What are the benefits of digital TV over my current analog service?

Digital TV has many advantages over traditional analog television, including sharper DVD-quality widescreen pictures, CD-quality digital stereo sound and improved reception.

In addition to improved visual and audio quality, digital TV enables broadcasters to offer more services or show multiple programs at the same time meaning a number of new TV channels to choose from. Other features made available by digital TV include closed captioning, providing deaf and hearing impaired people with a text version of dialogue, electronic program guides which display on screen information on current and future programming and multi view, where different camera angles of a program, such as a sports program, can be viewed.

Is digital TV available in my area and what services are available?

Information on when each region will be switching off analog broadcasts and moving to digital only broadcasts is available at the Department of Communications (DoC) website: Are you READY for digital TV?.

The mySwitch tool will enable you to identify the broadcast services available in your area that are already transmitting in digital.

The ACMA also publishes a list of all licensed broadcasting transmitters in Australia in the Radio and Television Broadcasting Stations Book, which indicates if a broadcaster has been licensed to provide a service in your area. Additionally, local broadcasters can confirm if digital TV services have commenced in your area. Contact details for broadcasters can be sourced from the Free TV Australia website.

What equipment do I need to receive digital TV?

You can receive digital TV on your current analog television provided the television is able to be connected to a set top box. Alternatively, digital TV signals can be received on an integrated digital television where a digital receiver is built into the set. If you are purchasing a new digital television or set-top box, the Australian Government has developed a scheme where labels are attached to digital equipment for sale in retail outlets. Further information on the labelling scheme can be viewed at the DoC website Are you READY for digital TV?.  Alternatively, digital TV can be received via a hard disk or DVD recorder with a digital tuner or via PC cards or other devices such USB sticks which allow digital reception through a computer.

Australian terrestrial television services are currently broadcast using the MPEG 2 standard which can provide both standard definition and high definition services. While some countries have chosen to use MPEG 4 for the provision of DTV services Australian broadcasters do not yet use MPEG 4 transmissions but may do so at some future time. MPEG 4 functionality can assist in other functions with receivers such as connectivity to computers, camcorders and other digital devices. Some manufacturers will incorporate MPEG 4 into their digital receivers to increase the functionality of the devices and future proof those receivers against any possible future change. The ACMA notes that broadcasters have announced, before they make any move to change their transmission streams to MPEG 4, they would consult with the government. The ACMA recognises the value of incorporating MPEG 4 into a receiver specification to 'future proof' the receiver for possible changes in technology in the longer term.

How can I connect my other entertainment equipment when I install a digital set-top box?

Your digital TV or set-top box is likely to be one of a number of audio/video (AV) devices such as VCRs, DVDs, sound systems and video cameras that make up your entertainment system. The ACMA has created these diagrams to provide advice on integrating your digital TV or set-top box into your existing entertainment system. Please be aware these diagrams are guidelines only. You might like to ask your retailer if they can install the equipment for you, or if they can recommend someone who can.

Will I need a new antenna?

In most cases, existing antennas that are in good condition and connected using quality coaxial cable are capable of providing adequate reception in good signal areas. However, in some areas the new channels used for digital TV services may be incompatible with antennas currently in use for existing analog channels. Further information on antennas and adequate digital reception can be obtained from the DoC website Are you READY for digital TV?

How long do I have to make the switch to digital TV?

The switch to digital TV will take place progressively on a region-by-region basis. You will need to be ready to make the switch to digital TV by the time switchover is completed in your region. Further information on particular regions and when the switch will take place in your area is available on the DoC website Are you READY for digital?

What can I do if I know a new digital TV channel has commenced, but I can't see it on my TV?

Not all digital TV receivers automatically detect the arrival of a new digital TV channel. As a result, some receivers will require a retune when a new channel is launched.

Retuning of digital services is usually done through the menu of a digital television or set-top box. Usually the option of retuning is available in the 'set-up' menu. Once you have accessed this menu you should choose 'retune', 'store channels', 'rescan' or 'replace' and allow the set to automatically identify digital services.

While there is significant variability between brands and models of television 'Full' retunes of the set will delete lists such as the favourites you have selected in your set but are sometimes preferable as they ensure old services that are no longer transmitted are deleted from equipment memory. If you have services appearing on Channel 350 this is sometimes an indication that your set is in need of a retune. Consult your manual for further details.

Please note:

  • if you live in an apartment building or block of units you may use a shared antenna system that requires adjustment before it can receive a new channel—if after performing a retune you still can't view a new channel, check with your building manager to ensure that your shared antenna system is set up to receive all digital services
  • some receivers contain both digital and analog tuners—you should be careful to ensure that you are scanning for digital, rather than analog channels
  • the retune may delete the 'favourite channel' settings stored in your receiver or reset the personal identification number set for parental lock—if these features are important to you, you should check them after performing a retune and reset them if required.

What if I have a problem with my digital TV reception?

With digital television it can be difficult to differentiate between reception problems related to your installed television antenna, and those related to interference from nearby sources.

A large proportion of reception problems are caused by inadequate or faulty reception equipment such as antennas or cables. Most such problems can be resolved with the help of an experienced local antenna installer.

The government has produced a number of handbooks about digital TV antenna systems. It has also introduced an Antenna Installer Endorsement Scheme to ensure that consumers have access to skilled and endorsed antenna installers. Copies of the publications, and further information about the endorsement scheme (including a list of the endorsed installers operating in your region), are available on the DoC website Are you READY for digital TV?

In some cases, reception may be also affected by 'impulse noise' interference. Impulse noise can be generated by the use of light switches, hair dryers, car engines, a number of other domestic appliances and in some cases high voltage powerlines.

If you, in consultation with an endorsed antenna installer have established that your antenna system is in good repair and that the source of your reception problem is external interference, you can seek the ACMA's assistance to investigate and diagnose the problem. Further information is available through the ACMA's interference investigation service.

What if the digital free-to-air (terrestrial) services aren't available in my area?

If you live in an area where there is not adequate reception of the full range of free-to-air digital commercial services, you may be eligible for access to the satellite services provided on the new VAST satellite platform. If you can't get the national services (the ABC and SBS) free-to-air, you will also be able to access them on VAST. More information on VAST is available from the ACMA and the Department of Communications website.

What if I currently receive analog television via a self-help retransmission service?

Self-help sites receive and retransmit signals from the main television broadcaster towers or satellites to viewers in areas that cannot get any or adequate coverage from the main towers. Located across Australia, they were established to provide analog television signals in areas which were not serviced by the broadcasters directly, and tend to cover low populations in remote and regional areas.

Self-help sites are usually owned and operated by local councils, community organisations, businesses such as mines or indigenous groups.

Although many self-help sites will be converted to digital as part of an agreement between the Government and broadcasters, approximately 600 sites will remain unconverted.

In January 2010, the government announced that a new satellite service will be implemented to provide viewers who rely on unconverted self-help sites with access to digital television. Further information about the implementation and operation of the satellite service is available in the FAQ section of the DoC website Are you READY for digital TV?

Why are some programs on digital TV louder than others?

One possible cause for your sound problems could be in the volume levels between the audio types used by broadcasters for different types of service. Television stations in Australia predominantly transmit AAC3 audio while transmitting high definition services but will transmit MPEG Audio with standard definition services.

This difference in audio types between HD and SD services can evidence as a significant change in volume between channels or between subsequent programs when the type of content changes.  Recent changes to some services have meant that the differences between AAC3 and MPEG levels on some sets have been more pronounced requiring consumers to adjust their sets accordingly.

Many television receivers have an adjustment that allows the consumer to set the relative levels of the MPEG audio against the AAC3 audio. Some sets have the MPEG sound level adjustment in the digital set up area of the menu or in the audio area of the menu.

It's worth exploring the settings on the digital TV to see whether there are adjustments for the MPEG audio level. You can also contact the manufacturer or retailer directly through their website or customer service number.

Where can I get more information?

The Department of Communications is responsible for overseeing Australia's transition to digital TV. Its website Are you READY for digital TV? has the most up-to-date digital TV switchover information.

Further information can also be found on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website.

Last updated: 17 December 2012