A warm reception for viewers in the Hunter | ACMA

Interference

11 December, 2015 10:22 AM

Interference

A warm reception for viewers in the Hunter

By Peter Watts

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Great news! Broadcasters have come up with an initiative to improve TV reception in some parts of the Hunter region.  

In early 2016, viewers should have new and upgraded services, as a result of investment in new infrastructure that provides an alternative TV source. 

While these initiatives will go a long way to improve reception for many viewers, due to the complex nature of TV reception in the Hunter, there will still be some areas where TV reception problems continue.

What’s been the problem?

TV reception in the Hunter area has always been unusually challenging, with Mother Nature throwing in a few curve balls. The hilly countryside means that a large number of TV tower sites are needed to provide adequate television coverage, and the addition of a weather phenomenon called ‘seasonal ducting’ (see below) has also played a part. 

Apart from these things we can’t control, poor antenna installation and cabling, wrongly located antennas, and incorrect receiver tuning are also to blame for reception difficulties. 

Seasonal ducting—is it a food, does it quack ... what is it?

Even with correct antenna installation, some viewers in the Hunter region may still have experienced poor TV reception because of the natural phenomenon known as atmospheric or signal ducting.  

Atmospheric ducting of TV signals happens when distinctive weather conditions—especially high-pressure systems and still conditions—causes distant broadcast signals to travel further than planned. These unintended ‘rogue’ signals then interfere with local signals because antennas and receivers can’t differentiate between the local signals and those being ducted from distant TV towers. Ducting interference affects mainly households in the townships north of Newcastle that receive services from Mt Sugarloaf, as Mt Sugarloaf services operate on the same channels as the high power transmission site that serves the Illawarra area to the south of Sydney. 

Summer is the most common time for ducting to occur, but it can happen at any time if conditions are right. You may be able to tell it’s ducting if your TV reception is affected in the late afternoon or early evening.

So, what’s the fix?

New infrastructure

The regional TV commercial broadcasters have put forward a plan that the Federal Government is supporting towards alleviating this ducting issue and improve coverage in some parts, by investing in new transmission infrastructure at three sites identified by the broadcasters:

  • Port Stephens residents will have their existing TV tower upgraded to increase power and extend coverage.
  • Bulahdelah residents will have a new TV tower established.
  • Medowie, Salt Ash and the lower Tilligery Peninsula residents will have a new TV tower established at Wallaroo.  

By using different channels, these towers (as well as Anna Bay) will provide an alternative TV source that is reliable and not affected by the ducting. 

The new and upgraded services are all expected to be in operation by early 2016.

What I need to do to improve my reception?

  • Check with the experts and get advice from an antenna installer—Consult an experienced and reputable antenna installer. They can advise if any of these new towers will cover you, the most appropriate antenna type, placement and orientation, and have the right equipment and knowledge to address individual situations.
  • Improve your antenna installation—You may have to make changes to your existing reception arrangements to take advantage of the new and upgraded services. For some households, this may simply mean adjusting the antenna so that points to the correct TV tower. For others, it may be necessary to replace the antenna, along with any cabling or connections that are substandard or in poor condition.
  • Surveys conducted by broadcasters and the Australian Communications and Media Authority found significant numbers of households in the Hunter region have inappropriate, incorrectly set-up or inadequate antennas. Depending your location, it’s possible that some households may be able to fix their problems straight away by optimising their reception arrangements.
  • Try to receive new and upgraded services if possible—In the Hunter area, no single transmission site provides coverage to the entire populated area. So, depending on your location, you should try to position your antenna to receive TV services from the most appropriate TV tower, even if the signals from the Mt Sugarloaf tower appear to be stronger. Picking up the new signals reduces the chance of ducting interference, as the new and upgraded services are not affected by the ducting.
  • Tune your receiver to the right channels—As multiple transmission sites provide coverage to this area, some TVs or set-top boxes may automatically tune into services that are affected by ducting, which still gives poor coverage. If you’re getting multiple, different versions of the same channel, try re-tuning your TV. The manual tuning option may be the best way to do this. 

The hills are alive ... is there another alternative?

Those pesky trees … While the TV tower upgrades are expected to improve the TV reception, some households will still have trouble (even if they have proper antenna equipment and installation) because TV signals get obstructed by the hilly countryside, trees or buildings. If you still can’t get reliable TV reception, you can join the other 200,000 households across Australia and take advantage of the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service.   

Launched in 2010, VAST was established by the Australian Government to provide households without reliable terrestrial television reception with access to a range of standard and HD digital services. Channels on VAST include ABC1 (NSW), ABC 2/ABC4kids, ABC3, ABC News 24, SBSONE, SBSHD, SBS2 and NITV. Nine commercial digital channels are provided by Imparja Television and Southern Cross Austereo, drawing on programs from the Seven, Nine and Ten networks. VAST also provides dedicated news channels carrying bulletins from regional commercial television broadcasters, including bulletins from NBN Central Coast and NBN Newcastle. A range of ABC and SBS radio services is also available via VAST.  

While there are no subscription costs, reception of the VAST service requires the installation of satellite reception equipment and a VAST set-top box. 

Where can I find more information?

New services—commencement dates and how to access them:

General TV reception information:

Accessing VAST services:

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