Digital TV

It served us well for an epic 57 years. But when the last analogue TV transmitter in Australia was switched off at the end of 2013, the country entered the full-digital TV age. All after a long, long transition. And it didn’t come without its annoyances, as anyone who was perfectly happy with their old analogue TV will surely tell you. So if you’re looking on how to make the switch to digital, we’ve got your back.

Digital TV started broadcasting in Australia way back at the turn of the millennium in 2001. It’s been a slow transition since then. Part of the reason for that was cost. Virtually no TVs were able to receive digital channels, so you’d need to buy a separate device to plug into your TV to watch digital. The device is known as a “set top box” (even though balancing anything on top of most TVs is impossible!). Those boxes didn’t come cheap. Hence, if you wanted to experience the new high definition versions of free-to-air channels, you could be $1000 out of pocket.

Times change, though. For years now, all TVs sold in Australia have come with digital tuners built in. Moreover, quality set top boxes for those hanging on to their old analogue TV sets dropped in price to as little as $30. In 2010 the analogue switch-off started. Those analogue TVs’ days were numbered.

But I’ve got a perfectly good analogue set in the spare room!

If that’s you, you’re far from alone. And the good news is that you don’t need to throw that beloved TV out on the nature strip. As long as it has some way of getting a video signal into it, all you need to do is pop down to your local store and buy a low-cost set top box. Ones that fully support high definition channels are available for less than 40 bucks. Just plug the antenna lead into the box. Then, connect the box’s video and audio outputs to your old TV and select the TV’s video input on the remote. You now have a working digital TV capable of receiving all 20+ free-to-air channels – one that’s perfect as a second TV.

SD and HD – what’s the difference?

SD or HD
Digital TV opened up the possibility of HD channels for the first time – with HD standing for High Definition, and “regular” channels classed as SD (Standard Definition). The difference lies in the quality of the picture. HD is five times as detailed as SD and appears far clearer and sharper, as well as offering richer colour. But if your TV isn’t capable of displaying a HD image, you may not see much of a difference. Many TVs sold as “HD” in the early days of digital actually don’t support what’s known as “full HD”, which is what free-to-air broadcasters use on their HD channels. If you’re happy with your TV’s picture as it is, though, there’s no need to worry. You can still watch HD channels on your TV via a set top box, and it’ll look just fine.

I’ve got a digital TV but can’t receive HD channels

In recent years, the free-to-air networks have massively expanded the amount of channels they offer. And yet, you may not be seeing many of them. The reason for this is simple. The broadcasters changed many of their extra channels to use a newer, more efficient format that lets them cram more channels into a broadcast at higher quality. But some older digital TVs and set top boxes – especially those made in 2007 and before – don’t understand this newer format and don’t know what to do with the signal they’re receiving. It means you’re missing out on many of the current HD channels as well as some niche ones like Racing.com. But don’t worry, no expensive new TV purchase is required. Any HD set top box or PVR you buy today does support this format and you can gain full access to the whole range of channels simply by plugging one into your TV.

An even better solution – The PVR

The Personal Video Recorder (PVR) is a brilliant option for accessing digital TV on an older set. Think of it as a set top box on steroids! A PVR can not only receive digital TV, it can record it as well – sometimes from multiple channels at the same time while you’re watching something else on live TV. You don’t need tapes or discs to record onto – it’s all recorded to a huge hard disk inside the box. Stand-alone PVRs are a lot cheaper than they used to be, but they’re still a bit on the pricey side. Perhaps the reason they never went truly mainstream. But if you love your TV and want to take full advantage of the versatility digital TV offers, a PVR’s a great solution.

If you’ve ever subscribed to Foxtel or know someone who does, you’ll already probably have encountered a PVR. Foxtel’s iQ boxes are advanced proprietary PVRs with extra abilities.

What about Freeview?

Freeview
Borrowing the name from the UK’s digital TV system, Freeview is the brand that the free-to-air channels decided to market digital TV under. So, you’ll see products on the market like set top boxes and PVRs with the Freeview logo on them. That’s both a guarantee of compatibility with Australian TV and a sign that more advanced features might be available on the device. Such as the latest Freeview innovation that combines an enhanced on-screen program guide with direct access to the channels’ catch-up services right there on the screen.

Digital’s here to stay

The transition from analogue to digital TV has been a bumpy ride that’s taken many years. However, digital has provided real benefits for TV fans – better picture quality, more channels, even cinema-style sound on some channels. That doesn’t mean you have to condemn your beloved big-screen analogue TV to the scrap heap just yet. It’s cheaper than it’s ever been to give it an upgrade to bring it into the digital age.