The digital TV switchover – what does it change or improve?

What you get from digital switchover

We’ve hinted above at some of the goodies that digital TV provides, but just to lay it out plainly, compared to analog TV, digital gives you:

  1. Even with standard definition, picture quality is near-to or better than DVD quality
  2. High definition on some stations – not Blu-ray quality, but impressive none-the-less
  3. High quality digital sound on all stations, with Dolby Digital surround sound on some programs
  4. Electronic program guide (EPG) for easy channel searching – up to eight days ahead on some platforms
  5. Convenient recording from EPG with low cost, intelligent PVRs
  6. More channels means more programming choice

Yes, more channels. Fifteen, in fact. The basic channel range from analog is duplicated, plus all of the networks offer extra stations (or will soon, in the case of some regional areas). Network Ten’s ‘One HD’ gives sports from around the world, mostly in full high definition. Nine’s ‘Go!’ brings back a huge range of older sitcoms from our childhood, plus new programming that hasn’t quite made it to the main stations. ‘ABC 2′ has kiddie stuff in the daytime, unusual documentaries in the evenings, and themed classic movies on Saturday nights. ABC3, a dedicated kids channel, should be broadcasting by the time you read this, SBS2 features time-shifted programming from the main channel, and the Seven network’s 7TWO channel provides unique programming, including first-run TV series’, re-runs and lifestyle shows.

The choice isn’t as wide as with Pay TV, but the last couple of years have seen a revolutionary expansion of offerings from the Freeview channels. Oh, and there are no subscription fees involved.

But what does this cost you?

Of course, to enjoy this wealth of choice and quality – and once the analog switch-off deadline has been reached in your area, to enjoy any TV at all – you may need to take steps.

The most obvious, if you haven’t already acquired the equipment, will be the need to purchase a digital TV tuner in one form or another. We’ll go into that shortly.

Another potential cost might be actual loss of TV reception entirely in some regional areas. Analog TV isn’t very high in quality, and it isn’t very robust, but it can nonetheless deliver some service, with ghosting and drop-outs and loss of colour and noisy audio, out to occasionally incredible ranges. Digital TV works brilliantly in most cases. But if the signal drops below a certain threshold, beyond the ability of the error correction protocols built into the system to repair, then you will not get any TV at all.

The Federal Government’s Digital Switchover Taskforce says that it will provide assistance, including some financial assistance, to help in tricky cases. It remains to be seen, however, how much help will be forthcoming to the most remote and difficult reception areas.

One final cost will be for some people with picture-in-picture TVs. Some of these allow both the digital and analog tuners to be employed to provide access to two TV stations at once. No analog means no twin-tuner PIP.

Additional reading

To learn more about the digital TV switchover, what it will bring and what you need to do, click the titles below to read related stories on this topic.

The digital TV switchover – why are we having it? – Analog TV will soon be unavailable to some Australian households, and by the end of 2013 we must all convert to digital if we want to watch TV at all. Learn what you have to do, and what’s in it for you.

The digital TV switchover – what do you need to do? – The digital switchover – what TV will you need, and do you need a set-top box?