Digital Television in Australia

[5]High Definition[5]

HDTV is not Digital Television

A lot of people get the impression that HDTV and Digital Television are the same thing. This is not the case. Digital Television offers many things and High Definition is one of them. High Definition brings a widescreen format to the home television as well as a sharper picture. The picture is sharper because with HDTV, there is much more information sent to describe many more individual pixels or dots which make up this picture.

HDTV sets will not cost a fortune

<Sigh> - when I wrote this section it was an attempt to battle the extensive negative reporting HDTV was receiving. Unfortunatly, those arguing against it have won out. SDTV was made a broadcast requirement, meaning receivers that weren't HDTV-capable could be sold. This means the SDTV requirement can never be reversed.

I'm a little disheartened about the future of HDTV in Australia now to be honest. It will still be around of course, but it will never be what it could have been and this may force it to stay out of reach of most of us for a very long time... and it will never quite reach the level of the demonstrations I saw in 1999 that so impressed me.

Don't worry though... if you're a hi-fi nut or similar with deeper pockets than myself, you'll still get a quality of video that will blow you away - even making the reasonable assumption that you're already used to DVD quality. Better still, HDTV equipment is not too far away.

Well if I can't have HDTV... what's the point of going digital?

Well if you've read other pages of this site, you'll already know some of the answers to this question. Here's a summary for everyone else and quick refresher for you good people.

Widescreen

For those who can afford to buy a new TV, just not a fancy HDTV one, you're still going to get a new wider screen. It's still not going to be as wide as cinema screens, but it's a lot nicer than the 4:3 ratio screens of current televisions.

Reduced/No Interference

Ever had ghosting (Sydney - I'm looking at you)? Ever get lines whenever your neighbour's pool filter/air conditioner/whatever is on? You're going to love Digital Television. Even if you just get a Set-Top-Unit and keep your current TV.

Clearer Pictures and Sound

Do you prefer CD's over Vinyl Records? Your picture less than crystal-clear? Want to get into Digital 5.1 Channel Surround Sound? Um, okay, that last one is still going to be a bit pricy until more people start to get into it, but still, these are all going to be there even if you want to step up to HDTV later.

This said... Dolby Digital is another casualty of the Howard Government. Australia was the trail blazer in having Dolby Digital added to the DVB standard, but in the end Dolby Digital on DVB was up and running in another country before Australian Digital broadcasts started... and now Dolby Digital need only be provided at the broadcaster's discretion. They may use MPEG Musicam (stereo) audio instead (or additionally) if they wish. This is particularly disturbing as the intended goal of this change - cheaper Set Top Boxes - will not eventuate, not now, not ever. The cost of providing Dolby Digital chips over MPEG Audio was minimal. It's merely an added burden for broadcasters and afurther dilution of quality for consumers.

Multiple Channels/Views

The ABC and SBS will be allowed to use Multiple Channels to enhance their content delivery and do more to meet their respective charters, albeit with some content restrictions. Other than that, the commercial networks may start using the Multiple Channel functionality to deliver different views of the same event - sporting or otherwise. In either case, an HDTV actually offers no advantage over a normal widescreen digital television at all.

Easy access to captions

You can call up "closed" captions (so-called since you only see them if you do call them up) with (almost) any Digital receiver... no need to make sure you have Teletext. It's also far easier... most likely a button marked "Captions". Teletext systems have to be first accessed, then you have to know that in Australia we use Teletext Page 801.

The Digital TV legislation also brought in new captioning requirements. Now everything in prime-time has to have closed captions available... while news and current affairs at any time of day must carry it. Best of all, this "feature" benefits people without Digital TV... if you've got a teletext decoder, you can enjoy these captions already.

Datacasting/Interactive TV

The possibilities here are very exciting... (2006 note: ...but so far in Australia, this has gone nowhere fast).

Very nice. What's all this doing on the High Definition page?

To drum in my initial point. HDTV is not the same as digital television. It's just one of the enhanced features that will be out there. Sure, it will always be the most pricey of the lot, but if it proves popular it will become affordable in the long run.

Obviously as lamented above, the role of HDTV in Australia is now forever changed. I'll eventually have to re-organise this site and change the focus accordingly.

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