Preparing for Australia’s digital TV switchover
Geek's guide

Preparing for Australia’s digital TV switchover

30 January 2013 | 7:30 am

Are you ready for the death of analogue broadcasting?

More than a decade after the launch of Australia’s first digital TV channels, the time has come to pull the plug on the fuzzy old analogue channels. Much of regional Australia has already made the switch to digital-only broadcasting, with the capital cities due to follow suit this year. Melbourne and Sydney are last to go in December and, by Christmas 2013, we’ll all have made the switch to digital.

Do I need to dump my old TV on the nature strip?

If you’ve bought a new widescreen TV in the last few years, it probably has built-in digital TV tuners, but thankfully you don’t need to buy a new television to make the leap to digital. The easiest option is to buy yourself a cheap digital set-top box, which can plug into your old television. It’s worth spending a few extra dollars on a high-definition set-top box that lets you watch the extra HD channels, albeit downscaled to standard-def for your old television.

If your digital set-top box can’t pick up the digital channels, or the picture keeps freezing, you might need a new aerial. If the picture is freezing, it’s worth moving wireless equipment further away from your television and replacing your aerial cable with an RG6 quad shield cable to see if that fixes the problem.

How do I connect it to my TV?

It’s important to consider the video connectors on the back of your television when buying a set-top box. HDMI offers the best picture quality, followed by component video. If your television lacks these inputs, you might find SCART or S-Video connectors on the back, otherwise you’ll need to rely on composite video – one yellow plug for the picture along with red and white plugs for the sound.

If your television is really old, it might only have an RF aerial socket on the back. If this is the case then you’ll need a set-top box with an RF modulator, so it can send the digital channels to your television via the aerial cable. Choose carefully, as many set-top boxes have both aerial inputs and outputs but still lack an RF modulator. One alternative is to use your old VCR as the middleman, plugging the digital set-top box into the VCR’s video inputs and then plugging the VCR into the television’s aerial socket.

How do I record digital TV?

The analogue TV tuners in your VCR will be useless after the digital switchover, but if your set-top box is running through your VCR then you can still tape the digital channels. It’s a rather cumbersome workaround and a better solution is to invest in a new personal video recorder (PVR), which records digital television to a built-in hard drive. PVRs can perform impressive tricks such as pausing and rewinding live television, recording two shows at once and letting you watch the start of a movie while you’re still recording the end.

You’ll find that many televisions and set-top boxes can also record digital television straight to a USB stick, although they tend to lack the advanced features of a dedicated PVR. If USB recording features are built into digital TV gear you already own then you might want to try them out before handing over the cash for a PVR.

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