Digital-only TV the new reality


The roll-out of digital-only television has surged, with Adelaide becoming the first capital city to go all-digital.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The federal government's roll-out of digital-only television has surged, with Adelaide becoming the first capital city to go all-digital.

Analogue signals have been switched off this week for over half-a-million Adelaide homes.

Tasmania and Perth are set to follow later in April, with the process to be completed in capital cities by the end of this year.

So what does the digital television era hold for Australia and how will it change lives?

The switch to digital is being hailed as a breakthrough moment for television viewing in Australia.

Analogue TV signals are being switched off around the country: region by region, city by city, home by home.

Those wishing to continue watching their favourite daily soaps will need to either get rid of their old analogue TV and buy a new digital one, or buy a digital set-top box.

A box can cost from around $50 for a basic model, right up to $1,000.

The national digital drive is being led by the Federal Government's Digital Switchover Taskforce.

Taskforce executive director Nerida O'Loughlin explains the significance of the move to all-digital.

"The conversion to digital is probably the biggest move in television really since the introduction of colour television in the '70s, so it is a really significant change. What we'll probably find is that over time, the broadcasting industry, like most other places, will improve their technology and introduce new versions of digital. But we're not looking at any major new technology coming down the pathway for a considerable length of time."

Once the spectrum currently taken up by analogue signals is freed up, it will be auctioned off by the government for new services such as mobile broadband.

Ms O'Loughlin says the main benefit for viewers in watching the new digital spectrum will be more choice.

She says this will have particular benefits for people living in rural and remote parts of the country.

"Digital provides 17 free-to-air channels, whereas with analogue there are only five television channels available. And in some cases of Australia, particularly more remote areas, they only ever had access to four analogue channels so there's a real boost in terms of the numbers of channels that can be provided; better quality pictures, better sound and the widescreen format that people have got used to with their DVDs."

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the digital rollout should be completed by the end of this year.

Tasmania and Perth are to make the switch to digital later this month, followed by Brisbane in May, Darwin in July and Sydney and Melbourne in December.

But there have been some concerns the rollout is behind schedule.

Joanne Jacobs is a digital adoption expert with digital marketing firm 1000-Heads and adjunct associate professor of creative industries at Queensland University of Technology.

She says there have been delays in the digital rollout.

"At this stage it's a bit open to when we can actually get all cities and regional centres operational. There was an idea to have it finished by now, in the earlier days when we were discussing it. Now it's looking like 2015 to 2017 depending on the region."

The government says over 200,000 homes have taken up its Household Assistance Scheme for people on selected pensions who need help setting up their digital boxes, or who can't afford the new system.

Ms Jacobs says this has been one of the major challenges for the digital rollout.

"The major issue really is going to be ensuring that those people who are not necessarily technologically adept are adequately serviced by the switchover teams that are coming into houses and helping people to set up those boxes."

The drive towards digital has had one notable side-effect: tens of thousands of old and disused analogue TVs.

The South Australian government's recycling body, Zero Waste SA, has been helping promote the recycling of these TVs in the lead-up to the national digital switchover.

Zero Waste engagement program manager Simone Cunningham says 20,000 unwanted televisions were collected in the two months leading to the changeover in regional South Australia alone.

She says the message to all Australians as the country goes digital is to recycle responsibly.

"What we're really trying to do here is educate people that placing it on a curb or giving it to a charity is not the right thing to do for your old televisions and computers. It costs around about $20 per television or computer to recycle it. We don't want to pass those costs on to either local government or on to charities who just don't have the capacity to deal with that."

Switch dates:

Tasmania April 9

Perth April 16

Brisbane May 28

Darwin July 30

Sydney December 3

Melbourne December 10

Source: SBS