Where digital TV really fails is handling lots and lots of moving objects on screen at once.
Look at these two grabs from last night’s ABC news. In the first, host Ian Henderson is shown. With little moving, the picture is very smooth — even with the slightly dodgy ABC blue screen.
Now look at the second grab a few seconds later. It’s library footage of Melbourne Storm’s premiership win a few years ago. Tickertape stuff is going everywhere, it’s probably been grabbed in turn off a Channel 9 transmission and reprocessed, and the picture looks like crap.
Admittedly it doesn’t look quite so bad when viewing the footage, as so much is moving around that the eye doesn’t really notice the artefacts as much. But this is once instance where I suspect analogue would actually look much better.
High Definition-only channels
ABC News 24 was the first HD-only channel.
There’s more on the way: Channel 7′s offering aimed at the male demographic “7-Mate” will also be HD-only.
Channel 10′s new “Eleven” will be SD, but it will replace the SD version of their sports channel “One”.
There are rumours Channel 9 will launch a new channel next year, and inevitably that’ll be HD-only, given they have to continue to broadcast their main channel in SD.
Time, perhaps, for those of you with no HD tuner to look into upgrading.
How many channels?
Once the commercial networks launch their third channels, by my calculations we’ll almost be at capacity, with 15, though it’s unclear to me if SBS has the right to put up any more channels.
Certainly things have grown since just a few years ago when there were 6 (analogue) channels: ABC, 7, 9, 10, SBS and Channel 31.
Note the graph is not linear. Based on some stuff from Wikipedia, counting distinct programming, and main channels only, not things like channels displaying TV guides, which were used at one time last decade. I may have missed a few minor and temporary ones, like that 3D test channel that ran for a while this year.
That bump in 2001-03 was the ABC’s initial extra channels FlyTV and ABC Kids, both of which got canned.
Ian, an Englishman used to the old UK channel numbering of BBC1, BBC2, ITV (implied “3″), Channel 4, Channel 5 etc, once remarked to me that when they first discovered Australia had a “Channel 10″, they wondered if we also had channels 1 to 9. We didn’t of course, but now we do, though they’re not all numbered like that. (In the mean time of course, the UK has also expanded its channel range via digital… and interestingly, the BBC’s “CBeebies” and “CBBC” are similar to the ABC2 and ABC3 daytime children target demographics.
How many people are watching what?
Here’s some figures from OzTam, Melbourne between 6am and midnight, for all homes and including cable TV share:
- Seven 20.00%
- Nine 18.20%
- Ten 15.80%
- ABC1 10.50%
- GO! 3.90%
- ABC2 3.40%
- 7TWO 3.10%
- SBS1 2.80%
- ABC3 1.30%
- One 1.20%
- ABC News 24 0.80%
- SBS2 0.50%
- All cable channels 18.50%
ABC News 24
Despite glitches like those that affected Sunday night’s repeat of Insiders (where it started late, accidently switched to Inside Business for a mistaken minute or two, then flicked back but was cut short just as Barrie Cassidy made an interesting point), I’m very much enjoying ABC News 24.
This interesting piece highlights something that hadn’t occurred to me: because it covers major press conferences live and unedited, it’s proving a boon for niche journalists, such as the tech press, who are covering the debate over broadband, as they can’t afford to physically be at these press conferences, but can listen in via the TV coverage. And of course their readers, who can also watch the coverage for themselves.
I finally got myself organised for digital TV, including Thursday night’s launch of ABC News 24.
(The opening minutes of ABC News 24, posted by Adam Dimech)
I’d been putting off buying a set-top box, remembering the rule that technology always gets cheaper over time. I was waiting for an HD set-top box with USB recording to get under $100. Kogan has come close: its PVR is $95 including delivery. But it hasn’t had outstanding reviews.
An HD tuner was critical because ABC News 24 is the first channel to be exclusively available in HD. The ABC’s FAQ mentions why:
The ABC only has a specific amount of digital spectrum in which to broadcast all its services. To launch ABC News 24, we need the spectrum currently being used to broadcast our ABC1 HD channel. By law the ABC also must provide its main channel, ABC1, in standard definition.
So while I was looking around for a suitable box, Zazz, the mob who sell one thing every day, came up with their offering, at $78 (including delivery), the DVBT3858 from some unknown brand called Proton. I couldn’t find any reviews online, but one thing I do like about the Zazz guys (apart from their funny sales-pitches) is that they are fairly forthright with their comments on what they’re selling. Discussion in their forum led me to the conclusion that it was worth a punt — for instance, they noted that the pause live TV function is “somewhat limited” and “a wee bit quirky”, but they reckoned the channel change response time was good, and the recorded files can be transferred over to a computer (thanks in part to a lack of Freeview certification).
Since it’s arrived, I’ve been very happy with it. Installing was straightforward, and the only change to the configuration I had to make was to switch it from NTSC to PAL. (My TV works with NTSC, but PAL is understandably less fuzzy.)
Apart from the manual being next-to-useless (but the menus are pretty easy to understand), and one attempt to record MythBusters that didn’t seem to work (haven’t looked to see why yet), it’s been smooth sailing, happily browsing the digital channels, and I’ve got it and the media PC collaboratively recording the news each night in case I’m not home. It also plays files from elsewhere, so is also effectively replacing the media player box I also got off Zazz, though it seems to lose sync on some of the files I’ve tried.
I’m pretty happy with this purchase, and it’ll keep us going if we still have the old analogue TV after the analogue shutoff reaches Melbourne in December 2013.
Zazz, of course, don’t have it on sale now, but may do so again in the future, and of course it may pop up elsewhere.
And yes, I’ve been enjoying the extra channels, including ABC2′s just-started repeats of The Goodies. And ABC News 24, of course.
- Dec 2010: Update on the Proton digital STB — there are a few niggles with it that I’ve found over the months. It doesn’t appear to properly handle summer time; you have to set the time manually. Occasionally there’s a few seconds of lag between sound and vision when switching channels (esp to an HD channel).
- Another issue I’ve found (probably not a STB problem per se) is that the .ts files it produces are difficult to convert into other formats. They all seem to play on Windows 7 Media Player, but conversion programs I’ve tried sometimes have issues. In the worst case scenario, I’ve resorted to playing the file in Media Player and capturing a new video file of it in CamStudio. With the right settings, the quality from this is surprisingly good.