Buying guide: TVs

We show you the differences between LCD, plasma and LED televisions


What is digital TV? Digital TV is the new television signal transmission standard that will eventually replace free-to-air analogue TV – just like CDs replaced vinyl records. Some people refer to the actual television set as a “digital TV” but this isn't correct and only tends to make things more confusing.

Digital TV offers better picture quality, enhanced sound and other features like program guides and digital radio.

In Australia, we use the DVB-T standard for transmitting digital TV that was originally developed in Europe. Digital TV can be transmitted in both Standard and High Definition resolutions ranging from 576 horizontal lines (SDTV) up to 1080 horizontal lines (HDTV). You will need a flat panel television such as a plasma or LCD TV in order to display these higher resolutions, together with either an integrated digital TV tuner or a separate set-top box. Your old cathode ray tube (CRT) television is only capable of displaying images with 576 horizontal lines (576i).

When did digital TV transmissions commence? Digital TV transmissions were made available to the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth on the first of January 2001, but not all of the country has digital TV. The Federal Government has recently announced that all free-to-air television broadcasters in Australia will complete the switch from analogue transmission to digital-only transmission by the end of 2013. For more details visit the Australian Government's Web site at

What benefits does free-to-view digital TV provide? One of the biggest benefits of digital TV is the image clarity. Unlike analogue signals, a digital signal has no ghosting or snow. If your area supports digital TV, it will always look perfect. Areas with low signal strength are not recommended for digital TV because if the signal gets too weak, the picture ends up looking like ugly jumbled squares and the sound will cut in and out, making the program impossible to watch.

What happens to my existing analogue TV set? You can still use your existing television but it will not accept the digital TV signal without a little help. To pick up digital TV you will need to buy a set-top box or any device with a built-in tuner. The tuner or set-top box receives the signal and converts it to display on your analogue TV. If you are using an analogue TV it is best to get a Standard Definition set-top box as your TV won't be able to display High Definition (HD) TV signals. A Standard Definition set-top box also has the added advantage of being considerably cheaper than the HDTV kind.

Can my 4:3 analogue TV set display Digital TV to its full effect? Yes and no. There are two types of digital TV. Standard Definition digital TV will look excellent on your existing TV but your TV will not support HD TV unless you upgrade to a High Definition television.

Will my Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) still work? This will depend on whether your VCR has a "Video In" function. A set-top box will not output a signal that can be plugged into the aerial port in the back of your VCR. Instead, it will output to either a Composite video cable (yellow plug) or Component video cables (red, green, blue plugs). In order to record digital television you will need a VCR that accepts these types of video cables and set the VCR to "Video In" or "Aux" depending on the model. However, there are other options available for recording from the television including a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) or a DVD hard disk recorder.

Will digital TVs connect to VCRs, DVDs and sound systems? It is important to understand that the term “digital TV” does not refer to the television set but is a type of signal standard used to broadcast television programs to the home. As such, the answer to this question is yes. Whether your TV has an integrated tuner or you are using a set-top box, you can easily set up your VCR so that the digital TV (Standard Definition) signal can be recorded to VHS. A TV with an integrated tuner won't affect your DVD player at all. If you have a home theatre setup, you can connect the incoming TV signal to the system in order to take advantage of the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound that digital TV caters for.

Will I need to upgrade my antenna? In most cases your existing antenna should work with digital television. The planning of digital television services was made on the assumption that most homes will use an outdoor antenna. If you only use an indoor antenna your digital TV reception may be less reliable as even the movement of people can cause reception problems. Additionally it is difficult for an indoor antenna to pick up all digital channels due to its orientation within your home.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

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