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Not all our stories deal with the fun and fluffy aspects of broadcasting.

The history of the industry also involves many life effecting changes… Its not just all about the nostalgia and reminiscing.


There’s been considerable social transition brought about by technological enhancements within the different forms of media, as they continue to evolve and impact on our lives.

Change is ongoing and examining the past and studying new concepts can hopefully give us insight into where we will be in the future.

According to the industry body Free TV, over 90 per cent of Australians have access to digital television. However, it estimates that only 40 per cent of people currently watch it. To access these services, you will need to buy either a digital set-top box for your analog TV or invest in one of the growing number of integrated digital television sets on the market. Most TVs on the market today feature an on-board digital TV tuner, with high-definition tuners becoming increasingly common.


When the transition to digital is complete, our analogue PAL (Phase Alternate Line) TV system will be replaced by the DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) digital television standard, which was first developed in Europe. Our system will differ from the US, which is using the American-developed ATSC standard. Both systems transmit compressed digital video, audio and other data in an MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group) transport stream.


Like DVB-T, our old analog PAL system also has European origins and was considered superior to the United States NTSC (National Television System Committee) system… often referred to as ‘Never The Same Color’ twice because it had a tendency to change hue under poor transmission conditions.
With analogue, a change in video signal amplitude corresponds to an increase in luminance, whilst in digital, changes in video signal amplitude are represented as numbers which are then conveyed using computer technology as binary codes. Computer circuitry understands simple states as ON and OFF. The binary counting system used by computers works to the power of two rather than the usual power of ten for our daily math exercises. With binary notation, only the values of 0 and 1 are needed, rather than 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9… conveniently coinciding with the computer’s use of ON and OFF states in digital circuitry.


The important point to note is that there is a convergence in not only technical approaches but also uses of the modern television medium. The means of program delivery is not locked into any one form. Transmission through the air waves, by satellite, over coaxial cable, fibre-optic or old fashioned twisted pair telephone lines are all possible. Like photography was once the domain of film that required chemical processing, today’s imagery is now digital in its many forms. Computer concepts are employed from conception to final product delivery. Scripts writing is facilitated by word processing, musical composition and recording is aided by computers, the image capture process and editing is now digitalised and the consumer end is also being impacted in the same way. With it, the expectations of the audience has changed too. Widescreen, colour, 3D and surround sound are not only expected in the cinema but also at home. Viewers no longer are prepared to wait long periods between a show being released in the U.S. and available here. This in turn has led to proliferation of pirated programs, where digital technology now makes it easy to copy and the internet makes it easy to move over borders without the need for prohibitively expensive facilities, circuits or transport.

Much pirated material is transported by Bit Torrent

In the same way, the ordinary person now has available to them affordable program making means, leading to so much unique material finding its way onto YouTube, where the picture quality is continuously on the improve.

Since the introduction of digital television to Australia in 2001, there has been a flurry of activity at the stations. First equipping, then making and finally broadcasting shows in widescreen and HD (high definition). Though people will argue about what is available in HD. There are more standard definition channels on free-to-air television than high definition. There is also a greater tendency to narrowcast with each outlet targeting a specific audience demographic. Unlike the old days where TV either tried to be all things to all people or target the highest number of viewers, which often meant going for the lowest common denominator.

The ABC once aimed at the intellectuals and those with a fondness for British productions. This suited the commercials, because the ABC elite did not represent the majority and were thus less likely to be considered a serious drain on viewers in a advertising sense. Governments since then have questioned the value of the ABC, considering that it is funded out of the public purse. The ABC has now made itself more relevant without dumbing itself down. There are so many outlets for its products that it can now cater for most tastes whilst taking advantage of new forms of program delivery. Unfortunately this then attracts the ire of the commercial sector who worry when the ABC (and the BBC) make inroads into what they consider should be their market place alone.

Often the ABC achieves a lot with very little. Gaining good audiences for smart and entertaining quiz programs without an outlay on expensive prizes or sponsor involvement. Sadly some of the most informative programs only reach a small audience on Radio National, causing some to argue for its abandonment. Though it can be reasoned that more of their audience is engaged by the content than someone watching a mindless soap opera that pulls in lots of turned on sets.

Considerable innovation is taking place within the ABC, as previous articles on our site have highlighted. A list of links are provided below for your reading convenience.

Meanwhile, in examining what is available to the free-to-air television audience, we find that Standard Definition (SD) provide widescreen picture with DVD equivalent picture quality (a resolution of 576 horizontal lines interlaced).



The following will hopefully explain these concepts better… in particular notions such as 720p and 1080i.

All television images are divided into a number of lines to be drawn on your screen. The numbers 576, 720 and 1080 represents how many lines (downwards) the screen can produce.

One of the most important factors in analog television broadcasting is signal bandwidth, measured in megahertz. Interlace is a technique of conserving available bandwidth whilst maintaining the picture quality of a video signal. This technique uses two fields to create a frame. One field contains all the odd lines in the image, the other contains all the even lines of the image. A PAL based television display, for example, scans 50 fields every second (25 odd and 25 even). The two sets of fields work together to create a full frame every 1/25th of a second, resulting in a display of 25 frames per second. Therefore, for a given line count and refresh rate, analog interlaced video reduces the signal bandwidth by a factor of two.

You can sometimes see an odd effect known as ‘Interlacing artifacts’ when viewing the modern HD interlaced displays, something that was not apparent on the old cathode ray tube monitors. This can happen when there is fast action or a fast camera pan, where a comb effect appears… making obvious the line structure of the image. To avoid these artifacts, interlaced images are often blurred slightly to cover them up (anti-aliasing).  


In contrast, ‘Progressive Scan’ produces crisp images with text, moving and still images. It draws the image lines sequential as (1,2,3,4) resulting in sharper and better images.

High Definition (HD) also provides widescreen pictures, with an even sharper image.

The term HD is somewhat ambiguous as different stations interpret it differently with regard to what they broadcast.

SBS HD and ABC News 24 broadcast in 720p (720 horizontal lines progressively scanned) yet TEN HD, 7mate and GEM broadcast in 1080i (1080 horizontal lines interlaced).

ABC News 24

Susannah Carr and Rick Ardon – Seven News Perth

Dixie Marshall – Nine News Perth

Narelda Jacobs – Ten News Perth

Here is a spot check of what the various FreeView stations were broadcasting in Perth at a given time.

  • 1 TEN HD – Video: Mpeg-2 1440×1080, 14 Mbps with Audio: Dolby Digital, 48 kHz, 448 kbps
  • 2 ABC One – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 7 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 3 – SBS One – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 192 kbps
  • 7 – Seven Digital – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 7 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 9 – Nine Digital – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 10 – TEN Digital – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 6 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 22 – ABC Two – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 23 – ABC Three – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 24 – ABC News 24 – Video: Mpeg-2 1280×720, 9 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 30 – SBS HD – Video: Mpeg-2 1280×720, 10 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 192 kbps
  • 32 – SBS Two – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 192 kbps
  • 72 – 7TWO – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 73 – 7mate – Video: Mpeg-2 1440×1080, 10 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 384 kbps
  • 90 – GEM – Video: Mpeg-2 1440×1080, 10 Mbps with Audio: Dolby Digital, 48 kHz, 448 kbps
  • 99 – GO! – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps
  • 202 – West TV – Video: Mpeg-2 720×576, 5 Mbps with Audio: Mpeg1, 48 kHz, 256 kbps

The bit-rate is also a significant factor. The higher the bit rate, the more data that is processed and, typically, the higher the picture resolution. Typically a broadcaster will use as much of the bit rate budget as they can to get an error free signal on all services on that channel. This is sometimes a bit of a balancing act.

The maximum video bit-rate for a Blue-Ray is 40 Mbps, which explains why programs in that format look outstanding. TEN’s 1080i HD channel in Perth operates at about 14Mbps, 7mate and GEM’s 1080i are about 10 Mbps whilst showing SD shows on their HD channels.



With narrowcasting becoming more common, we have TEN dedicating its HD channel to sport and the ABC dedicating their’s to News. Then with the Seven and Nine HD offerings: 7mate and GEM show many vintage TV shows that are essentially standard definition fare.

This reduces the outlets for high definition entertainment in the form of music, dance and variety… as currently no HD channel is available for it. For example ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ was appearing on a SD channel, as was the last series of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and other shows of that kind.

Hey Hey Its Saturday
So You Think You Can Dance

What is fashionable in television programming seems to undergo change too. Long gone are programs such as Graham Kennedy’s ‘In Melbourne Tonight’, Brian Henderson’s Bandstand, Johnny O’Keefe’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’, Bobby Limb’s ‘Sound of Music’ and many more of that ilk. ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, ‘Battle of the Choirs’, ‘Australian Idol’ were popular for a while, now being replaced by a variety of reality television, such as, well produced multi-camera cooking shows, sagas on weight loss, and a spate of travel, home make-over and gardening programs. The 2008-2009 American actors strike was the impetus for increased Australian production, which has been an employment boon for our local industry, though most of the production is centred on the east coast.

Graham Kennedy

Meanwhile, new forms of program delivery, such as iTunes, give the viewer the ability to taylor their watching to that they really want to see rather than what is being served up on a schedule by conventional TV. It’s all very well having lots of pay TV channels, that also intersperse their content with advertising, if much of the shows are decades old and very cheap for the outlets to buy, when there’s a multitude of production sources of varying quality around the world that the public can tap into. Now the consumers are gaining the power to better pick and choose what they watch, when they watch it and how they watch it. For content is going mobile, and many youngsters prefer viewing programs on their computer in the privacy of their bedroom, rather than around the family TV, governed by the viewing habits of parents and siblings.

Australian Idol

Australia’s Got Talent

Battle Of The Choirs

Another concern is for the media ownership to be concentrated in too few hands. Diversity of open and honest information is important for a heathy democracy as well as a knowledge endowed populace. The internet has revolutionised the rapid distribution of information, though sadly not all of it accurate. Twitter now beats any other form of news dissemination in alerting people of world shattering happenings, thus overcoming the potential for media owner prejudice and the censorship of governments. If the media had been doing its job properly, then there may not have been the need for WikiLeaks. Some argue that many in the press stayed silent when it was declared that, “You’re either with George W. Bush or you’re against us.” There was no provision for shades of grey. Probably one reason for the French backlash.

WikiLeaks has taken freedom of information to a whole new level, causing the powers to attack the participants, arguing the need to keep secrets. The other argument is that if everything is open and honest, then there can be trust in the system rather than a chance of corruption and conspiracy theories. Of course the open flow of information should not be restricted to giving away American secrets, but also Russian, Iranian, North Korean and Chinese, etc. Otherwise it will be considered U.S. bashing.

So while ever the free WikiPedia is considered more relevant than the traditions forms of Encyclopaedia. Google is the fastest way to find any information. Twitter breaks the news faster than the press. The youth increasingly avoid reading newspapers. There’s an online revolt against paying for information, music, movies and TV shows. New technology continues to revolutionise the way we entertain ourselves. Musicians abandon record companies and market their produce through social networking, iTunes and internet sales. More power will end up in the hands of motivated individuals as old structures crumble or need to find new relevance and change. Otherwise they’ll go the way of the horse and cart, steam train, typewriter and a plethora of other things no longer in common use. For any business that relies on them will also end up obsolete too.

Here are a few more stories we’ve published that are in this vein…

Chiefs, Indians and allegiances

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