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NR 123/1998

17 December 1998

WARNING TO CONSUMERS ABOUT ‘DIGITAL’ TELEVISIONS

Consumers should be wary about buying what are alleged to be ‘digital’ or ‘digital ready’ television sets, the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said today.

Sets currently on sale which bill themselves as digital may use digital signal processing systems to create a better picture from the analog transmissions currently broadcast by television stations, but they will not be able to receive and display the digital signals due to begin in 2001. They are in essence still analog sets and viewers will not be able to use them to enjoy the enhanced features of digital television.

"A number of people have called the ABA about ‘digital’ television sets they have seen advertised or for sale," said Professor David Flint, ABA Chairman, "The ABA is most anxious that consumers have clear information before spending perhaps thousands of dollars on such equipment. Television sets able to receive digital television transmissions are not currently available on the Australian market."

The ACCC has emphasised that any such advertising may be misleading and could be breaching Australia’s trade practices law.

Digital television broadcasting must commence in the mainland metropolitan markets on 1 January  2001. Digital television receivers which will be able to pick up the new digital signals will not be available until mid 2000, according to industry sources. Because the final technical specifications for the Australian digital television transmission system will not be finalised until early 1999, Australian manufacturers have not yet started building prototype sets. Because the Australian system will be slightly different than the American or European systems, it will not simply be a matter of importing sets from overseas.

It is likely that digital set top boxes, which convert the digital signal back to analog form so that existing analog receivers will be able to display it, will be the first new item of digital hardware to become available. While not enabling viewers to see the enhanced features of the digital signal, like high definition, these will provide clearer, sharper pictures for viewers in built-up areas or hilly terrain who have problems with interference and ghosting. A fully integrated digital television receiver will follow.

The 15 television markets where digital transmissions are due to start on 1 January 2001 are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Hobart, Darwin, the Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong, the NSW Central Coast and Bunbury. This means that about eighty per cent of Australians will potentially have access to digital television transmissions on 1 January 2001. However, it is important to note that the existing analog services will continue to be broadcast for at least eight years to allow time for consumers to buy new television sets able to receive digital transmissions.


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