Digital TV Switchover Sydney – 3rd December 2013

It seems that the Digital TV Switchover is finally upon us. After several unsuccessful “attempts” at drawing a deadline to ending analog TV broadcasts, it seems like this time, it’s for real. The switchover has been a rolling program, rolling in from less populated areas into the cities. In less than a month, we will say goodbye to our PAL-B analog broadcasts with A2 stereo. This will be the end of the standard definition 4:3 aspect ratio, the end of snowy dots and ghosting. It’s the end of buzzy audio and mono audio on some TV sets. We said goodbye to Teletext a while back too. In some ways, it’s good riddance, and in others, the end of an era.

A2-stereo

Pictured above, the A2 stereo carriers of Channel 7 (analog) and Channel 8 (digital OFDM DVB-T 7Mhz mode carriers) – the old and the new.

This unfortunately means the end of those cheap radios which give you mono TV audio as well. Scanners like the IC-R20 won’t have TV audio anymore. It also means new challenges in some fringe areas, in getting acceptably reliable coverage (due to SFN issues, or lack of fill-in transmitters).

It could have meant more, but it’s otherwise just freeing up spectrum in some places and easing the headache that was repeater frequency co-ordination. It brings us more channels, although the quality of these channels is debatable. It brings us high definition, at long last. But maybe it’s a bit too late – we’re just deploying DVB-T with its old Reed Solomon coding, and MPEG-2, whereas DVB-T2 with it’s shiny new LDPC coding and H.264 MPEG-4 video offers more quality for the same spectrum. I suppose an advance is better than none, and by now, many CRT sets have been retired for larger LCD sets which consume similar amounts of energy.

Advertising on Terrestrial

To ensure that viewers are aware of the “impending doomsday”, a series of advertisements have been run on all channels which illustrate exactly what might happen and gives you information about what you should do.

DVB-T Switchover 1

DVB-T Switchover 3

DVB-T Switchover 4

I think they handled it quite well – there’s even a free-call number for information. Everyone should have been exposed to it – whether it’s via TV, advertising or in the government’s labelling program for new TVs to ensure people buy “appropriate” sets for the future.

The Switch On Satellite

In rural areas and areas not otherwise covered by terrestrial broadcast, they have been served by “digital” DVB-S systems for a while now. The system, branded Optus Aurora, is also due to be shut down. This provided standard definition MPEG-2 encoded digital data of a limited selection of commercial channels. There was little provision for separation of licensing areas, and no provision for High Definition.

Aurora Slide 1

Aurora Slide 2

Aurora Slide 3

Aurora Slide 4

As you can see, this is the final information channel slides for the Aurora system. The Aurora system will be switched off in December 2013, leaving users of this “first” generation digital system without service. In many ways, the Aurora system was a “shambles” in the sense that the CA protection was provided by an old version of Irdeto and there was rampant smart card counterfeiting and activation issues with “non-compatible” set top boxes which did not behave correctly with the activation data.

To receive all of the channels, one should have access to several Optus satellites – C1/D3, D2 (not strictly) and D1. Not all users are authorized for all channels, depending on their geographic region.

At the present moment, the Network Information Table for Aurora is as follows:

  • 12407V (D2) Aurora Optus D2 30000 S1-QPSK 2/3
  • 12407V C1D3 30000 S1-QPSK 3/4
  • 12527V C1D3 30000 S1-QPSK 3/4
  • 12728V C1D3 24450 S1-QPSK 1/2

The entry for Optus D2 is anomalous, as it’s not really got much “Aurora” on it, merely a tuning channel that’s at the same spot with the same modulation as the one on C1/D3 to indicate to users that they’ve pointed their dish at a nearby satellite (that’s not the one!). Instead the one on D2 has many encrypted SKY TV services, commonly used in TAB agencies.

However, as Aurora only supplies commercial channels, the D1 satellite has a large amount of bandwidth devoted to SBS and ABC services as follows:

  • 12389H 12600 S1-QPSK 5/6 SBS VIC 184.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/8 GI 2/3 CR
  • 12407H 12600 S1-QPSK 5/6 SBS WA 184.625Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/8 GI 2/3 CR
  • 12425H 12600 S1-QPSK 5/6 SBS TAS 205.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/8 GI 2/3 CR
  • 12452H 12600 S1-QPSK 5/6 SBS NSW 543.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/8 GI 2/3 CR
  • 12469H 12600 S1-QPSK 5/6 SBS QLD 529.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/8 GI 2/3 CR
  • 12487H 12600 S1-QPSK 5/6 SBS SA 613.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/8 GI 2/3 CR
  • 12514H 14295 S1-QPSK 7/8 ABC NSW 226.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/16 GI 3/4 CR
  • 12532H 14295 S1-QPSK 7/8 ABC SA 226.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/16 GI 3/4 CR
  • 12550H 14295 S1-QPSK 7/8 ABC NT 226.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/16 GI 3/4 CR
  • 12577H 14295 S1-QPSK 7/8 ABC WA 226.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/16 GI 3/4 CR
  • 12595H 14295 S1-QPSK 7/8 ABC Victoria 226.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/16 GI 3/4 CR
  • 12612H 14295 S1-QPSK 7/8 ABC Queensland 226.5Mhz 7Mhz 64-QAM 1/16 GI 3/4 CR

You will notice that I’ve listed the frequencies and modes which are DVB-T based – this is because they did not change the NIT details to reflect the satellite transmission system, and so it carries the NIT of the terrestrial broadcast made. The packets are just “transported” by satellite instead.

One has to wonder why the launch of Optus 10 (a new satellite intended to cover Australia and NZ) has not happened yet (originally intended mid 2013, has been pushed back to 2014). My guess is that demand for satellite bandwidth is actually not high enough, given that the transition to VAST will free a lot of bandwidth on the satellites as a whole. Optus D1 will see almost 40% of its utilization switch off all at once (my opinion).

The new system is called VAST (Viewer Access Satellite Television) and is based on second generation digital satellite TV systems – i.e. DVB-S2. It’s interesting to see that (as satellite is a highly bandwidth constrained system with high fees) the satellite system enjoys new LDPC error correction and H.264 MPEG-4 encoded video before terrestrial systems do. As a result, and in order to ensure there’s no shambles like the Aurora system, the approved set top box list is very small (formerly only one, but now expanded to a few), a newer version of Irdeto is used, and no cards are supplied without a bundled decoder.

This system offers high definition and freeview channels in each license area which are authorized separately. This allows for much better targeting for broadcasters, and it’s also interesting to note that all channels are now provided over a handful of transponders on Optus C1/D3 so users who also want Foxtel need not change their LNB or dish positioning while receiving all channels.

The transponder layout currently is (according to the NIT):

  • 11804v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5
  • 11887v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5
  • 11928v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5
  • 12367v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5
  • 12487v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5
  • 12567v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5
  • 12647v 30000 S2-8PSK 3/5

The current VAST notices provide much information about this:

VAST Slide 1

VAST Slide 2

VAST Slide 3

VAST Slide 4

VAST Slide 5

VAST Slide 6

VAST Slide 7

VAST Slide 8

VAST Slide 9

VAST Slide 10

VAST Slide 11

VAST Slide 12

VAST Slide 13

VAST Slide 14

VAST Slide 15

Because of transponder shuffling for capacity reasons, a special notice was issued for viewers (early 2013, and continues to air) as some VAST carriers appeared below 12250mhz (the lower cut-off for 11300mhz LO LNBs), and the use of “wideband” 10700mhz LO LNBs were required to receive both C1 and D3 at the same slot. Maybe when Optus 10 launches, if it co-locates at the same slot where C1 and D3 are, we may need to upgrade to universal instead (9750/10600mhz LO LNB) as is common in Europe.

VAST Info Slide 1

VAST Info Slide 2

VAST Info Slide 3

VAST Info Slide 4

For those who were viewing ABC via Aurora, they have been doubly reminded that they will lose service with all ABC channels replaced with these two slides:

ABC Warning 1

ABC Warning 2

I suppose it’s clear that the new year will see all “analog” and Aurora first generation digital satellite services (the satellite equivalent) be switched off. It will be interesting to see whether there’s any special sign-off for the analog services, or will they unceremoniously just “disappear” with no fanfare. It will be interesting also to note whether Digital reception improves – as there are no more analog services, the problem with digital carrier interference with analog vision carrier is no longer an issue, so increases in transmission power would very much help people on the fringe improve their reception reliability.

This is a change which everyone “saw coming”. Interestingly, on satellite, transponder shuffling is happening to FTA/paid services as well on Optus D2 – in this case, a notice from AON:

AON Juggle

At the moment, the Sydney Teleport Services uplink is being simulcasted across two carriers/transponders, but will soon see one of them turn off. The amount of “space” for feeds on D2 has never been so high since I started chasing them – it’s an interesting development.

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