Digital TV sounds great – like TV, except digital! But if you aren’t particularly technologically minded, you may be wondering what the hell digital TV really is, or why you should care. Fortunately, your friends at EFTM are here to help.

With Channel 9 pushing viewers to “GEM” for the cricket coverage “after the news”, but not actually explaining how to get it, there have been a lot of very valid questions from people about how exactly they can view digital TV channels like GEM.

Your traditional TV channels (ABC, SBS, 7, 9, 10) are historically known as the “analogue” channels, because for 50 years or more they’ve been broadcast in the analogue spectrum (invisible space in the air basically).

With our hunger for more content and more channels, and the likelihood of a big pay-day for the federal government when they sell that very same spectrum off to the mobile phone companies – the government has mandated that we all switch to “digital TV” by the end of 2013.

As of January 1 2014, the analogue television channels will fade to black.  If you don’t have digital you won’t see a thing.

So, what is “digital”? Essentially, it’s the same picture transmitted as a bunch of ones and zeros (kind of like computer code), which is more efficient and allows more channels using the same amount of spectrum. The catch is that to watch digital TV you either need a new TV, or a set top box to attach to your existing TV. By doing so, you should immediately receive a whole stack of channels. ABC1, ABC2, ABC3, ABC News 24 (HD), SBS ONE, SBS ONE (HD), SBS TWO, 7, 7two, 7mate (HD), 9, Go!, GEM (HD), 10, 11, OneHD (HD).

If however you have a “digital” TV or a digital TV Set-top box that is standard definition only (ie: not high definition) you simply cannot see those “HD” channels.  That’s reason number one that you may not be able to watch GEM or 7mate. If that’s the case – run out and buy a set top box immediately, or convince the missus that you need a new flat-panel HD TV.

The second reason you can’t see GEM and other digital channels is because you think you have a digital TV but you simply don’t.

There were a lot of flat-panel LCD and Plasma TV’s sold 3-6 years ago that had little or no digital capability.  They are just the fanciest of analogue TV’s.

The easy way to determine if you have a Digital TV is to do a full scan and see if you get anything more than the default ABC, SBS, 7, 9, 10.

Finally, if you have Foxtel don’t be fooled into thinking that is digital TV.  On Foxtel satellite services you don’t get any of the free-to-air services let alone the new ones.  If you have Foxtel cable you’ll get them – but they are all over the shop in terms of channel numbers. To make matters even more confusing, if you don’t have one of the fancy black iQ2 boxes you won’t get access to any HD channels on Foxtel and the re-transmission of free-to-air HD channels is included in that list.

So let’s recap.

If you have Foxtel – and don’t have Cable iQ2 – you aren’t getting all the free-to-air channels.

If you have a TV with no additional channels – you need a new TV or a set-top box.

If you have a TV with some additional channels (but not the HD ones) – you need a new HD TV or HD Set-top-box.

Good luck!