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Better picture, so what...

The Australian uptake of digital television has been less than enthusiastic. What can be done to make the switch to free-to-air digital broadcasts more compelling?

Pam Carroll
For a nation that generally gloats about being an early adopter of technology, Australian uptake of digital television has been decidedly underwhelming. Four and a half years after the introduction of the first digital broadcasts here in 2001, even the most optimistic estimates put the number of households that have switched to free-to-air digital TV at just over ten percent.

So ambivalent is the response, that the Federal Government has been forced to rethink its schedule for the analog television switch-off and Senator Helen Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, is seeking feedback to help formulate a Digital Action Plan to drive take-up of digital television.

So what gives? Sure if you've invested in a flat panel TV, you might also have a set top box. But that's because either the retailer has thrown one in to sweeten the deal, or you've been mortified by how horrible the analog signal looks on your new big screen and rushed back to the store to blow a few hundred bucks more.

The bottom line is that many people still don't understand what digital TV is or how to get it. And those who are in-the-know can't see a compelling enough reason to make the switch. Yes, the picture quality is superior, but if you're still viewing broadcasts on CRT sets, the difference is not significant enough to be worthwhile.

Judging from our feedback, content is also key. Although there are two extra digital channels - ABC2 and SBS2 - there surely needs to be more programming options. According to one Sydney reader, "If you could receive Fox Sports 1 and 2 through a set-top box, I'd go out and buy one this afternoon."

OK, sport is the obvious way to the hearts of Aussie TV viewers, but additional programming of some sort would be a big incentive, in particular shows that cleverly leverage the interactivity features that digital TV enables.

How do you feel about digital TV? If you're one of the 90 percent that doesn't watch digital free-to-air broadcasting, what features or content would make you switch? What does the Government need to do to come up with a Digital Action Plan that will be effective? Let us know your thoughts below.