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Old May 31st, 2008, 08:59 PM   #1
Inner Circle
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Fairfield, Dunedin, New Zealand
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FTA HDTV arrives (finally) in NZ

First, a couple of apologies:

Wrong Forum, but there isn’t a right one, yet!

Mostly for the attention of New Zealanders (where are those regional flags when you need them?) but may be instructive to others, you never know.

OK, Free To Air High Definition started here in NZ in April this year, provided by Freeview, a consortium of the major TV networks.

The Freeview services are available free of subscription but do require the purchase of a set top box in both cases, with a satellite dish as well for Freeview Satellite.

Freeview initiated its Standard Definition Satellite service from the Optus D1 satellite last year, and its installed base has been growing steadily. Its popularity is primarily due to the pretty grim standard of terrestrial reception in many areas (away from the immediate urban centres) due to geographical features restricting transmission ranges, even with the many relay stations dotted around. The relay’s have another disadvantage in usually only carrying the “big two or three” channels.

The Optus D1 also provides the feeds for Sky’s Satellite subscription system, and as such does not have available transponder capacity to allow an adequate HD service to be provided for the number of channels available with the new Terrestrial HD service.

The new HD service is only available in the major urban centres (as far as I’m aware it is not being piped through any regional relays whatsoever) on UHF, theoretically available to 75% of NZ’s population.

The theory is: Buy a set top box. Plug it into your aerial socket (assuming you have a UHF aerial – some don’t), plug your HD telly into the other hole in the box and, hey presto – HDTV!

Now, as some of you may know, last February ‘07 I became the proud owner of a Sony Bravia X series 46” 1080i/p screen. This was to use as a super size monitor for my HDV stuff until such time as HD ever arrived here. As such it’s been relegated to my study/ workroom where it’s been sitting against one wall like a glowering elephant.

This week I decided to go check the new HD TV system out at my local DSE (Dick Smith Electronics – an Australasian chain of electronics stores). There, in pride of place as I walked through the door, was one of the new systems set up and running. Very impressive.

No thinking required, I had to have one.

Ah, but first I had to negotiate the minefield of the assistant’s ignorance.

(I hasten to add that I do not think this is a NZ wide phenomenon, well, I hope not).

I’ll skip most of the details, but the “UHF is line of sight only” I just had to pounce on (I was an aerial installer for a few years in a previous incarnation, so know of what I speak!).

Duly purchased said box, on the understanding that if it was a no go, back it went (our UHF is pretty grim, being two ranges of hills away from the transmitter and down in a fairly deep valley to boot).

Went home, plugged it into the aerial socket, the supplied HDMI cable from box to telly, hit the go button, moment of panic when asked for password (0000) and off it went. Found every channel clear as a bell and we were up and running.

“Glowering Elephant” has now been moved from hiding to “front of house” in the lounge, displacing good but ageing Phillips 29” in the process.

Despite the room being completely rearranged, I’m still too close at about 8 feet, tho’ the missus is at an almost perfect 12+. The 8 feet is good if it’s 1080, just squeaks in under the bar at 720 but for the 576 channels (which is quite a few) it’s waaaay too close.

We are actually planning on removing the wall that’s the problem, but not the sort of thing you’d want to do just to accommodate one of these monsters.

What’s it like?

With the right material, simply stunning. The HD Demo being transmitted on Channel 100 (I think) is drop dead beautiful. Think it’s the “Natural History NZ” film that had HD projection runs in civic centres and Museums across the country last year.

[As an aside, it’s been refreshing to see some of the “old faithfuls” rear their heads in this Demo – oooh, there’s the good ‘ol HDV “smear on pans” thing and, oh, cop that “24p stutter” ditto – nice to see it even happens to the pro’s].

Of course, dross is dross no matter what the resolution, and don’t hold your breath for NZ tv scheduling to suddenly develop an IQ higher than it’s shoe size.

The up side is, my few favourite programs do seem to be going out at 1080:

CSI NY (the only one currently showing off SKY), Cold Case, Without a Trace etc. “Van Helsing” (the movie) was on last night and I’m pretty sure it was 1080 as well.


Very few.

I bought the DSE set top box ($399), which is a Zinwell box with a DSE badge. The only other box available (that I’m aware of) is a Zinwell box ($499 – ish) with a Zinwell badge (same box, different badge). The difference seems to be $100 and nothing else.

If the STB isn’t powered up before the telly, the telly defaults to a screen format that doesn’t suit the box format. If they’re turned on in the right order and can “handshake”, it’s fine (for the moment we’re just leaving the STB on all the time, beware, it runs REAL hot).

The transmission resolution thingy lies! Quite often it will say 1920 X 1080 when it’s obviously 576 or even, gasp, 4:3 SD! TV3 seems to be the worst offender but it’s happened to all the non 576 channels so far (quite a few channels have no intention of transmitting HD for the foreseeable future. Lets face it, who wants to watch the “Parliament Channel” in HD fercryingoutloud?).

Second Remote? Ah, there’s a wee problem. There don’t appear to be any Zinwell/ DSE remotes “spare” if you need a second.

We got around this problem by buying a Logitech Harmony 525 remote ($99 NZ). This thing is awesome. Will run up to 15 different pieces of equipment at the same time, has an on - line database of codes stretching back to the Middle Ages (heck, it even has the codes for my Altec Lansing 4.1 computer speakers circa 1998 which we’re using for sound reinforcement till the “Home Theatre” system goes in).

Just make sure you’re stone cold sober and wide awake before tackling the set up and fine tuning, it’s a fully blown computer system in a remote and as such needs some carefull thinking about.

Once done, it’s simple – ish. Press the “Activities” button, choose the required activity and it powers up all relevant equipment. Switch to another activity and it powers up those bits needed and powers down those no longer required. A bit spooky to watch everything spring into life with one button press.

Anyway, the missus and I aren’t going to have to squabble over who’s changing the STB channels.

Bottom Line?

If you’re into HD, have a suitable set and UHF aerial go for it.


Last edited by Chris Soucy; June 1st, 2008 at 01:18 AM. Reason: +
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Old June 1st, 2008, 12:43 AM   #2
Inner Circle
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Fairfield, Dunedin, New Zealand
Posts: 3,627
Images: 18

Yet more issues to watch out for:

1. The "Current Program" contents listed for each selected channel is a work of fiction most of the time as well. Seems this has to be updated manually by the individual stations submitting content and, well, this is New Zealand, after all.

Don't expect anything at all to be correct over the weekend and take with a large pinch of salt during normal working hours.

2. The "EPG" (Electronic Program Guide) takes a couple of seconds to respond to the "EPG" button being pressed, then goes beserk scrolling through options at a great rate. Hmm, could do better.

3. The press, specifically the TV listings part, and the relevant channels haven't got their act together, so there is no notice in the local papers of whom is showing what in which flavour of HD whatsoever. See comment re: "this is New Zealand" above.

4. The Logitech Harmony 525 mentioned in the previous post has only one major snag (so far) - it assumes (not suprisingly) that it is the sole unit. If you use another remote to turn on/ off a unit and that unit uses the same code to turn both on & off, then if you have turned a unit on/ off using another remote, then turn the system on/ off using the Logitech, it will, invariably, do the opposite to that intended.

More as it happens...........

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