Watching television.

Photo: Rodger Cummins

With Australia's digital switchover complete, it's time to reshuffle the channels to make way for new mobile services.

Australia's three-year digital TV switchover finally came to an end in December as the last analog channels were switched off in Melbourne and Sydney. While there was a major awareness campaign surrounding the digital switchover, the digital retune has received very little attention. This was probably a deliberate strategy to avoid confusing people by throwing too much information at them at once. When the retune reaches your area you'll see a few ads pop up on television, as they have recently in Melbourne.

These frequencies are now earmarked for high-speed mobile broadband services and were sold off in last year's Digital Dividend spectrum auction which raised just under $2 billion. 

The retune started in regional Tasmania last year and is slowly making its way around the country until it wraps up in December. It reaches Melbourne on February 7, Sydney on March 18, Hobart on July 16 and North West Brisbane on August 20 (much of Brisbane retuned last year). Your exact date will vary depending on which transmitter you rely on. The bulk of Melburnians rely on the Dandenong towers, which are switching across on February 7. But the Bourke Street transmitter supporting the inner suburbs doesn't switch until July 31, while the Como South Yarra transmitter switches on November 3.

The digital retune, known in the industry as a "restack", is basically a shuffling of the digital TV channels to free up a 126 MHz block of UHF spectrum around the 700 MHz range. These frequencies are now earmarked for high-speed mobile broadband services and were sold off in last year's Digital Dividend spectrum auction, which raised just under $2 billion. Telstra snapped up the bulk of the spectrum with Optus and TPG grabbing the rest.

Now it's time for the television broadcasters to vacate that spectrum, so some digital channels are moving up or down the dial to free up a block in the middle. About 1500 digital television channels are affected across the country, in most cases SBS but also the ABC and commercial stations in some areas. You can check the Digital Ready website to see when it will reach your home, or view the full list at communications.gov.au.

Thankfully the digital retune isn't as disruptive as the digital switchover. You don't need to buy any new home entertainment gear or change your aerial. All you need to do is tell your television, set-top box or personal video recorder (PVR) to scan for new channels – but wait until on or after your retune date. Some digital TV gear will detect the channel shift automatically and I expect my TiVo will handle it without my help, but if you're not sure you should run a channel scan on your retune date. It only takes a few minutes to run, just press the Menu button on your remote control and look under Settings or Set Up for a channel scan option.

The channel numbers aren't changing, just the frequencies, so if you're watching SBS1 on Channel 3 now it will still be on Channel 3 after the retune. It is possible the retune could upset your season passes if your PVR relies on the free-to-air electronic program guide to automatically record your favourite shows each week. You'll need to keep an eye on this and perhaps recreate those season passes after the retune to ensure you're not left in the lurch.