The New Basic Cable 101 – taking control of your RF resources

A couple years ago, I wrote a story called  “The New Basic Cable – be your own in-house cable company” for Sound and Video Contractor magazine, explaining what was going on as cable providers transitioned to digital, and explained several strategies on how to get the channels you want without needing to rent cable boxes.

That story is still valid today, but I wanted to retell the story in light of questions and information that have arisen over the past few years.

The Old Basic Cable

Old Basic Cable

Getting channels was easier in the Old Basic Cable days. The cable company provided an assortment of about 60 channels, and by adding an economical Low Pass Filter, you could pass through the analog cable channels, and easily add your own in-house channels starting at channel 65. Alternatively, you could block out a couple channels in the middle and add a few of your own in the gap.

The New Basic Cable – Overview

New Basic Cable

Today, the cable channel architecture is much more complex. In simple terms, a digital channel is much more efficient than the old analog channel, carrying much more information than before:

  • TV Programs.  One channel can carry a number of digital TV shows, usually from three to 12 programs, depending on how much picture quality is squeezed and compressed.
  • Music. One channel can carry many, many audio programs.
  • On Demand TV. Instant-access movies and entertainment
  • Internet Service. The same digital channels that can carry music and video are also the vehicle that transports Ethernet data.

That’s a great combination if you’re a homeowner, not so much if you have a commercial site, such as a corporation, house of worship, sports venue, or civic site. You’re looking for a few channels that serve your specific needs.

  • News and Information. Most commercial sites are looking for news, weather, and financial programs.
  • Sports. Common for sports bars and larger sports venues.
  • Off-Air Channels.  Local TV stations – cable gets programming at a low cost, but charges users more for the content.

Most sites also plan to add their own in-house channels:

  • Digital signage. Broadcasting a digital signage channel over RF dramatically reduces costs over distributing the same channel over Ethernet.
  • HD-SDI Media. Popular for houses of worship or sites such as local TV stations and channel providers such as WWE, Home Shopping Network, and Univision; distributing HD-SDI video as an HD cable channel is an economical solution.
  • IPTV resources, similar to broadcasting digital signage, sites rebroadcast a PC that hosts IPTV content.

You also don’t want cable boxes. On top of the extra rental cost, they represent an operation and support headache, and prevent you from seeing your own in-house channels. Also avoid the “free” DTA adapter box, often called a DTA or granny box. These are stripped-down boxes that tune digital channels, but connect to your TV over channel 3 or 4 – there’s not even a composite video output. It’s poor video and you still can’t see any in-house channels you create.

Filter? Nope.

In the good Old Basic Cable days, it was easy to filter out a few channels and insert your own.  There are several reason why this doesn’t apply today.

  • Channels carry many programs, different kinds of content. Blocking one channel removes all kinds of programming.
  • Channels move around. New digital cable systems are constantly moving resources around, so yesterday’s TV channel could be a different set of channels, Ethernet service, or on demand. Only a cable box has the roadmap to navigate as things change.
  • A cable box won’t “see” your in-house channels. Your channels aren’t in the cable box’s roadmap, so it can’t find them.

Changing the Cable Model

Modern cable systems are designed for home use only.  You need to create your own New Basic Cable in-house system to get the channels you want, the way you want them. Never let the cable company own your company’s cable system. You need to be in control  or your RF system and the content you use.

Part II:The New Basic Cable 102 – How to get the channels you want