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The New Basic Cable

Aug 23, 2011 11:54 AM, By Doug Engstrom, Technical Director, Contemporary Research

Be your own inhouse cable company.

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If your commercial site is like many others around the country, your cable company now scrambles all the digital channels that can be tuned by the displays and tuners you currently own, and insists that you must install cable boxes everywhere to receive the channels. Some rebel via IPTV. But this is not your only—or necessarily your best-option. There are others.

  • You don’t need to get cable boxes, despite what the provider’s sales department says.
  • The cable company knows what those options are, if you ask (sometimes demand).
  • You don’t have to buy content from the cable company. There are other providers.
  • You have to change your approach to providing content over RF.

As some may have noticed already, there is no free TV from the cable company anymore. In most areas of the country, cable providers have encrypted all channels, including “free” local channels. You will continue to receive local channels in analog form, but you’ll need to rent a cable box to see anything else.

While this isn’t an issue for homeowners, this can be a major problem for commercial facilities, causing an expensive upheaval in all media systems and displays throughout the site, including:

  • Replacing your old analog tuners and new HDTV tuners with a cable box; this will involve updating your control system wiring and programming.
  • Strapping a cable box on the back of hallway, café, and entry displays; systems will need to control both the cable box and the display, a fairly expensive and unreliable solution especially given that cable boxes have very poor integration options.
  • Yes, the cable company offers free “granny” converter boxes, but they don’t even have a video/audio output; you need another tuner to integrate their tuner over channel 3 or 4, another fine mess. Which means, over time, you’re going to replace the “granny” box with a full HD box. If you have a lot of tuners in the system, it’s a large monthly expense.
  • If your site wants to take advantage of inhouse signage channels, or broadcast key media from non-cable sources, the cable box will lock those out.

In other words, the cable box has become the same closed-door receiver as a DirecTV box. You can only see their programming, not yours, and monthly subscription and receiver costs are expensive. This is why sites have not used DirecTV for media distribution, and why the cable box isn’t a good choice now. They are acceptable for spot use, such as a boardroom or for small offices, but you can still insist that the landlord provides a similar, open-cable solution.

This doesn’t mean the cable companies are the bad guys; they’re simply doing what DirecTV and Dish Network have done for years. The difference is in how you respond to the change.

Your cable provider would be very happy if they can charge you for content and cable box rental. But your site has different needs and options, and there are better open-cable rather than closed-cable solutions.

If you have a large site or campus, you can save a great deal of integration and monthly rental fees by changing how you buy and deliver content. If you’re renting space in an office building, you can educate your landlord, saving hassles and expense for everyone.

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