Another digital transition? Cuban says yes

by on April 11, 2008 · 10 comments

cuban2_2.jpgThe always provocative Mark Cuban has an interesting post on his blog today. He writes:

There is a dirty little secret in the cable industry. Its being kept secret not by the cable distributors, but by the big cable networks. End this practice and the United States goes from being 3rd world by international broadband standards, to top of the charts and exemplary. …

What is the dirty little secret ?

That your cable company still delivers basic cable networks in analog. Why is this such an important issue ? Because each of those cable networks takes up 6mhz. That translates into about 38mbs per second. Thats 38mbs PER NETWORK. …

If we want to truly change the course of broadband in this country, the solution is simple. Just as we had an analog shutdown date for over the air TV signals, we need the same resolution for analog delivered cable networks.

Obviously this would entail a government mandate to an industry, which we’re all biased against. If it really were so easy, I would expect to see the cable industry make the move on its own—if nothing else to respond to FIOS. But all that aside, my question to the cable-savvy folks I know read this blog is this: how true is Cuban’s claim? How much “spectrum in a tube” is really potentially available? How difficult would it be to make a digital transition in cable?

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    How granular is this decision? If, say, the citizens of Palo Alto, California recycle their last cable-connected analog TV set, could the city’s cable provider cut them over to mega-broadband without breaking the analog version of the Old Government Footage of Airplanes Crashing Channel for the citizens of the next town over?

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    How granular is this decision? If, say, the citizens of Palo Alto, California recycle their last cable-connected analog TV set, could the city’s cable provider cut them over to mega-broadband without breaking the analog version of the Old Government Footage of Airplanes Crashing Channel for the citizens of the next town over?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    As I understand it, the government requires cablecos to deliver a local programming in analog, and will continue to do so after the big phase-out next year. In addition to the compulsory analog, cablecos choose to deliver some cable-only channels in analog for the time being to maximize viewership, esp. for networks like ESPN that cost the cablecos a small fortune to carry.

    The larger question, which Cuban should be aware of, is the inadequacy of the cable plant for carrying HDTV. At some point, cable will have to change to a switched, on-demand model for HDTV, a which point there will be a lot more bandwidth available for Internet.

    Cuban has an agenda, to get all of his HDNet channels carried on every cable and satellite package as standard channels. He had his movie channel bumped to a premium tier by DirecTV recently, and it scalded his posterior.

  • -dsr-

    There’s even a nice, well-supported standard for digital transmission on cable in the US: QAM, either QAM-64 or QAM-256. Many, possibly most, digital televisions have built in QAM tuners. There are cheap QAM-to-USB, QAM-to-PCI, and QAM-to-ethernet TV tuners available. Individual programs may be sent in the clear or encrypted.

    Cable companies generally send all the local broadcast channels via QAM right now. The more enlightened companies send their basic cable tier unencrypted as well. If there was a good conditional-access-module specification — the sort of thing CableCard should have been, but is not — then anyone would be able to call up their cable company, read off the serial number of their device, and get it authorized to decrypt all the channels that they pay for.

    Most cablecos are more interested in additional revenue through any possible means than customer satisfaction, though.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    As I understand it, the government requires cablecos to deliver a local programming in analog, and will continue to do so after the big phase-out next year. In addition to the compulsory analog, cablecos choose to deliver some cable-only channels in analog for the time being to maximize viewership, esp. for networks like ESPN that cost the cablecos a small fortune to carry.

    The larger question, which Cuban should be aware of, is the inadequacy of the cable plant for carrying HDTV. At some point, cable will have to change to a switched, on-demand model for HDTV, a which point there will be a lot more bandwidth available for Internet.

    Cuban has an agenda, to get all of his HDNet channels carried on every cable and satellite package as standard channels. He had his movie channel bumped to a premium tier by DirecTV recently, and it scalded his posterior.

  • -dsr-

    There’s even a nice, well-supported standard for digital transmission on cable in the US: QAM, either QAM-64 or QAM-256. Many, possibly most, digital televisions have built in QAM tuners. There are cheap QAM-to-USB, QAM-to-PCI, and QAM-to-ethernet TV tuners available. Individual programs may be sent in the clear or encrypted.

    Cable companies generally send all the local broadcast channels via QAM right now. The more enlightened companies send their basic cable tier unencrypted as well. If there was a good conditional-access-module specification — the sort of thing CableCard should have been, but is not — then anyone would be able to call up their cable company, read off the serial number of their device, and get it authorized to decrypt all the channels that they pay for.

    Most cablecos are more interested in additional revenue through any possible means than customer satisfaction, though.

  • Ryan Radia

    Comcast would love nothing more than to go all-digital. Thing is, lots of customers still rely on analog cable for some or all television sets. The main reason for this is because analog cable can be split to as many TVs as you want without renting or buying a Set-Top Box for each set. Hardware costs have come down a lot, and will keep declining. but $5 per month per TV is still a lot to many subscribers.

    Clearly the end of analog transmission isn’t far off. Cable systems need more bandwidth and analog is a huge hog, although thanks to switched digital video, MPEG4, and DOCSIS 3.0 I expect the cable companies to hold on to analog in most markets for the time being.

    My previous DVR, the Comcast 3416, couldn’t even work with analog. Every channel, including 2-100, were received via digital simulcast. In Chicago, nearly every analog transmission has gone digital without any huge problems.

    The idea that we need government to intervene is silly. Comcast cares about making money, and if it were net profitable to anger analog subscribers in order to draw in customers yearning for massive HD packages, Comcast would have ended analog already. So when the time comes, analog will exit the scene, but that time has not come just yet in most markets.

    Now if only Comcast would stop packing 3 HD channels per 38.8Mbps QAM.

  • Ryan Radia

    Comcast would love nothing more than to go all-digital. Thing is, lots of customers still rely on analog cable for some or all television sets. The main reason for this is because analog cable can be split to as many TVs as you want without renting or buying a Set-Top Box for each set. Hardware costs have come down a lot, and will keep declining. but $5 per month per TV is still a lot to many subscribers.

    Clearly the end of analog transmission isn’t far off. Cable systems need more bandwidth and analog is a huge hog, although thanks to switched digital video, MPEG4, and DOCSIS 3.0 I expect the cable companies to hold on to analog in most markets for the time being.

    My previous DVR, the Comcast 3416, couldn’t even work with analog. Every channel, including 2-100, were received via digital simulcast. In Chicago, nearly every analog transmission has gone digital without any huge problems.

    The idea that we need government to intervene is silly. Comcast cares about making money, and if it were net profitable to anger analog subscribers in order to draw in customers yearning for massive HD packages, Comcast would have ended analog already. So when the time comes, analog will exit the scene, but that time has not come just yet in most markets.

    Now if only Comcast would stop packing 3 HD channels per 38.8Mbps QAM.

  • http://digitaldynamo.blogspot.com/ Denice Rhodes

    Many people are still confused about the transition to digital, so thanks for trying to get the word out.
    Our non-profit, the Urban Progressive Foundation has been actively working with seniors and other groups to provide straight, clear and understandable information to help them through the transition.
    Later this week, I will be traveling to Wilmington, North Carolina, where the first full blown transition test-run will commence. If you can't make the trip, allow me to be your eyes and ears. Visit my blog http://digitaldynamo.blogspot.com/ and website http://www.transition2DTV.com for more information.

  • http://digitaldynamo.blogspot.com/ Denice Rhodes

    Many people are still confused about the transition to digital, so thanks for trying to get the word out.
    Our non-profit, the Urban Progressive Foundation has been actively working with seniors and other groups to provide straight, clear and understandable information to help them through the transition.
    Later this week, I will be traveling to Wilmington, North Carolina, where the first full blown transition test-run will commence. If you can't make the trip, allow me to be your eyes and ears. Visit my blog http://digitaldynamo.blogspot.com/ and website http://www.transition2DTV.com for more information.

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