Monday, July 07, 2008
There has been considerable debate about whether or not cable TV is up to the task of offering budding TV technologies like HDTV. After all, when satellite TV came about back in the nineteen nineties it pretty much blew cable TV providers out of the water where the number of channels of standard def TV where concerned. Since then, the cable TV companies have made considerable headway in trying to make it so that their technology is competitive with what the satellite TV companies can provide. Most of this headway has been in the form of costly upgrades to the cable systems so that they can carry more channels. These costs have been passed on to consumers in the form of higher rates which have driven more former cable TV subscribers to satellite TV providers.
In the past few years though, HDTV has presented a new challenge to cable TV providers. That's because a single HDTV channel can require up to ten times the bandwidth that a standard definition channel does. Of course, this can be offset to some extent by using newer video compression technologies, but standard def programming can be compressed using the same technologies, so that's really a moot point. The bottom line is that if a cable TV provider is running at capacity, it will have to drop up to ten standard def channels in order to make room for one high def channel. Obviously dropping numerous channels that subscribers rely on isn't a realistic option, nor is foregoing adding HDTV channels while satellite TV companies can offer both at the same time. The expense of the upgrades necessary to provide more HDTV channels without dropping the standard def channels is also prohibitive because it will lead to higher cable rates, resulting in alienating customers. The bottom line is that the cable TV industry has been stuck in a Catch-22 that could lead to its demise.
Now though, there's a new type of technology that changes all of the rules for cable TV. This technology is called Switched Digital Video and it essentially allows cable TV companies to get the most out of the bandwidth that they already have. Right now, cable TV technology uses the shotgun approach of sending all of the available channels to every subscriber and letting the receivers sort out all of those channels and display the one that the viewer wants on his or her TV. This requires a lot of bandwidth and it's largely wasted on the channels that aren't being viewed at any given time. With Switched Digital Video though, the viewer chooses the channel that he or she wants to watch and that channel, and only that channel, is then delivered to their receiver and TV set. That means that a massively increased number of channels will be available though cable TV. Including a lot more HDTV channels.
Of course satellite TV still has the advantages of being cheaper and being much more widely available. While satellite TV, because of the nature of the technology, will likely always be more widely available than cable TV; Digital Video Switching may allow cable TV to catch up in many other ways.