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More channels, more choice, where do I sign?


Hold on, first you have to live in an area that has a cable TV franchise. The latest figures for the UK suggest that cable TV is only available to around one in five homes, and most of those are in cities and larger towns. If you live out in the sticks the chances are cable wonít be coming down your road for a very long time, possibly never. Your local Town Hallís planning office will be able to tell you whether there are any plans to cable your neighbourhood.


They installed cable in my street a couple of years ago but I never bothered, is it too late?


When cable companies bury their underground conduits they usually provide an outlet by every property, it should only take them a couple of hours to hook you up. Theyíll provide you with a remotely controlled set-top decoder box, that connects to your TV and VCR.


How much is all this going to cost?


Prices vary, and check out any special deals that may be offered from time to time. Cable companies are very keen to sign up new subscribers as only a tiny fraction of the houses their cables pass are connected. Set-top boxes and connection charges range between £15 and £50, after that thereís the monthly subscription. This will depend on what channels you want to watch, and what other services the operator has to offer. Itís usually a little dearer than a comparable BSKYB subscription package, but you will get extra TV and radio channels. These include stations targeted at local and ethnic minority communities, plus cable-exclusive channels, like Live TV, the Parliament Channel, Landscape etc., plus all four terrestrial TV channels.


What about cable telephone, how does that work?


A cable phone operates independently of the TV; as far as youíre concerned itís just like a BT line, with full access to the national and international telecommunications network, including data services like fax and Internet.  Cable telephone charges can work out cheaper than a BT line, depending on your pattern of usage. Theyíre usually quite competitive if you make a lot of local calls. Cable telephony also has other possibilities, including Ďinteractive TVí where the phone connection provides you with a two-way link to the cable operator. A few companies are exploiting this technology and it could lead to things like video on demand,  more home shopping channels, participatory game shows and sports programmes, where you choose the camera angles. 


Whatís picture quality like, and is cable going to be compatible with digital TV when that starts?


It should be as good, if not better than satellite and terrestrial TV, particularly if you live in a fringe reception area. Digital TV is not an issue, one of the beauties of cable is that it doesnít matter how or where programmes originate, the cable company converts it into a form that can be seen on your TV, before itís sent down the wire.


How about sound?


Sadly thatís where cable usually comes unstuck. Quite often only a couple of channels have stereo sound, itís important to check with your local operator if stereo and Dolby Surround are important to you. Even when they do provide stereo you may need an extra converter box or adaptor, to pipe the sound to your hi-fi or TV, and you may be charged extra for the privilege. At the moment only a tiny minority of cable companies do the sensible thing and send NICAM encoded sound, which can be fed directly to a stereo. Itís slowly getting better, and the quality of cable stereo --  where available -- can be quite good, moreover Dolby Pro Logic soundtracks survive the underground journey in reasonably good shape. 



” R. Maybury 1996 1704







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