GETTING STARTED -- CABLE TV
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
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