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Television Government Hardware

Sidestepping A-to-D Convertors For Town Government's Cable TV? 539

Posted by timothy
from the creative-solutions dept.
jake-itguy writes "I am the IT guy for a small town municipality. Comcast called me the other day and told me I had to have a digital-to-analog converter for each TV in the municipality, as Comcast is turning off analog cable in September. I did a quick count, and we have 32 TVs across 6 buildings (22 being in the police and fire departments). Most of the TVs are hung on the walls. I told Comcast having a box for each TV was not acceptable and wanted a different solution. Comcast told me there was no other solution." Read on for more details of the situation, and to see if you can offer Jake any advice for distributing cable service within his Indiana town.
jake-itguy continues: "They told me they have been putting these boxes on every TV in each classroom in each school. I laughed when I heard that. I said, 'Do you know how much electricity is going to be needed for each box?' They didn't know the answer. I was bumped up to the next guy in the Comcast hierarchy, who said there was no other solution and I had to pay $3 per month for each box. Being a municipality, we are entitled to free expanded basic cable as a part of the franchise agreement back in 1982.

I know there is a solution, as hospitals and hotels don't have little boxes next their TVs. Unfortunately I haven't found a specific answer to this problem so I am asking Slashdot. Is there a box that can be put in the basement of the town hall that will convert the Comcast signal into a regular digital signal? Most of the TVs in the town have digital tuners per last years a2d conversion of the airwaves. I would be willing to replace the few analog sets with new ones if there is a good solution for this. Each building's cable feed is fed from the town hall. We have a nice big 1-inch cable coming into the building with some splitters coming off the line. Each building gets a 1/2 inch cable. Is there a box that will convert the Comcast signal to analog for the schools? I am sure the schools don't have TVs with digital tuners."
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Sidestepping A-to-D Convertors For Town Government's Cable TV?

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  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:29PM (#32829248)
    If you don't mind them all being tuned to the same channel, you only need 1 converter box per building. Might also need an RF amplifier to help with distribution since by definition splitting the signal attenuates it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ooji (1471967)
      Or if you use a modulators as well you can then have one box per channel per building and have multiple channels.
      • by FictionPimp (712802) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:16PM (#32829962) Homepage

        This is how we offer TV service to our dorms.

        We have 1 box per 2 channels of directTV (or dishnetwork I can't recall which). Each one pushes out to a tv channel that their TV can tune in to watch.

        We offer 30 channels so we have 15 boxes.

      • by vtcodger (957785) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:31PM (#32830220)

        If you just need to tune to a local news channel for weather alerts and to a few public service channels, Channel Plus makes a nice looking (on paper anyway) four channel modulator for about $150.

        In any case, it doesn't sound to me like Comcast is acting in good faith (like any sane person would expect them to). Probably your best bet is to get your data together. Write up the information in a form that will make sense to an intelligent adult. No easy job. Some of the posts in this thread will give you an idea of the amount of stupidity you will encounter. Estimate current and ongoing costs to maintain your current level of service.

        Armed with your whitepaper, your boss or your boss'es boss should sit down with the town attorney and decide whether to escalate to the state government and/or the Public Utility Commission. Assuming that the franchise agreement supports it, I'd have the suits argue to higher authority that Comcast is obligated to deliver you expanded basic service in analog (or replace your TVs) and how they do it should not be your problem. Comcast should be responsible for the engineering, installation, and maintenance of their solution whatever it is. Who knows, Comcast being possibly the second most despised company (after BP) in many parts of America. The PUC or whoever may see things your way.

  • Isn't digital cable ASTC compatible if it is not encrypted?

    • by Kaenneth (82978) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:38PM (#32829400) Homepage Journal

      In the US, afaik, no, they use QAM encoding, same as cable modems. However, many TV's can tune 'Clear' (unencrypted) QAM and ATSC, and all channels that are available over the air (OTA) should be unencrypted on Cable (I believe it's a legal requirement, but cable co's continueally 'accidently' encrypt channels

    • by dsgrntlxmply (610492) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:48PM (#32829560)

      U.S. digital cable is not ATSC (8-VSB modulation) over-the-air broadcast signal compatible. Instead, the main MPEG2 payload is carried in 64-QAM or 256-QAM modulation, within RF channels that fit the usual US-standard 6 MHz spacing. Alongside this, are one or more "out-of-band" carriers that use a different modulation format and lower data rate, that carry channel maps and other administrative information. Finally, there is an upstream (settop box to head-end) channel in RF bands lower in frequency than the downstream RF, that is used for administrative purposes and for pay-per-view.

      The signal structures are described in published standards freely available from SCTE. The out-of-band and reverse channels have two different standards, reflecting the original developments by General Instrument (now Motorola) of one standard, and by Scientific Atlanta (now Cisco) of the other.

      Much (but not all) of the content is covered by "conditional access" (encryption), the details of which are of course unpublished.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      >>>Isn't digital cable ASTC compatible if it is not encrypted?

      Yes and no. ATSC chips are designed for the dual purpose of interpreting both the 8/16VSB and QAM signals. The question is whether or not the engineer enabled the QAM capability. In most cases the answer is yes but not always.

  • by SpudB0y (617458) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:31PM (#32829276)

    Get antennas and cheap converter boxes. Or get a Channel Plus 3025 and only buy one cable box per building and pay $3 a month per box forever.

    • What? They get free cable right now, because of an agreement common to municipalities with cable monopolies. Why bother switching to an OTA system for the entire town?
      • How about they end the monopoly, then? I'm all for that, regardless of whether or not the town government gets free cable TV.
    • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:09PM (#32829842)

      Stupid, off topic question, but is there any place you know of online to read up on things like the Channel Plus? I've been dreaming for a long time of setting up an 'in-home' network where I've got my OTA channels as well as a few 'computer run' channels setup to pass through preexisting coax I have in my home. But have so little knowledge about the topic that I haven't been able to even craft a relevant Google query to start off from.

  • by bradgoodman (964302) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:31PM (#32829282) Homepage
    You could always just place the A-to-D box "upstream" of the TV set - several feet away - in a closet - wherever. It doesn't have to be right on the wall. Use the same Coaxial cable and splice the box in elsewhere. (I am assuming you don't have to change the channels often on these boxes.)

    If several TVs are tuned into the same channel in a building, you could use one box at the point-of-ingest into the building.

  • Hotels (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tisha_AH (600987) <Tisha.Hayes@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:32PM (#32829292) Journal

    Hotels frequently have a bank of converters, each tuned to a different digital channel. The outputs of all of the converter boxes are put onto separate analog channels, multiplexed and fed through a distribution amplifier.

    You would need a box for each channel you wish to receive. While this may work with a hotel where they own all of the premise wiring to the rooms it would be impractical for a widespread system across a city.

  • by human-cyborg (450395) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:33PM (#32829306)

    and provides an alternative to Comcast digital cable?

    Hmm, sounds like a book to me.

  • Why couldn't you get a few tuners for the channels you want to distribute - and then modulate them on analog/digital channels and run your own signal? I'm pretty sure this is what hotels/hospitals do.
  • by stevew (4845) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:34PM (#32829326) Journal

    Couple of points - a "regular" signal is defined as digital! The other is that I would imagine that if you are only watching "basic" cable, then your digital tuners should cover the same frequencies. So there likely isn't any conversion for the digital TVs you already have.

    As for the Dig to Ana converters - remember the ads the cable TV folks ran - "You won't have to change a thing if you have cable because we'll keep the analog signal around." Well - Comcast lied! I have to rent 6 (*^#(#^^ boxes for my house!

  • by jemtallon (1125407) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:35PM (#32829340) Journal
    You may want to check the exact wording of the franchise agreement. Depending on how it's worded, if they are required to provide you free access to basic cable and they no longer offer that option, you may have some leverage with them. If nothing else, you may persuade them to give you the hardware at no cost.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jedidiah (1196)

      It looks like Comcast is trying to make the tradition "boxless cable option" disappear.

      I say: the city should push back on this. If nothing else, there should be a boxless cable
      option for any TV that can tune into digital signals with a built in tuner. A special cable
      box should simply not be required.

      There should be some cable package that can be used without a box.

      Basic cable from Comcast should be tunable with an HDHR or a naked HDTV.

  • Get satellite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by countSudoku() (1047544) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:35PM (#32829352) Homepage

    I witnessed, many many years ago, a satellite setup for an apartment complex that used a Big Ugly Dish that muxed into a matrix of little individual tuner devices, the signals were recombined and then fed into the local F-type cable netwok, with repeater/amps behind that most likely. I wish I could tell you the brand names of these devices but I just don't remember. Let it be said; Comcrap is not the way to go, you could do much better with Dish/DirecTV (or anyone else's) service, I would suspect, and those companies would be much more helpful than your current "provider." Don't let your F-type cable go to waste, ditch Comcast and mux in the channels to your cable network from another vendor.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:35PM (#32829354)

    Get all of the police and firemen to go to the city council and demand they end the Comcast monopoly and while they are at it, have the city council ban encryption of the digital signal.

    Without a doubt, Comcast will find a solution for you!!!

  • by falzer (224563) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:36PM (#32829360)

    Get a converter for every digital channel you care about and retransmit on analog channels. Don't interfere with other channels. You can do this per-building or for the whole town if it's small enough.

    Actually, don't, since that would cost too much for the little benefit you would gain.

    Put just a few converters in each building and have a remote switch to pick your digital channel and analog channel.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:36PM (#32829362)

    http://www.vecima.com/products.php?line=1026&item=1083

    It does the digital to analog conversion in one spot, and is used to handle doing so for large buildings such as hospitals or apartment blocks.

  • IPTV over Multicast (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:37PM (#32829376)

    What you want is IPTV over multicast. A number of universities have done this - one is the University of Wisconsin at Madison [wisc.edu], which has a pretty bare bones approach using IP multicast and Apple Quicktime. They are also pretty good about giving technical clue if you run into trouble and ask nicely. If you want to spend more money, there is the HaiVision Video Furnace [haivision.com], which is used by, e.g., Brown University [brown.edu].

    I have no idea if your contract with Comcast will let you do this, but I believe that the Universities do it by restricting use to only people on campus, so you might be able to do the same.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by adolf (21054)

      Neat stuff, but how does it eliminate the need for set-top boxes?

  • Since all the other users are fed from your town hall, why feed them comcast cable?
    Receive comcast at the townhall, and then transmit analog cable down the lines to all your other locations?

    Most hotels do this, they have a single feed into the building and then handle their own feeds into all the sets via various methods (some hotels use iptv for instance).

  • Surely your town has a hotel. Every hotel I've stayed in for the last 15 years (mostly Hampton Inns) has had an analog TV with a fancy remote that looked like a digital interface. Once I saw "rain fade" revealing it was Dish Network behind the covers. If you have credentials to prove you work for the municipality, stop by a few hotels and ask if you can see the equipment that drives their TV system.

    And while I'd think it would be nice to cancel the cable and save the town some cash (like another poster s

    • by Andy Dodd (701)

      The solution hotels/hospitals use (massive tuner banks + RF modulators + RF combiner hiding in a rack somewhere) is only economical for large scale (hundreds of TVs) installations. Usually where num_TVs > 2*total_tunable_channels or so.

      Plus most hotels I have been in recently had custom boxes designed for the TV system in use at the hotel (to support all the shiny VOD/PPV stuff.)

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:45PM (#32829526) Homepage

    Being a municipality, we are entitled to free expanded basic cable as a part of the franchise agreement back in 1982.

    Sounds like you may need to have a quick chat with your city's lawyer about whether Comcast is trying to do an end-run around that agreement. That section may make your problem their problem instead.

  • by mhkohne (3854) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:47PM (#32829554) Homepage

    If the franchise agreement really says you get expanded basic in exchange for them getting the franchise, then I'd have a word with the township's lawyers. Depending on how the deal is stated, it's probably Comcast's problem to make this work, not yours. I suspect that if the town's lawyers had a word with Comcast's lawyers, then someone in Comcast's engineering department would sort things out right quick.

  • There are two ways to use Comcast digital cable; set top box and CableCard http://customer.comcast.com/Pages/FAQViewer.aspx?seoid=What-is-a-CableCARD [comcast.com]

  • Remember back a couple of years ago when the cable industry ran those ads (on Comcast here in W. Mass.) reassuring us all that we didn't have to worry about all this digital nonsense because they had our backs? And here we are a short time later, where they've deleted 3/4 of the channels and reduced the signal quality of what's left. Thanks a ton guys, and you're welcome for all that money I've sent you over the years. I refuse to get their digital box because I don't want Comcast always knowing what cha

  • Of all the objections to make, this one is silly:
    'Do you know how much electricity is going to be needed for each box?'

    Cable boxes run pretty warm, but nothing compared to almost any sized CRT TV.

    I'm assuming you don't have LCDs or plasmas hung on the walls, since most of them have included Clear QAM support since their prices became reasonable.

    If you want encrypted channels (basically anything other than the broadcast networks), you need a cable box, period. (Yeah there is CableCard, but CableCard was an

  • It is common for hotels and the like to have a master antenna distribution system. The head end has the antenna combiners, modulators (digital and or analog) tuners/antennas and other program material. You will want an engineer to design the distribution system so each outlet receives the same signal strength and each channel has the correct audio and video levels into the respective modulators.

    The general arrangement for a typical system is a tuner for each channel desired feeding a modulator on each des

  • comcast DTA's are a joke and you get less then what used to be on analog cable.

    In Chicago land that's

    CSN +

    CLTV

    SCI-FI

    Speed (parts of the area)

    and more.

  • by Zarniwoop (25791) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:00PM (#32829732)

    I actually work for a TV company... might be able to give a little insight.

    Most headends for hotels, hospitals and the like are comprised of a rack of STBs, each tuned to a specific channel. The output is modulated as an RF signal and combined with all the others, so the incoming digital signal is effectively converted to analog for redistribution on the local coax network.

    So, if you're wanting to display more than 32 services, you'll need at least that many STBs at your analog headend. You'll also need to manage the infrastructure to distribute it to the six buildings, which would probably mean running underground cables underground, and if there is any sort of distance you'd need some RF amplifiers. You might be able to get around some of that using something like a slingbox over IP, but again, added cost.

    Finally, there's the management aspect. What happens if a channel moves to another channel number? You'll have to retune the box. If a box goes down for any reason, you'll have to replace it as the channel will be knocked out. And one of the less fun aspects of managing a TV system is that people treat it as a utility... if it's down, expect to get a call, even at 3AM.

    If I were you, I'd push your cable company to donate STBs in order to keep your relationship rosy. That way, no $3/month fee (which does seem wrong based on your agreement), and none of the buildout/management headaches.

    Best of luck.

  • I mean, since the market has been deregulated, there must be some competitors in the market that can offer you cable besides whatever you have now. That's the point of the free market, to allow competitors to offer better service and have people choose which offering they want to take - there should be no state-subsidized monopoly on either cable or internet providers.

    You could also use another type of TV provider: IPTV, Satellite - they should all have something in their commercial range that allows you t

  • put together the numbers of what this will cost, and complain to your elected supervisors. suggest terminating the cableco's franchise. god forbid they should lose their right to print money by ... delivering service.

  • http://www.atxnetworks.com/bulk-qam-to-qam-gige-analog [atxnetworks.com]

    Does exactly what you want - it can bulk-decrypt cable channels and output them as CleaQAM. Unfortunately, if you only have 32 TVs, you likely can't afford it.

    To be quite frank, Comcast doesn't care about you. 32 sets is a small setup. Something like that, or using modulators is how the big boys do it, but you're talking $10,000+ (if not $100,000+) depending on your requiements.

  • make Comcast put the full analog line up + HD ver of the old analog channels in clear QAM.

    To bad with comcast it's OTA clear qam or the at junk DTA that does not even get the full starter line up or the $8 per tv box / cable outlet fee.

  • Wasn't part of the statement of problem that they are wall-mounted analog-only TVs, and therefore can't have boxes at the site of the TV? "Free boxes or my lawyers will eat you" doesn't help solve the problem, and city lawyers have better things to do than this. In any event, from the description of the situation Comcast is certainly not trying to "get around" anything; they are still providing basic cable for free. It's just not analog; the city has to go digital like everybody else. FCC mandate. The quest
  • MDTA (Score:5, Informative)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:26PM (#32830160) Homepage Journal

    First, disclaimers. I don't work for Comcast, but I do consult to them. I don't speak for Comcast in any way. I am under NDA, so I can't give you the sort of specific technical information you need. There may be any number of reasons why this thing wouldn't work in your circumstances, or why Comcast wouldn't choose to provide you one.

    Having said all of that, you might want to look into the MDTA [multichannel.com]. It's the "solution" you're sure exists ;-)

    It is POSSIBLE that one of these could be connected to your 1 inch (probably 850) hardline. But be aware that it doesn't mix with digital video services, though CableModems and MTAs work fine when hung off of it.

    -Peter

  • by swb (14022) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:57PM (#32830586)

    There was a local newspaper column about Comcast's switch to digital encoding for everything and the requirement that everyone have a cable box (shades of pre-cable ready TV again). As with all things local newspaper + technology, it was shockingly short of facts.

    What I don't understand is why Comcast doesn't use in the clear ATSC digital encoding for their "analog to digital" conversion? I finally got a TV with an ATSC tuner and was surprised to see ATSC digital channels on the cable coming out of the wall without a box.

    Of course I know the conspiracy angle is Comcast just wants to nickel and dime everyone as much as possible, but the ability to just connect a TV to cable without a box has been a strength of cable vs. satellite (along with a simpler wiring scheme). When the box becomes a requirement to get ANY TV, I think they lose a competitive advantage over satellite.

    The article I read said they would be supplying 1-2 boxes for free to all subscribers. Given the relative stupidity of most people and the inherent added complexity this adds to cable, wouldn't it be more profitable in the long run to just encode via ATSC and not deal with all the nuisance of boxes and box support and box replacement, ad nauseum?

  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @03:58PM (#32830614) Journal
    When Comcast announced they were switching all these old ladies in assisted living over to digital I just knew it was going to be a disaster. Sure enough, the residents keep forgetting how to use them, and keep grabbing the old TV remote to change channels (which won't work duh).

    They've tried hiding the old TV remotes in drawers but then the residents get mad and want to know who stole them.

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