The Best Guide to Cable Packages and Alternatives

Cable HDTV Packages

Although cable will probably never offer quite as many HDTV options as satellite television, HDTV on cable is still a viable and affordable alternative to satellite.

HDTV, Cable and Analog

To some extent, getting the best cable HDTV package requires a little history. Cable companies were originally set up to only include analog signals, like the signals you receive from an antenna. Analog television doesn’t provide very good definition, and it hogs a lot of bandwidth. HDTV channels also hog a lot of bandwidth, but they have the best signal available. In the middle is digital. It both takes less bandwidth and has better definition.

As more and more people started to buy HDTV’s (most TV purchases are now high-definition TVs), cable companies were really stuck. Their bandwidth was all taken up by analog signals. As a result, cable companies have moved to high definition only gradually. Every time they add a new HDTV channel, they need to clear away some of the analog channels and replace them with digital signals.

This actually benefits someone looking for cable HDTV. The cable companies have been extremely selective about what they present in HDTV. Unlike satellite companies, who are basically free to throw whatever they want on in high definition, cable companies have to seriously rework their distribution every time they introduce a new high-definition channel. This means someone buying cable on HDTV can be assured that whatever they purchase will be of high quality.

HDTV Package Selection

Since cable companies have produced so few high definition channels, the selection is somewhat limited. First, many television networks have produced HDTV versions of many of their shows. ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX all produce many primetime programs in high definition. This can provide a really nice treat for primetime television watching. Compared to traditional analog and regular digital cable, high definition television programs come across as crisp and lively on your high definition television. Note that network television is usually only high definition during primetime. If you turn on your “high definition” network channel during any other time, it will likely not be high definition.

Extended cable channels have followed suit. First were the sports channels, which is, in this author’s opinion, the most important channels to watch in high definition. The action in sports often only takes up a small part of the screen, and HDTV can make you able to read a jersey where a minute ago, you could only see a blur. After the sports channels, other extended channels like A&E, HGTV and National Geographic started select high definition programming. National Geographic is especially fun to watch on a high-definition television, because it helps you feel like you really are in another place.

One thing you willy likely never see in high definition on cable are multiple movie networks or pay-per-view. This simply takes up too much bandwidth. If your goal is to watch lots of movies in HDTV, you should either go with satellite, or augment your cable with a Blu-ray player. Blu-ray is better than even satellite HDTV anyway, as most HDTV is only 720p resolution, while Blu-Ray provides 1080p resolution. Of course, Blu-ray has the inconvenience of needing to rent or buy the films, so you should make your selection based on what is most important to you.

HDTV Boxes and CableCards

Many companies will try to rent you a converting box for about ten dollars per month, so understanding what is going on is important. The FCC attempted to create a freer flow of information from HDTV cable by promoting the “CableCard”, a device designed to allow users to record and easily convert cable streams. In December 2009, the FCC basically pulled the plug on this project. What this means is that fewer and fewer televisions will be CableCard compatible. Instead, you will probably need to get a traditional HDTV cable box. Your cable company will, of course, offer to rent you such a box. Some will even make it mandatory as a part of your overall cable package.

Whether or not to rent or buy is a simple matter of mathematics. A cable box like the Konnet TuneHD will run you between $200 and $400 dollars. So, if your cable company plans to charge you $10 per month for your box, and you plan to use it for more than two years, you should consider buying your own converter, provided you do not sacrifice your package by using your own converter.

Make sure that your cable box supports 1080p resolution if your HDTV can handle that much resolution. Since many cable companies only provide 720p resolution, they may try to rent you a box that can only support 720p resolution. If that is the case, you should find another package and even another cable company. Any box should be just as powerful as your television, or you’ll never be able to use your television to its full potential. Don’t forget to buy cables that are 1080p compabatible as well!