The following section contains excerpts from "How Cable Television Works" by Curt Franklin.
Full article is available at http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/cable-tv.htm
In the 1950s, there were three television networks in the United States. Because of the frequencies allotted
to television, the signals could only be received in a "line of sight" from the transmitting antenna. People
living in remote areas, especially remote mountainous areas, couldn't see the programs that were already
becoming an important part of U.S. culture.
In 1948, people living in remote valleys in Pennsylvania solved their reception problems by putting
antennas on hills and running cables to their houses. These days, the same technology once used by
remote hamlets and select cities allows viewers all over the country to access a wide variety of programs
and channels that meet their individual needs and desires. By the early 1990s, cable television had
reached nearly half the homes in the United States.
Today, U.S. cable systems deliver hundreds of channels to some 60 million homes, while also providing a
growing number of people with high-speed Internet access. Some cable systems even let you make
telephone calls and receive new programming technologies! In this article, we'll show you how cable
television brings you so much information and such a wide range of programs, from educational to
inspirational to just plain odd.
The earliest cable systems were, in effect, strategically placed antennas with very long cables connecting
them to subscribers' television sets. Because the signal from the antenna became weaker as it traveled
through the length of cable, cable providers had to insert amplifiers at regular intervals to boost the
strength of the signal and make it acceptable for viewing. According to Bill Wall, technical director for
subscriber networks at Scientific-Atlanta, a leading maker of equipment for cable television systems,
limitations in these amplifiers were a significant issue for cable system designers in the next three
In a cable system, the signal might have gone through 30 or 40 amplifiers before reaching your house, one
every 1,000 feet or so," Wall says. "With each amplifier, you would get noise and distortion. Plus, if one of
the amplifiers failed, you lost the picture. Cable got a reputation for not having the best quality picture and
for not being reliable." In the late 1970s, cable television would find a solution to the amplifier problem. By
then, they had also developed technology that allowed them to add more programming to cable service.
From Analog to Digital
In 1989, General Instruments demonstrated that it was possible to convert an analog cable signal to digital
and transmit it in a standard 6-MHz television channel. Using MPEG compression, CATV systems installed
today can transmit up to 10 channels of video in the 6-MHz bandwidth of a single analog channel. When
combined with a 550-MHz overall bandwidth, this allows the possibility of nearly 1,000 channels of video on
a system. In addition, digital technology allows for error correction to ensure the quality of the received
Satellite Video Source
The most important element of the full Home Theater experience, is the video signal source. It must be a
digital signal. DVDs are both digital and HDTV. Satellite dish services are digital and some programming
is HDTV. If your local TV cable service does not provide digital video services, or you have no access to a
TV cable, there is no choice but to subscribe to a satellite dish service. There are only two major services
available: Dish Networks / Echostar Communications and Direct TV.
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