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Time Warner Cable Will Abandon Analog Cable Within 5 Years – Converting to All-Digital Systems

Phillip Dampier July 28, 2011 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 9 Comments

This digital transport adapter from Motorola is commonly installed on secondary television sets, such as those found in bedrooms, offices, or the kitchen to ensure reception of digital cable television channels without the size and expense of a traditional cable set top box.

Time Warner Cable has announced it will cease analog cable television service within five years, as the cable company embarks on a wholesale transition to all-digital cable.

The announcement came from CEO Glenn Britt during this morning’s investor conference call, and represents a major transition for the cable operator and its customers.

While Time Warner Cable already runs older digital cable systems in New York City and parts of Los Angeles, today’s announcement represents the company’s de-emphasis on Switched Digital Video (SDV), the technology the cable operator initially supported to free up channel space on its systems.  SDV allowed Time Warner Cable to maintain analog cable lineups for consumers who detest cable set top boxes.  Instead of converting the entire lineup to digital, Time Warner changed the way it delivered certain digital cable channels, only sending their signals to viewers in neighborhoods actually watching them at the time.

“We always said we would supplement switched digital video with going all-digital,” Britt said. “Our plan is to migrate all systems to all-digital over the next five years.”

The decision means Time Warner Cable has opted to follow Comcast’s lead towards all-digital systems, instead of trying to support both analog and digital video.

Britt said the company’s first target city for the all-digital switch is Augusta, Maine.  Customers there will be given the choice of taking the cable company’s traditional set top box or new Digital Transport Adapters (DTAs), devices which convert digital signals into standard definition analog video, suitable for televisions where customers may not need or want a full-powered cable box.  DTAs have traditionally been given away in small numbers or rented for a nominal fee (usually under $2 a month) by other cable operators like Comcast.  But Time Warner has not made any specific announcements about pricing for impacted subscribers just yet.

When complete, every Time Warner cable subscriber will need to have either a cable box, a DTA, or CableCARD for every cable-connected television in the home.

Currently there are 9 comments on this Article:

  1. Andrew Madigan says:

    This will be nice for me and the 5 or so other people in the country who use CableCARD. I just got the CableCARD installed in my PC (using a Ceton InfiniTV card, 4 tuners). Now I have to wait for TimeWarner to mail me 2 SDV tuning adapters, each of which needs power, USB, and coax connections. SDV is a bad hack anyway, and the fact that it still isn’t properly integrated with CableCARD just makes it worse.

    What I’m not sure of is why the Cable Cos. can’t use ClearQAM to transmit in digital, many TVs produced in the last 5-10 years support it natively, and it can be controlled similarly to analog TV to prevent “piracy”. In my area (Rochester), Time Warner already uses QAM for the HD versions of broadcast channels, and a couple of other channels. I suppose whatever method they’re using for the others probably uses less bandwidth.

    • I suspect it is a signal theft issue. If you can tap into the neighbor’s cable feed and watch hundreds of channels in the clear, that’s an incentive. If they scramble/encode everything, you’ll need a hacked set top box to watch, and those are increasingly subject to theft control countermeasures.

      I, for one, will not pay another $12-13 a month for two more set top boxes for my remaining televisions, not to mention the two Slingboxes we have here. DTAs for me all the way — which should be available for SALE, not eternal rental.

      Comcast gives out two DTAs for free, with each additional running $1.99 a month forever. These things should cost well under $50 retail.

      The other concessions about DTAs — no electronic program guide (no problem), no transactional video (no on-demand/PPV), and nothing beyond standard definition video. For my needs that’s all fine. I just hope they won’t use their new found bandwidth to cram hundreds of more channels I don’t watch onto my bill.

    • Ben says:

      You should only need one Tuning Adapter. Cisco deployed the 1402 firmware update and each TA now supports up to 6 devices. We have it in Central New York and Albany. I’m pretty sure you should have it in Rochester. However, I’d bet a years salary that if you call a CSR and ask them that they will have absolutely no idea of it and most won’t even know what a Tuning Adapter is.

    • Dave Hancock says:

      Andrew Madigan wrote:
      “What I’m not sure of is why the Cable Cos. can’t use ClearQAM to transmit in digital, many TVs produced in the last 5-10 years support it natively, and it can be controlled similarly to analog TV to prevent “piracy”. In my area (Rochester), Time Warner already uses QAM for the HD versions of broadcast channels, and a couple of other channels. I suppose whatever method they’re using for the others probably uses less bandwidth.”

      A few of technical points here:
      1. QAM is THE modulation method that virtually all cable systems use to distribute digital video on their systems.
      2. In cable systems, a single QAM channel uses the same spectrum space (6MHz) as does a single SD analog channel.
      3. QAM is roughly twice as efficient as the method used for over the air digital TV. You can fit two HD channels on a single QAM WITHOUT COMPROMISING QUALITY. Of course, if you are willing to compromise quality, you can jam more HD channels on a single QAM. Comcast has been routinely putting 3-4 (so called) HD channels on a QAM.
      4. The cable companies have been routinely putting 12-15 SD channels on a single QAM for years (that is digital cable). They have also been “simulcasting digital for years. That is, they have been using the first 70 or so channels (over 400MHz) strictly for analog SD video channels that they also duplicate in a few QAM channels. Eliminating those analog channels is a strong temptation.
      5. It is not easy to “controlled similarly to analog TV to prevent “piracy”.” In analog, sharp cut-off filters are required, and the use off them introduces lots of problems. The only EFFECTIVE method is encryption (BTW: “ClearQAM” is just an unencrypted signal).

  2. digitlman says:

    Considering the digital plan is a significantly higher price than analog, this should make Wall Street happy.

    Of course, by the time the transition is complete, who know how many more people will be in the “Cord Cutters” club.

    I plan on joining it soon.

    • It’s remarkable to me how little TV I watch anymore.

      I have grown completely intolerant of the three minute ad-break these days and will literally switch the TV off during those marathon ad runs. Ad-bandonment.

      If it’s not online, on-demand, or only slightly ad-challenged, it’s simply not worth watching to me.

      Live news is the only thing holding me to cable TV. My premium channels are all gone, wiped away by me after last year’s rate hike. My digital HD add-on tier went with it — nothing to watch there. I watch maybe five channels on the lineup I have for less than an hour a day.

      • Scott says:

        After the netflix rate-hike and their lack of streaming content I’m even a month away from dropping netflix. All I want is about 4 channels off the cable dial, but don’t see the value in paying $50/mo+ for that privilege.

        Besides watching rented DVD’s or Vudu movies my 55″ TV doesn’t get a whole lot of work these days, while I’ve been spending the majority of time away from it on the computer being a lot more productive anyway.

  3. WRCFanatic says:

    TWC is in favor of 1 way HD-DTA’s with integrated security. The new CableCard rules allow waivers for such devices.

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