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  • This sermon is in two parts. First, I will cover television signal and then talk about the hardware you will need to get TV signal to your PC. – Timothy Daleo

    Analog Signal - NTSC

    Most countries still run analog signal. When we talk about analog, you talk about SD signal. Worldwide, you are talking about NTSC, PAL or SECAM signals in countries broadcasting up to 576 lines. For standard definition in a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, NTSC countries are 640 x 480 while PAL countries are in 720 x 576.


    This analog signal is a variable amplitude continuous signal with which most of us grew up. I am not going to get into the details but NTSC, PAL and SECAM are analog. HD signal cannot be transmitted over analog and many countries are converting. While the majority countries still offer analog signal, most developed countries are in the process of converting to digital. Canada should be digital by 2011 and the UK completed in stages by 2012. As for the United States, there are some low power stations out there still in analog but all of the high power OTA broadcasting was converted to digital in 2009.



     Figure 1 – Analog Signal by Country



    Digital Signal - ATSC

    Digital signal is separated into HD and SD signal also know as High definition and standard definition. The resolution is what determines the format. Resolution is measured by the horizontal lines, so 1080 is actually 1920 x 1080 and 720 is 1280 x 720. Standard definition also exists in digital form in 704 x 480, 720 x 576 or 640 x 480. Just because the signal is digital does NOT mean it is HD.


    Although most of the rest of the world is slowly converting from analog, they do have other digital formats. Whilst the United States has ATSC, my brother Andrew Edney in the UK gets channels that are in DVB-T. South America has ISDB-T and China has DMB-T/H.




    Figure 2 – Digital Signal by Country


    So what is this digital signal? It is a transmission of information, for example in North America up to 19 megabits (2.375 megabytes) from a broadcaster. Now, the broadcasters do not need all of this bandwidth for one HD channel so sometimes they put SD channels out within the same bit rate. For example, in Los Angeles, our NBS channel is 4.1 and they have enough bandwidth for a SD 4.2 and a 4.3 channel. We call this multiplexing. This special type of service is available since digital signal takes up less bandwidth.


    An antenna then receives this digital signal and then your digital TV tuner decodes the signals and shows you Dancing with the Stars.


    Now you may also get your TV signal from a cable provider or a satellite dish. Digital cable is a different beast. Up until 1989, the cable companies were supplying analog signal. As I mentioned before analog takes up much more bandwidth than digital signal. In fact, the cable companies are now getting about 10 SD digital channels in the same space of one old analog channel.


    Therefore, once Motorola showed they could convert analog to digital, the cable companies created a completely new set of digital services. Services such as telephone, internet, PPV and interactive menus were all now possible with digital cable. As I said before, you can only get HD with digital, so the old analog cable was SD. Think of this concept kind of like a plate on your kitchen counter. If you were to place a bunch of marbles, or analog signals, on top on the plate, you would maybe fit a couple hundred marbles right? Now, get rid of most of the marbles and use BB’s, which represent the digital signal, and you can fit thousands. In fact, some of those BB’s are not digital TV at all. Some are phone, PPV, internet, menus and On Demand type services. But why give all of the BB’s to every house?


    Let us take a few minutes and talk about Switched Digital Video and why you should be aware of it.

    Switched Digital Video

    Cable companies originally had analog signal going through the cables that provide you signal. As I mentioned earlier, once digital happened, now cable companies could send more channels and more information to you. So what needed to be changed? Bandwidth. You can only fit so much information or data in a cable. Originally, cable companies would send all of their channels, all of the time, to all of the subscribers. Now if you think about it, why send every friggin’ channel to a house when the people inside are watching only one or two channels? In fact why send CSPAN to every house when no one watches it, right? It is a waste of bandwidth. The major cable companies have decided to send only the channels you are watching to your house. It varies by market but eventually they will all migrate to this new system. If you are on a Switched Digital Video (SDV) system, whenever you change the channel a signal from your set top box is sent to a local “node” (probably within a mile or so of your house that serves a couple thousand homes) and that node “switches in” that channel for you. This makes more sense and frees up bandwidth. Think of it is as similar to On Demand technology. Now, here is the part of SDV that affects you.


    Modern cable boxes communicate back and forth all of the time with the node. It happens instantly, and seamlessly, within the closed cable equipment system. As I mentioned, any digitally encrypted channels are “switched out” when not being watched so when you want to change channels, and watch a show like Discovery Channel, your cable box sends a signal to the node and you are now almost instantly watching Deadliest Catch. Everything works great. Well…


    What about external networked TV tuners or ones inside your computer? Well this is where it sucks for us. Since the SDV channels are encrypted, the TV Tuner connected to your computer sees that channel as one it cannot access due to encryption or scrambling. No watchie for you. How do we deal with this?




     Figure 3 - Switched Digital Video

    Tuning Adapters

    If you have SDV, you need a device to communicate with the node. A Tuning Adapter is the device you must use. A Tuning Adapter sends the node the signal of the channel you want to watch. The set top box does this automatically are part of the cable equipment but we need this since our equipment does not function exactly like a cable box.


    Those of you with TiVo’s in SDV areas have that second box on top of your TiVo that communicates with the node. The Tuning Adapter allows access to all of the encrypted channels that are available to you in your cable package. Tuning adapters typically support two tuners each so those of you in a SDV area will require at least one, if not two for the latest CableCARD tuners.


    CableCARD devices, including TiVo, Ceton InfiniTV and the new SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime, do not currently support SDV without the use of these Tuning Adapters.


    Now what is the CableCARD thing I just mentioned?


    In the beginning, the only way you could get a premium cable signal to your TV was through the set top box. Sure, you could plug the cable directly to your 19” Zenith, but you would only get some of the channels but not the good stuff. You needed a set top box, or as Andrew Edney would say a “digibox”.


    Well in 1998, the FCC told the cable companies they needed to give the consumer a way to get this multichannel premium signal without proprietary cable equipment. In 1999, the TiVo was born and by 2000, the CableCARD was available to subscribers. Well it was available if you could get the cable tech person on the phone to acknowledge they existed. Moreover, equipment to use the CableCARD in. Anyway…so here we are in 2010.


    Now CableCARD can be its own show, but just understand for this podcast these four things about CableCARD:

    • CableCARD is not required for non-scrambled channels
    • The card acts like a key to unlock the channels that you subscribe to
    • CableCARD is matched between you and your cable company so it MUST come from your provider and usually requires a truck roll
    • Your device must be made for CableCARD for it to work

    Again, CableCARD is too large a topic for this podcast segment so let us know in the forums if you want a show for CableCARD. Maybe we can get some guest speakers like Ian Dixon on to help with the DVB-T standard and the European side too. Sorry Canada, no providers support CableCARD up there.


    Lastly, a recent but undeveloped signal type…

    Verizon FIOS and AT&T U-Verse

    In 82 words or less, the fiber signal goes from the Verizon office to a node; the node serves up to 32 houses and then comes into your house. A terminal then transfers the data to the hard wiring in your home. You can get TV, Internet and phone. At this time these two companies are not really developing more infrastructure and are concentrating on wireless so you probably will not it expanding anywhere else than it already is any time soon.


    Now that we understand the signal types and where they come from, we can finally look at the hardware we need to get it into our PCs. There are three basic types of TV Tuners for computers. These three are PCI/PCI-E Cards, USB Tuners and Networked Tuners. Within those three types, there are three types of tuners depending on what signal you need to capture and what country you are in. Let’s talk about the tuners first.

    • Analog tuners output raw video and if you want to record the video then it needs to be converted to MPEG.
    • Hybrid tuners can be configured as either an analog tuner or a digital tuner.
    • Combo tuners have one analog AND one digital tuner so you can watch one and record on the other.

    Here in the United States we no longer have analog signal so we would want a device with a digital tuner. You can get a card with a single tuner or with two tuners but you have to make sure both tuners are digital. Remember in the US we no longer need a NTSC tuner. We want ATSC tuners. Companies like Hauppauge, AVerMedia and SiliconDust make dual tuner devices but again watch out as one of those tuners may be the NTSC one.

    PCI and PCI-E Tuner Cards

    The internal TV tuner cards are very straightforward. You open your case, install the card and then connect your TV signal to the exterior of the card. These cards are available in combo and hybrid models here in the US. Once installed you can use the card and watch TV either through the software that came with the card or through another program like Windows Media Center. Newegg has 28 internal card tuners for sale as of the date of this broadcast but only two were digital only.


    The new Ceton InfiniTV card has four tuners built in and will use your CableCARD for premium cable content. You can record or share (via Extenders) these four channels. For example, on Wednesday, Dave can watch The Unit from his office PC while his wife watches Survivor from the Xbox on the living room TV. Since Dave still has two available tuners he can record High School Musical 3 on Disney and Dog the Bounty Hunter with Windows Media Center for viewing later.


    As a side note, with his Windows Home Server, WMC can automatically move those recordings to his WHS for viewing over the network.

    USB Tuners

    TV Tuners for USB, also called tuner sticks, connect to your signal and then to a USB socket. They cost from $60 to $100 and are suitable for laptop connections. Newegg has 13 USB stick tuners for sale as of the date of this podcast but only four were digital only.

    Networked Tuners

    The PCI and USB tuners only work with the PC to which they are connected. Networked tuners allow you to access the tuner from any PC that is on your network. This means you can connect to the tuner with your laptop in bed at night and then connect to the same tuner in the morning from your desk without any hardware. Networked tuners attach with an Ethernet cable to your network and are available to any PC once you set it up. If you have a dual tuner networked device like the SiliconDust HDHomeRun or the AVerMedia HomeFree Duet, you can actually watch two shows at once. For example, on Wednesday, Dave can watch The Unit from his office PC while his wife watches Survivor from hers. In addition, if they wanted to go out to dinner, they could use Windows Media Center and record both shows for viewing when they got home. Is that sweet or what?


    The new HDHomeRun Prime will function in the same way and allow you to get cable channels with your CableCARD over your network for up to three PCs.


    So let me wrap this up.


    If you are interested in watching and recording TV on your PC then you need to determine what signal type you can get in your area. Once you determine your type, you can then choose a digital or analog TV tuner combination that suits your needs. Once decide on the type you then decide on the form factor which is either internal, USB, or networked. If you want to use a CableCARD, you must either use the Ceton card or wait for the HDHomeRun Prime network tuner. After all of these choices you must decide on the software for watching and recording. If you have Vista, or preferably Windows 7, then you can use Windows Media Center. Finally, if you have any Xbox 360’s you can use them to pull that TV signal from the attached PC and view the signal through the Extender.


    General References






    Cable Companies SDV










    Television Standards





    Hardware Links









    by Timothy Daleo


    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Great post! Very informative. 2 points: 1/ CenturyLink (used to be Sprint's home phone service) is rolling out IPTV via MediaRoom. 2/ CableCard is a one-way device, which is why we need a TA. Your Cable Box is a 2-way device. That's what the whole point of Tru2Way was in that it was the first 2nd part 2-way communication protocol to the cableco. Too bad it looks like it is still-born.
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