Digital Cable TV Has Something for Everyone

Even if a person has a hard time admitting it, everyone watches TV at some time or another. Whether it is just the evening news, or inadvertently catching a few minutes of Saturday morning cartoons with the kids. The influence of television in the American home is an undeniable force.

The reality of watching television these days is that no matter what you are interested in as a viewer, you can probably find a channel or a program that you will enjoy watching thanks to the advances in digital cable TV. Not only does a digital transmission offer superior sound and image clarity over its analog counterpart, subscribing to digital cable TV means access to more channels than ever before. If you are the kind of person who thinks nothing good is ever on television, think again. The digital age has changed the rules.

So how does digital TV work? Without getting too deep into digital compression and how it affects the superiority of digital television over an analog signal, think of how information is transferred via the World Wide Web. Information is broken down into bits and then converted back into its original format once it arrives at its destination. The same is true of a digital TV signal, and digital compression means that a 19.39-Mbps stream, that is unique to digital television, allows broadcasters to choose the resolution they use to air a program. This is why some stations have multiple channels, i.e. 4.1 and 4.2.

In short, the frequencies allowed for a digital broadcast can be dedicated solely to one station, giving a broadcaster the ability to program a single transmission in high quality, or split the frequency into a lower bit rate and show multiple sub-channels.

Perhaps a misunderstood aspect of digital cable TV is its association with HDTV. Just because we all receive a digital transmission to our homes now does not mean all the programming received will be picture perfect high definition. Digital simply refers to the way the signal is transferred, and the transmission can provide regular programming, as well as HDTV.

Whether or not people understand or care about how digital TV works, the way we watch TV is forever changed. With interactive guides, video on demand and so many other features that can be included with digital cable TV, the enhanced experience that comes with the service has reached a new benchmark in terms of home entertainment. These days it is perfectly acceptable to say you watch TV. In fact, many people might think it strange if you do not.

Taylor Jensen has written and published many articles in the field of home entertainment. Most recently, Alex has written for Cable.USDIRECT, an authorized dealer for cable companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and many others.

Taking the Vista Plunge
digital television
Image by Thomas Hawk
Well today I’m finally taking the Vista plunge. I’m upgrading my home office PC to Windows Vista. By way of disclosure, a friend of mine at Microsoft, Charlie Owen (thanks), sent me the copy of Vista to try. I gave Charlie some rights to use some of my photos so you might say that I bartered for the copy.

So far my experience looks like this.

First hurdle was that the operating system was on DVD and the PC that I wanted to upgrade didn’t have a DVD drive, just a CD RW drive. This problem was quickly fixed though as I simply shared the DVD drive on my Media Center PC in my living room over my network and started the upgrade over the network.

The upgrade thus far has been pretty painless but it’s just taking a long time. This might be due to the fact that I’m upgrading over a network or that I’ve got a huge digital media library, not sure. But it’s taken about 4 hours now and the upgrade status tells me I’m about 74% of the way done.

Why am I upgrading to Vista you might ask?

Well, most significantly I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to search for photos by keywords with Vista. Recently I bought some boards approx 4 ft x 6 ft to begin making my first photo collage installations and it will be helpful to me to be able to search for photos on my drobos by keywords. I tried searching by keywords from my MacBook over the network (the drobos are formated NTSC and thus can’t be connected directly to my Mac which won’t read NTFS) but my Mac kept choking on the search queries. I think this is because my digital library is too large for the Mac to search it over the network.

I’m also upgrading though to try out Media Center on Vista. I’m hopeful (but not expecting) that Media Center on Vista will be more responsive in handling my large digital library (over 100,000 mp3s and close to that many digital image files).

If I like Vista enough I might buy a CableCARD Media Center PC later in 2008 and use XBox 360s as extender units in my home to handle all my digital media. This of course depends most of all though on whether or not I can get Media Center to effectively handle my large digital media library.

I was going to pursue an AppleTV option (I got AppleTV for Christmas but took it back to the Apple store — sorry Mom), but I think I’m going to give Media Center and Vista a chance first before completely throwing in the towel and trying an Apple strategy. I like the idea of the XBox 360 strategy that Microsoft has going for them as well as the fact that Media Center PCs can record HDTV which can then be distributed to the various televisions in my home.

I’ll report more on Vista after I get it up and working.

Have any of you upgraded to Vista yet? If so what do you think of it? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? If you haven’t upgraded your PC to Vista yet, why not and do you plan to?

Update #1: Ok, Vista is now installed, but we’re off to a bit of a rocky start. First off, it looks really really slick. I like the design much more than XP. It did not seem to recognize my Dell 20 inch monitor — at least by name. It has it down as some sort of a default Microsoft monitor but that’s not much trouble. I was able to set the resolution to the highest setting and the desktop looks great. When it boots though the boot graphics are jagged and look kind of crappy on my monitor. No big deal of course.

I got the system up for about 2 minutes and tried to do a photo search by tag neon on my drobo drive. It got about 85% of the way through the search progress bar and then the screen went totally black. I couldn’t get the screen to come back on and the only way to get my system back up was a reboot (which I did).

My first observation is that booting up my PC takes a lot longer on Vista than it did on XP. I didn’t actually time the boot time but if the PC craps out again I’ll time the reboot next time.

Charlie (from Microsoft) told me that I should have run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor before installing (which I never did).

Update #2: Ok, upon reboot and playing around with Vista, I have to say that my display has never looked better. The fonts look different, everything is sharper, especially when viewing my photos online they look 1000% better than they did before with the same display on XP. I’m still not sure why this is the case, but it’s a welcome improvement.

Especially when browsing with Firefox everything looks amazingly sharp on the display.

I’m running a search for neon photos on the Drobo again. It’s taking a long time but there is a disclaimer that it will take a long time on a non-indexed drive. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure out how to index this drive for faster searching of my photos in the future.

Update #3: Ok, tag search works brilliantly. My first tag search for "neon" pulled up almost 1,000 photos of mine that I’ve keyworded neon using Adobe’s Bridge. EXCELLENT! I’ll have much more to write about the OS later, but the fact that I can now do keyword searches for my photos in Vista adds a lot of value for me.

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