December 19, 2007
| by Ben Hardy
Choosing a home’s television service provider gets a little more difficult each year. Emerging technologies, changing rates and packages, and access limitations all factor into this battle royal between old – and new - enemies. There are some basics you can expect from everyone, like DVRs, HD channels, and bundled internet service. But take a closer look and you’ll see some differences that may push one of them over the top and into your home.
That the word “cable” is often used to refer to any television service – digital, analog, HD, you name it – is suggestive of the dominance over the television industry of those companies providing service over coaxial lines. What we can now call “traditional cable” service is associated with heavy-hitters like Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and the like. These companies provide digital cable content, including HD service, largely via underground cable lines.
Although the cable industry is taking heat on many fronts (regulatory issues, inflated bills, etc.), the bigger companies have been at the table for a long time, and that experience can be seen in the way these providers shape their content. “Our on-demand service just passed six billion views since 2003,” says Derek Harrar, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Video Service for Comcast. He broke their numbers down farther, adding: “We’re seeing 250 million views a month, or 100 views a second.” Research into the habits of Comcast’s 14 million subscribers indicates that on-demand usage is on the rise, and the company has responded by expanding their on-demand offerings to include much more than just current-release movies. Customers can find television episodes, music, and educational content. “We even have guitar lessons available,” says Harrar.
Detractors of cable cite the industry’s aging infrastructure as a reason to switch to the competition. Some think that the increasing bandwidth demands of high-definition content will prove to be too much for the existing network; others say that the need to compress content – particularly high definition – leads to less-than-expected picture and audio quality on the receiving end. Comcast recently countered these claims with a blind, third-party picture quality test, pitting Comcast’s Hi-Def picture against one of the leading satellite’s. “Two to one the satellite customers chose the Comcast picture,” states Harrar. So much for the detractors…
Cable companies like Comcast are also able to offer bundled services. Their Triple-Play package includes cable, internet, and digital voice (VoIP) services that use the same network. Bundled services are payable on one bill, and usually incur a lesser cost than the sum of the individual services.
Cable Pros and Cons
- Easy Installation
- Bundled Service
- Wide range of on-demand options
- Large HD selection
- Relatively accessible
- Aging Infrastructure
- Cost: Lack of competition within market leads to price increases
- Compressed content can result in compromised image and audio quality
Why Get Cable?
Some of the companies have been around for a long time. They know their customers – you – and they give them what they want, by way of on-demand options, a refined channel guide, and quality customer service. Cable is also about convenience. Establishing cable service is easier than any other option. The bundled services make bill-paying a lot easier, too.
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.