Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cable TV Outer Limits

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are not controlling transmission. We can't make it louder by bringing up the volume. We can't make it softer, we can't tune it to a whisper. We can't reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will not control the horizontal. We will not control the vertical. For the next thousand words, sit quietly while we don't control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The digital cable less Outer Limits. Because you can't easily hook up an interface box on most boats!

It's a problem for boaters now, and it is only going to get worse quickly. Back in the good old days, just a few years ago, getting cable TV in a marina was easy. 

Get out your yellow Marinco coax cable, screw one end into the pedestal, and the other into the boat, and you had cable. Analog cable that is. Today, not so much depending on where you live. The days of analog cable are nearing the end, and digital cable now rules.

Not that digital cable is bad, it's that most boats are poorly equipped to use it, if at all.

The yacht club trip ends up in a marina that looks like every other marina, but.... The cable company has switched to digital.

You plug into the pedestal, ready to watch your favorite TV shows, and nothing appears. Huh what's going on? Down to the dock masters office you go, and ask, "What's up with the cable?" The dock master says, "You now need a converter box for cable here. I will loan you one." The dock master reaches into a cabinet and pulls out a small box, a 110VAC power adapter, some cables, and a remote control. "Here you go, just plug this into your TV and you will have 300 zillion channels.

The dazed boater takes the gear back to the boat and stares at his TV, and the converter stuff. Okay let's see, I have to get to the back of the TV, how do I do that? Where do I plug this adapter thing in? In just a moment or two, he gives up.

Marinas and yacht clubs are caught in a conundrum. Where in years past, it was easy to provide their users with standard analog cable, in the digital world, this is no longer easy, for the boater at any rate.

In a quick survey of local marina basins, two still have analog cable service available providing about 50+ channels. One has very limited analog service (7 local channels). Anything else requires a cable box. Another no longer has analog service available, and doesn't provide any cable service. The last has digital cable only, with loaner boxes available.

This is just a tiny slice of of the 8,000 to 9,000 marinas in the US. So what can be done about this, and what options do marinas have? The answer is not many. As time quickly goes by there will be less analog, and more digital cable availability. Digital cable requires a converter box, which takes us right back to where we started in the beginning.

There is only one option I can think of, and that is to have marinas provide on air digital TV, and feed it out to the docks. You could place several on air antennas on the roof pointing in several directions. You feed this to an antenna signal combiner, and then use amplifiers to feed the docks.

This equipment is surprisingly inexpensive. For just a few thousand dollars, you can say goodbye to digital cable TV your boater's effectively can't use, and give them something they can use. In the case of the Sarasota area you could receive 40-50 crystalline on air digital channels. Granted there are some duplicates in there such as ABC Sarasota, Ft. Myers, and Tampa, but you also get multiple feeds from many channels to make up for it. Boaters with newer TV's would have no problems, and those with older TV's could just add a digital tuner to their boat.

The boater has other options. Almost all can get good on air digital TV in most urban areas. Another approach is to do a one shot rewiring of the boats TV wiring system that would make it easier to plug a cable box in. A set of outlets could be installed that could accommodate external installation of a variety of cable system boxes. 

The only current option a boater now has to consistently watch TV while you cruise is a satellite TV system. You will have to bite the bullet, and shell out the capital cost to buy and install it, but when done, you will have TV almost anywhere in north america.

Don't despair boaters, I predict that in very short amount of time, when you pull into a marina your TV's and chartplotters will automatically sync and connect to the marinas WiFi system, and will start to stream the TV shows of your choice on demand along with original content. Oops, you can do this now!

You could as an alternative always load up your Kindle and read some good books, or borrow the real paper versions from your grandparents. Shoot, did I say that out loud? Sorry.

The photo of the antenna is a Winegard HD7084 antenna. I spec'ed this and a small amp for a local sports bar chain. They use it to pick up Ft Myers channels about sixty miles away. Ft Myers is out of the Buc's blackout zone, and since they don't sell out often, it's often blacked out. It works a treat.


  1. Of course people could go out and buy a digital TV. My TV has both analogue and digital tuners. Who wants an extra box to clutter their boat. But I wonder at the rebroadcasting suggestion, by the marina's. There would surely be issues with IP and then what about spectrum license? And I'm no expert on propagation, but I would have thought an omni directional antenna for broadcasting would be both cheaper and better. That's my two cents worth. Great site BTY!

  2. CATV is the abbreviation frequently used to describe cable TV. Most folks don't realize that the acronym is derived from Community Antenna TV, not CAble TV. Shared antenna systems used to be common in communities that were on the wrong side of the hill from the broadcast signal.

    In the end it would probably be easier if folks just reclaimed some cabinet space and installed a flat screen tv that includes an ATSC tuner.


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