Q: Why is it that cable TV contains so few high-definition channels? I live in Bellevue and have Comcast cable. I get only about 20 to 25 channels in high definition.
Q: Why is it that cable TV contains so few high-definition channels? I live in Bellevue and have Comcast cable. I get only about 20 to 25 channels in high definition. When I visit my brother-in-law’s house in Kent, he gets about 75 to 90 channels in high definition via Direct TV satellite.
Such staples as CNN, CNBC and many sports events are not available in high definition on cable, but the content is obviously available because Direct TV has it.
I know that Comcast claims in advertising that they have more high-definition content, but it counts its On Demand capability as part of its high-definition offering.
Quite frankly, there’s not a lot of content available On Demand that is of interest to me. I’m more interested in “live” and regularly scheduled high-definition programming.
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There must be a technical problem (perhaps not enough bandwidth) with cable’s inability to offer more “live” and regularly scheduled programming in high definition.
What is the problem, and on what schedule do the cable providers plan to add more high-definition content?
— Tom Gubala
A: I hear you. Personally, I was a tad torqued to find that the American League baseball playoffs couldn’t be seen in HD on Seattle-area Comcast. I mean, what year is this?
Alas, it’s all about marketing decisions taking place within the limitations imposed by existing technologies.
Cable companies do, as you suggest, face some serious limitations on bandwidth that force some difficult choices when introducing HDTV channels.
Fact is, delivering the 70 or so old-fashioned analog channels eats up about two-thirds of the bandwidth available to most cable systems.
There are a couple of possible solutions to the problem that don’t involve the high cost of stringing new higher-capacity cables to every home. One is called “switched digital” service, which essentially turns all channels into “on demand” services.
Instead of sending transmissions of all channels through the cables to each neighborhood and having the equipment at the TV select from them, with switched digital service the transmission of a channel takes place only when a viewer requests it.
That saves an enormous amount of bandwidth that could be used to provide more HD channels. The downside? Some equipment — most notably cable cards, which are popular with users who want to avoid putting a set-top box near their wall-hung flat panel HDTV — won’t work with switched digital service.
Another option is to start dropping analog channels. The big plus of this method is that three HD channels can be added for every analog channel dropped. The drawback of this strategy, of course, is that there are still a lot of people out there with analog sets.
According to Steve Kipp, a Comcast spokesman, the company is looking into all of the above options — as well as new data-compression technologies — for maximizing bandwidth and adding HD programming.
“Whether you are a satellite company or cable, you’re still going to have some limitations in bandwidth,” said Kipp.
Kipp said that for the time being, Comcast has focused on expanding its offering of On Demand HD programming.
“Our advantage over our competitors is that we offer a lot more on demand,” he said. “Our position is that at the end of the day people look at their TVs and it’s a matter of what choices they have at any given time.”
Kipp added that Comcast will also free up bandwidth for additional HD programming when it has moved to an all-digital format, removing the need to broadcast many channels in both analog and digital formats. “That will free up bandwidth for dozens more HD channels,” he said.
Q. I have a Dell PC with a Windows XP Professional (Service Pack 3) operating system. My problem is that my PC will not automatically power down. Windows closes down OK, but after it closes I get a blue screen with a frozen image of the mouse pointer. I can power down manually using the power on/off button, but it’s annoying that I have to wait. And I know something must be wrong. Any ideas?
— Julius Budos
A: When Windows fails to shut down properly, it’s generally because a poorly written program or device driver is not cooperating. You’ll want to determine the offending software and get rid of it. That’s because you might lose data if Windows is not allowed to shut down properly.
The only way to track down the offender is by trial and error. You can selectively prevent programs and drivers from loading by using the Msconfig utility when you boot. In Windows XP, go to the Start button and select Run. Then type in Msconfig in the field that pops up.
Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.