I've thought about starting this thread for a while, and a couple of searches on the forum haven't brought up a lot of information, so maybe we should open this up for some serious discussions.
What will happen with facilities that depend on MATV (Master Antenna Television) systems, when the "transition" is over?
Most of us here on the forum are dealing with getting a signal to one or two sets in a single-family home, or trying to receive "HDTV" (i.e.: DTV) in our apartments or condos. But, what about the people who rely on OTA reception in the millions of schools, apartment buildings, condos, office complexes, retirement communities, etc, that are wired for MATV?
As a bit of background, we are just finishing an upgrade/rebuild of our (radio/tv/production facility) building's MATV system. Built in 1983/84, it originally consisted of a small Scientific-Atlanta headend with 7 OTA channels and 5 closed-circuit channels, FM Broadcast Band, and a single FM modulator channel. It's distribution system consisted of a single 300 MHz launch amplifier, and lots of taps and RG-6/U trunk lines.
In order to accomodate the 10 DTV channels that are currently broadcasting in our market (all UHF, right now), we have replaced the distribution system with three separate S-A Balanced-Triple Gainmaker amplifiers (three separate output amplifiers in a single housing) in our 9-story building, spacing them every 3 floors....that way, each floor "has it's own amp". All the riser and trunk/feeder cabling is now 0.500-inch semiflex (same stuff they use on the poles) and the taps are all 8-way taps, like used in CATV outdoor construction. The drops are all kept around 25-feet in length, and are RG-6/U tri-shield. Everything is using Gilbert connectors, and we are even using a cable-mounted female jack on the wall plates, to eliminate the use of "barrel" connectors in the wall boxes.
We needed to keep analog service alive at all times, plus adjacent-channel closed-circuit channels for in-house use, as well as provide for OTA ATSC tuners and STBs of every vintage. The entire head-end has been moved to a new room, and rewired, with room for expansion.
All this was a bit of overkill, but we use the signals for rebroadcast sources (like sports highlights), for quality-control purposes, and (at the time the system was being designed) the local POP for DISH Network LIL. We are keeping the UHF Digital Channels "on-channel" in the 14-69 UHF OTA band, again, to accomodate the various ATSC-only tuners, and then using the rest of the spectrum....54-870 MHz...for analog channels and in-house sources, channelized as CATV mode. So, all new TV sets will need two RF inputs, with one set for "OTA Digital" mode, and the other set for "CATV (Analog)".
Working this all out has gotten me wondering what will happen to the MATV folks out there? Schools probably will need upgrading....Cable "might" work for them, but will they be wired for the wider spectrum, or will they need re-builds anyway? And, who will pay for the construction, as well as the monthly fees?
What about retirement communities? There's been quite a bit of discussion in the trade journals about "the Granny Factor"....when grandma wakes up on 2-18-09 and can't get her Soaps on her little TV set in her room. But, even after the kids get together and buy her a nice, shiny new HD set, will it work in her retirement home? How many of those places currently rely on a 300 MHz (basically, a VHF-only) distribution system? Will they need rebuilds of their distribution networks? Cable and satellite are not likely to be an option for most people on fixed incomes. And, again, there's still the matter of wiring all those rooms and apartments. Will the management companies simply demodulate a few popular channels and re-modulate them as VHF analog channels, so they can pass thru their existing systems? Doesn't this, then, become a political burden on them, as they have to decide what local channels get passed-thru on their limited bandwidth, and what channels "die"?
Condos and apartments may be in a similar fix, as they try to avoid the pitfalls of dozens of individual OTA antennas and satellite dishes on their property. Many residents may not be satisfied with the limited offerings of Cable and DBS providers, who may not pass all local stations and their programming services....whether they be multicast SD channels (like the religious and ethnic-programming nets are offering), multiple language audios, captioning options, in-depth EPG's, or whatever. Will they be able to contend with the onslaught of dishes and antennas as more people want their OTA channels, and the programming that is being spread over more and more of the satellite arc? It seems that there is little hope of compatability between the two DBS providers, when it comes to dishes and multiswitch configurations. So, without some sort of "common antenna/common dish" systems, many apartment and condo buildings will look like the proverbial "NASA Tracking Station".
Most people, outside of the TV industry, probably don't watch TV all day at work. But, what about the "Break Room" and lunchroom? And, what happens when there is major news happening, like "9-11" or other events? With analog, a cheap portable TV that normally sits in the broom closet or storeroom, can be quickly put in to service....assuming there are rabbit-ears and a roll of tin-foil available. Will office buildings have even a minimal system that is capable of carrying digital TV signals through all that metal and glass?
Hospitals, hotels, and similar buildings, with their current analog MATV systems, will probably fall in somewhere between these examples.
I think that, whatever is done, the most important question will be, "Are there enough skilled technicians and engineers, and enough equipment available, to get this all done in two years?" And, that is assuming that the word gets out, and the planning and construction even gets underway before the deadline looms near!
Ken English, Sr. Engineer, KSL-TV.
"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent the Company positions, strategies or opinions."