Is HDTV Wiring Just Smoke and Mirrors?

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December 3, 2009


HD (High Definition) TV is taking over the market.  Broadcast networks are all switching or rapidly making the transition to this newer technology.   The difference in picture quality is quickly recognized when both SD (Standard Definition) and HD are compared.  All the new TV’s, DVD and satellite receivers are being built to deliver this format, including video game hardware like the Sony Play Station.


But, there is one thing they seem to have in common.  You must have special HD wiring between the source and the television.  Composite and component cables are quickly being replaced with HDMI input.  The Sony Play Station, for example, will only display a 480 resolution unless an HDMI cable is used.  Soon, it is thought, all receivers may have to have at least HDMI output to function at its maximum with the newer technology.  This has a special impact on RV owners as replacing a cable run is usually a challenge on most trailers and motor homes.  Usually the wiring was installed during the manufacturing of the unit and is not easily accessible.


Okay, so to run the high definition signal from the receiver to the TV requires special wiring capable of handling the wider band to accommodate this extra information.  This HDMI output/input cable is at least three steps up from the coaxial cable that we once used for basic cable and off-air antennas.  I guess the coax is a thing of the past, or is it?  Is coaxial cable capable of handling this newer technology?   Well, I believe it is.

Most TV viewers have never seen off-air broadcasts for years, and probably won’t for years to come, if ever.  Mobile travelers, such as RVers, however, are often exposed to the need. This need is driven by wanting local programming at their current location or the fact that no other service is available due to the geographical terrain or lack of cable hook-up.  An additional challenge faces any RVer that has a non-upgraded TV in a vehicle prior to ‘06/’07.  The TV sets supplied prior to then were not equipped to receive and convert the now mandatory digital service found today in off-air broadcasts throughout the U.S.  While these sets can be upgraded, or patched, using an analogue/digital converter, they may not perform to the level herein described.

If you have not experienced the new off-air digital HD broadcast, you have a pleasant surprise awaiting you.  The picture quality, 720/1080 HD, is equal to any HD programming out there, including DVD or satellite HD.  The comparison I made was with Wink TV in Fort Myers, Florida.  It was remarkable, and definitely equal, or slightly better than the best HD television available today, all through an RG-6 coaxial cable.

So, what’s up with the expensive HDMI, composite or component cables?  If off-air transmissions can provide this type of picture quality through an RF coax cable, why can’t the consumer electronic market do it too?

Is this a marketing ploy to promote the sale of expensive accessories to consumers?  It might certainly seem like it.  Not only do they want to sell you these so called miracle cables, but they also claim you should buy the higher priced ones as they work superior than the lower line products.  This may spell consumer product rip-off.

When people really get to see what off-air can supply through a coax cable, things may change.  However, I’m betting the consumer electronic marketing folks will put a lid on it by designing a filter for those off-air broadcasters and get them on their side.  This would require some kind of digital converter which would require, you guessed it, special expensive cables.  Additionally they would further profit by a monthly converter rental revenue.  This all spells a continued consumer rip-off.


Looking Out For The RVer   –   Lug_Nut    –    Peter Mercer

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  1. First of all I would like to say terrific blog!
    I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thank you!

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  4. John Saunders

    The problem is the movie industry. Digital rights managment is what they call it. The signal is coded to make it harder to copy the hi def signal. The equipment and license to decode the signal and send it through coax is expensive several companies have converters but they are very expensive.

  5. Edward Merkel, You make a very good point. I have to agree with your thoughts of reducing 5 cables to 1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and for your great input.

  6. Edward Merkel

    Ok, So many people think these cables are a rip off, but I want you to consider convenience. You can easily get HDMI cables at a price equal to that of coax cable. As an electronics tech, I can tell you that the cheap one works just as well as the gold plated cable. Coax connections are great for off the air/ cable feed from the pedestal outside your camper, but many add on devices just don’t have coax connections. You won’t find a coax on your dvd player, but HDMI is right there. I see it like this. Would I rather have 5 cables for sound and picture like spaghetti between the components in my equipment, or just one. Call me crazy, but I like it neat; makes troubleshooting easy and hook up fast. Both have their places and negatives.

  7. Gary Pearson, That’s a very interesting angle. Thank you for the great input.

  8. Gary Pearson

    The HDMI cables are capable of two way communication between devices. this permits providers to enforce digital rights statutes on behalf of the content providers .

    Most programming does not utilize this protection, but in cases where it does, your display (TV) will not be allowed to display the content without proper handshake.

  9. Alex, Thanks for the great advice. Sean Michael wrote an article on that within the blogs that you may find of interest. Thank you for your input.

  10. Jay Sigel, Interesting information on the Brite-View, I was not aware of that product. I have tried somewhat simiar products, more RF transmission, and was very disappointed. Where did you buy the BV-2500? Thanks for the great information and your full input.

  11. Alex

    You can go to monoprice or amazon and get perfectly good cables for $2+shipping. I’ve used many of them and not had a problem yet. i always order two since shipping doesn’t change. If one gos you you’ve got another. You can get brand name if you like for $10 but I see no difference in them versus $70 monster cable brand at best buy.

  12. Jay Sigel

    Putting new HDTVs in an RV that previously had SD (standard definition) TVs is difficult. My MH came with 2 SD and one HD TV from the factory. I started in the bedroom. It had a standard coax cable to it. The 19″ TV started having a green tint in a lower corner so I replaced it with a 23″ Samsung 720p for $700 at so-called Best Buy (it’s worth about $150 now). It had the usual wide aspect ratio and was the largest screen that would find in the same space as the old TV. When I bought it, I assumed there would be some way to run cables to it, but I was wrong. The DISH receiver and home stereo are in the living room area in a slide out 30 feet away. I could find no easy way to run 5 cables (3 components and 2 audios) or even one HDMI cable all the way to the bedroom. In addition, when I bought the TV, I made the mistake of looking at it on the shelf at eye level. The TV was installed in a cabinet near the ceiling and the viewing angle from below was terrible. I had to mount it at a 30 degree angle in order to see it – acceptable but not great cosmetically.

    Then, our front TV went out due to a power surge caused by broken brushes in the 50 amp cord winder (we’ve had 2 of those fail – lots of damage – we didn’t replace the winder after the 2nd time). I replaced that TV with a 1080p 26″ Vizio from Sam’s Club for $348 (what a different a year makes in HDTV prices). It, too, was in a cabinet near the ceiling. This time I made sure the viewing angle was okay in the store. There was a cheaper Vizio 26″ 720p/1080i at Sam’s but the viewing angle was definitely inferior. Being about 8 feet away from the home stereo and HD receiver, I figured out that it would be fairly easy to run HMDI cables to the TV. I was very wrong again. Using a snake, I could pull a string through the ceiling but not an HDMI cable or even an audio cable. There was no cosmetically acceptable solution to do it cheaply. I considered drilling holes through perfectly good walnut cabinets but cables (a set of component/audio and HDMI) would still have to be draped on the outside so that they wouldn’t snag when the slide-outs were moved.

    I found a solution in a product called Brite-View BV-2500 Wireless HD Video Transmitter and Receiver Kit. It cost $342 through Amazon. It has a transmitter that is about half the size of the HD satellite receiver and a receiver that is about half the size of the transmitter. It works anywhere in our 38″ MH, even through multiple walls and appliances. The transmitter receives either component or HDMI input and transmits only HDMI output to the receiver. The receiver is easy to move to wherever you may need it. It comes with a remote control but there’s not really much to control other than selecting the source to the transmitter, either1 of 2 HDMI inputs or 1 of 2 component inputs. There was an available cabinet next to the the front TV and I put the receiver in there. I glued the transmitter to the top of the satellite receiver case after connecting everything so that it wouldn’t move around while driving. I had to 2 video sources: HDMI from the satellite and component from a standard progressive DVD player. The picture was perfect with both on the Vizio TV (but see next paragraph). Then I moved the receiver to the bedroom and plugged in the HDMI cable into the TV. The TV worked fine with the satellite source but when playing a DVD, it said there was some kind of format error. I’m blaming it on the TV and not the transmitter, since it is only a 720P device. So, for now, I’ll be watching DVDs on the bedroom TV through the coax cable. After seeing how well all of this worked, I was able to return all of the unused HDMI, component and audio cables.

    One more caveat: The MH came with a 40″ JVC LCD 720P TV behind the living room slide out as the “main TV” and it was wired with component cable from the factory. Splitting the output of the DVD player between that TV and the Brite-View with cheap “Y”-audio cable splitters didn’t work. I needed to purchase a component audio/video distribution amplifier which cost about $50 from Radio Shack (they had 2 in stock in my store). That boosted the component signal and I was now able to send DVD signals to both front TVs.

    The Brite-View BV-2500 comes with a 3-4 foot HDMI cable. You will also need short HDMI cables from each HD source (satellite or Blue Ray) to the transmitter or a set of component & audio cables from your satellite receiver or standard DVD player to the transmitter. Walmart had the least expensive cables but they were not always available. The only drilling I had to do was through the cabinet wall next to the TV to run the HDMI cable from the receiver. Finding a stable way to the mount the new TVs is a separate issue.

  13. Glen, Now you are asking for the impossible. But just imagine, at least now you can get those reruns in high definition. Thanks for your very fitting comment.

  14. Glen

    Now if we can only improve the programming so that it is worth my time to watch it??

  15. Chris, Yes I agree and understand your point now. Thank you for clearifying it and for your very good input on this topic.

  16. Chris

    My comment was related to the possibility of using coax to transmit HD signals that you asked about in the third paragraph . Component cables are just as capable of transmitting HD signals (although from an ease of installation standpoint HDMI is much more convenient with everything over 1 cable instead of 5) and I doubt that there is any detectable difference. Coax on the other hand, which most homes and RVs are wired with, already carries HD for over the air signals and would by far be the most convenient to wire a home or RV with for HD but to use it the signal has to be RF modulated to appear as a television channel, very much like how you could set a cable box or VCR to appear as channel 3 or 4 to your TV. The modulators do exist for HD but are very, very expensive.

  17. Chris, Interesting, but I’m not sure I fully understand what you are saying. I have yet to see any difference in resolution between HDMI and component even unless the hardware is set up only to deliver 1080 on HDMI and only 420 on anything else, like Sony Playstation. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your input on the topic.

  18. Chris

    Sure coax can carry the signal (it already does from an antenna to the TV) but there is not an inexpensive converter to change a HD signal to RF to be sent on coax like there is for analog. The ones I have seen cost thousands. If you search there are some good sources for inexpensive HDMI cables though. I have used a company called monoprice several times with good luck and their cables are a lot cheaper than anything I can find in a store (in the general price range of a coax cable) and they work fine.

  19. Drew, Alright! Thanks for the great info and your participation on this topic.

  20. Drew

    For those interested, there is nothing inferior about component connections- I have both HDMI and component in the house, and unless bulk is the issue, either one is great. Trailer trash: copper braided coax is so ’60’s and ’70’s. And even if you thought it was ok- it does not pass any technical test for passing through digital signals. There is far too much loss and ingress through it to have it work. The packets will be so corrupted that even a three foot length of it in an otherwise sound run (100% shielded foil aluminum) will quickly disorganize your throughput. As an aside to all this- I see and hear of many people going to huge lengths to redo cabinets and structure in their rigs to install new sets. Just my advice here: If you are doing this because you just don’t like your old set- than great! If you are doing it because you want more channels- just get a box. Most parks are adapting their cable service to work even without boxes, and there are still more options available short of tearing apart your rig. I think some of us might be generating a lot more e-waste than necessary.

    And yes, although I just like to “camp” I am aware of the t v stuff we all love too.

    See you down the digital road,


  21. Trailer Trash Rick, Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the blogs. Well until they figure out how, and if they should, flip the switch, we’re stuck with HD cable connections like HDMI. The next consumer cable product will probably be HDBP connection. It stands for High Definition Big Profit cable. Thanks for your fitting comments and good input.

  22. Trailer Trash Rick

    Lug Nut, I really enjoy your posts!

    To further your logic, if you are on cable, satellite or off air, the ENTIRE SUITE of channels is coming into your home or RV through a single coax where it is tuned down to a single channel by your converter box. Certainly, a single channel could make unmolested between the converter box and the TV.

    I work in the computer industry where, 15 years ago, the argument was that copper could not carry the bandwidth of coax. They were wrong too. When’s the last time you saw a coax network cable?

    I think the current problem is that the FORMAT of the signal between the converter and TV is analog, not digital. This seems like it could be changed with the flip of a switch.

  23. Drew, Well, back to basics is good too, but that really does’t answer the question for those that do want, or need, TV while travelling in their RV’s. Thanks for your comment.

  24. Harold Hansen, You are absolutely correct, just a few weeks ago I had need to purchase an HDMI cable. While picking it up I inquired why the price variance on several of them. I was told there were better ones than others and that not all would handle the band width. Thank you for bringing that up and for your great input.

  25. Thomas Becher, The off air is probably better than that from your sat receiver as it is using the full 1080. I will bet your sat is only delivering 720 or 480. Thank you for your input.

  26. Drew

    I just like to camp. If I put up my antenna or connect the cable from the park’s service, I get what’s available. I don’t think many people remember what it was like a long time ago- when you just enjoyed what was there. If you didn’t receive it, you just did something else. Lets connect with one another instead of watching tv.

    Happy camping-


  27. Harold Hansen

    One thing to keep in mind concerning the HDMI cables — the cheap ones will work just fine. The HD signal is digital which means the signal is received as either a zero or a one in tech terms and either it is received or it isn’t. If it is you see the picture as there aren’t different levels of reception like the old analog signal we are used to get different levels of fuzzy. I bought 6 cables via the internet after searching for HDMI cables. I paid $1.97 each plus $5 to ship. They wanted $49 in the “tech stores” so I left with my wallet intact. Do not get ripped off paying the absurd prices for these simple cables.

  28. Thomas Becher

    I have a great picture with the batwing antenna or my wiengard moving veiw dish.
    Both go into a ABC switch (antenna satillite,or cable) from there it goes to the TV by RG-6 no fancy cables and a great picture. I have a 1080p set Someones just out to rip people off

  29. Bill Andersen, If you are talking about off-air, which I assume you are, you need a digital converter if your TV is ’06 and a half or older. In that case, no special wiring is needed, just standard RG-6 cable. I hope that was your question. Thanks for the input.

  30. Orv Hazelton, I understand your frustration. Local networks although may be a separate topic. But, as far as standard KU, like most RV sat dishes including domes, can not get Direct’s HD transmissions as they are KA. Dish, however is KU HD. Thanks for your great input and best of luck.

  31. …You must have special HD wiring between the source and the television.
    What source? I connect my cable to the TV. Do I have to connect something else before the TV?

  32. Orv Hazelton

    First its Dish. . . then switch to Direct. . . . I don’t know which way to turn. A couple of years ago when we were with Dish we were instructed in no uncertain terms that Dish was going to be unable to supply local channels to us. . . we switched to Direct. Now, having been with Direct we’re now being told to go back to Dish for TV. I’m simply a poor, old retired guy on an adequate, although limited income who is tired beyond my limits with unacceptable customer service from both companies and technology that keeps costing more while the quality of service decrreases. GRrrr. . . what to do? As always, oRV

  33. Marsha Lamp, It may be because you are on Direct TV, which requires a KA frequency dish for HD. Your dish would probably work for HD on DishNet as they use KU frequency on their HD sat at 129 degrees. Thanks for your comment.

  34. Jerry Shea, I guess it’s a consumer mystery rip-off of a type. Perhaps someone can shed some real light on this. Thank you for participating on this topic and for your valued input.

  35. Anyone know any way around getting HDTV compatible satellite? We have a 2006 Kingdome and CW says we have to buy a Wineguard for $700 plus $300 installation.

  36. Jerry Shea

    Rip-off is putting it in a nice way. Can’t write what I really would like to call it.
    Two years ago when I up-dated my TV at home to HD I had a choice of a so called “low grade” $49 set of cables, The $99 set or the “best” ones that had
    “gold plating” for $169. The racks of the lower price cables had a lot of boxes
    hanging on them. The $169 rack was almost all sold out.
    They get you because they put different connectors on the TV and reciever that your old RG-6 can not plug into. They have a firm hold on us on this one.