Is coax cable still needed in a home?

Friday February 5th 2010

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with coax cable, this is normally the black, white or brown cables that are run from your TV aerial and/or satellite dish into your home, and can be found behind most TV sets and all set-top boxes. It essentially delivers broadcast TV signals to your TV, receiver or set-top box.

Here at TEA London we are often called upon to look at other installer’s cabling systems post installation, to either upgrade, enhance or troubleshoot AV and IT systems. More often than not our client’s original supplier fell out of favour some time back, which although unfortunate for the client, we are at least given the opportunity to survey their past supplier’s structured cabling, and offer our impartial advice to address their new requirements or ailments. In a lot of the cases the original cabling system is adequate in addressing the then needs of the client, with little thought to how the client’s needs may change in the future, anything from a few months time to several years later.

We have found an alarming number of cases where custom audio visual installations have been installed without any coaxial cable at all to TV points, or too little cable has been run throughout a site, or worse, the rooms likely to accommodate a TV (if not immediately, but perhaps in the future) has no coaxial cable at all. This short blog will hopefully emphasise the importance of using coax cable in any modern and forward thinking AV installation.

Bad cable perceptions

Very recently a new client of ours informed me that he was advised 7 years ago, by his then Architect and specialist AV installer, that no coax cable was required to any of the 5 TV positions in his home. He was advised on using exclusively CAT5 cabling for the delivery of video throughout his home. The rationale of the AV installer was, ‘It is all digital now, you don’t need coax, because network cabling is digital’, the ‘specialists’ used buzzwords like digital, modern, future to convince the client that CAT5 cabling can exclusively address all of his AV requirements in his home.

The worst statement they made during their pitch is that coaxial cable would be obsolete in a matter of years. The client being a sensible, forward thinking man, followed their advice; why install something that will end up only being obsolete? Unfortunately this was incredibly bad advice, and has severely limited his AV options in his home.

If anyone tells you that coax cable is obsolete, or will be obsolete, or is not required, or is ‘an old cabling system’, ignore them, they clearly do not know what they are talking about – it will be a case of a little knowledge doing a lot of damage; whilst it is possible to get away with not running coaxial cable throughout a home, the alternatives of using CAT5/6/7 cable exclusively is:

  • It is considerably more expensive to apply Video distribution systems from a central hub utilising CAT5/6/7 cabling exclusively
  • it will actually reduce the features, functions and options each of your TV sets will have, by not allowing each set to tune into the airwaves independently
  • prevents you from taking advantage of a great number of electronic appliances that need TV signals delivered through coax
  • eliminates the opportunity for you to distribute infra-red and video signals through a coaxial cable network

The virtues of coax cable

So what are the benefits of coax cable? Well for one, it is inexpensive. When you look at the overall costs of installing a custom AV system in a modern home, coax cabling would be one of the least expensive materials used, costing less then 50 pence per metre. We always advise that at least two coaxial cables are run to each (potential) TV position, and we further advise that it should be CT100 equivalent or better coaxial cable.

CT100 cable is capable of handling many different signal types, and all TV signal types, i.e. satellite, terrestrial TV and cable TV. The two cables at each point will give you many options at each set, such as the support of satellite and terrestrial TV, support for PVR devices or the ability to send a return signal back to your distribution point.

CT100 cable is rated to handling bandwidths in excess of 2GHz, where Category 5 cable can barely delivery 200MHz worth of headroom; even Category 7 cable rarely exceeds 1Ghz, which is half the headroom of a coax cable. Because of this high headroom, dense signals, or even multiple signals can be distributed through a single piece of cable.

By installing coax cable through your home, you will have the ability to not only take advantage of the video and audio distributed by your centralised AV distribution system, but you will be able to independently view and change channels using your TV’s own satellite or terrestrial TV tuner. If you make use of media devices, like media centre PC’s or certain games consoles, these devices too can support a TV tuner – which almost always requires a pieces of coax cable to be plugged into the back of it in order for it to reliably receive a TV signal.

HD TV services are currently only available on satellite services, in the near future FreeView will begin HD TV broadcasts, and both broadcast systems require the delivery of their signals to a tuner utilising coax cable. This is the future, not the past; and shows that coax cable is here to stay for the foreseeable future with no real end to its usefulness or purpose in a modern home in sight.

If you ever been advised or told that coax is obsolete or will become obsolete, then my advice would be for you to look for a different consultant immediately; they clearly do not understand the virtues of different cable types, and whilst they may seem to be forward thinking, one can argue if they really understand the virtues of other cable types as well, such as Category 5/6/7 cable, speaker cable, video cable or audio cable. It is always good to be forward thinking in terms of installing a modern cabling system, but never discount the value of so called ‘traditional’ or ‘old fashioned’ cabling. When obsolescence is used often in a sales pitch, let the buyer beware.

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