Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 



Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.

Column #47 (5/6/03)

Digital Cable/Satellite vs. Picture in Picture


I had to get a cable box a few months back in order to keep getting New Jersey Devil [hockey] games. So now I have to pay extra for the box ($3.02 for each + $2.50 for the 2nd one).  The problem I now have is I lost PIP [picture in picture] - so am stuck watching (and recording) whatever the box is watching.  Really ticked at Cablevision [his cable company] because of the need for the boxes and their constant upping the price (with cable modem the bill is about $80/month - and the only extra I have is the first package that gets me MSG [Madison Square Garden channel] and Devils, no HBO or other channels). I spoke to folks at Radio Shack about DirectTV since it's cheaper and dish + install is free if you subscribe and they say that I'd still not have PIP.

So the question is - How can I keep PIP if I get DirectTV or use a cable box? Is there a way to split the signal (inexpensively) after the cable demark or after the cable box (or DirectTV) and send to my TVs? The Sony big screen has multiple inputs but I don't know what's needed. The Mitsubshi only has 3 inputs. Hoping there's something I can do, thanks for any help.

AskAvi Replies:

I have a similar cable package to yours, but without any cable box, because the only sport I care about is football (that's American football for my foreign readers) and the only way to see my beloved Washington Redskins lose is to buy a "Season Ticket" on DirecTV.  I can't get DirecTV because trees block my view of the satellite and its signal.

But enough commiserating, here's what's going on: your feed goes to the cable box, the cable box separates out whichever channel you tell it to, and sends that channel - and only that channel - on to your TV set. Sure, you can split this signal again, but you'll only get a duplicate of whatever channel the box is tuned to.

What you want is to send the entire feed to your TV so it can use its own tuner to pull a different channel out of the mix. You might be able to do that; it depends whether you're getting an analog feed or digital. If it's digital, you're out of luck - you need that set top box to uncompress and process any channel; your TV can't help. (Cablevision in the NY area calls its digital service "IO.")  If you aren't on IO and you still have an analog feed, you might be using the set top box to tune in channels and descramble just the premium ones (the YES Network, in your case).  If it is a regular analog feed, simply split the signal before it goes to the cable box, and route that to your PIP input. Use the cable box's signal for your main input, and voila! your main input will receive all channels, and your TV can tune in any of the non-premium channels for your PIP.

Am I 100% sure this will work? No. It's possible Cablevision is doing something else to the signal. But it's easy to test things and find out - just take the signal going to the cable box, hook it up to your TV, and see if your TV can tune the channels. If yes, follow the procedure above. If not, ...sorry.

Surprisingly enough, the Radio Shack folks gave you accurate information, too: satellite will definitely have this problem.  All satellite signals are digital and need to be reconstituted by a set top box of some kind before your TV will recognize them.  This will? may? change in the future with certain digital-ready sets that have standardized digital tuners, but not with anything on the market today.

There is one other option for limited PIP that works with digital boxes - use an antenna and pull signals off the air.  Route that signal to your PIP input, and you'll be able to watch local channels in PIP while you watch your cable channels on the main input.


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