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. We are given the opportunity to survey their current home structured cabling and offer impartial advice to how best to address any issue or new/upgrade requirements.

In a lot of the cases older cabling systems, and for those developers working on a shoestring, the cabling systems installed limited to the bare minimum of delivering TV signals and maybe basic communications cabling. Little consideration is given to present technologies or how the client’s needs may change in the future.

We encountered some quite expensive custom audio visual home installations that have no coaxial cable laid to the home’s TV points, maybe just to a central location, but none to all potential (present and future) TV positions throughout the property. Coax, despite us being in the golden age of on-demand streaming TV, is useful and relevant in the modern home AV

Poor perception of coaxial cabling

A new client of ours told me that he was advised well over 10¬†years ago, by his then Architect and specialist AV installers that no coax cable was required at any of his home’s TV positions.

He was advised to use CAT5 cabling for the delivery of all of the homes TV and audio. 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. If this company is still in business, I am pretty certain they learnt later on that this was probably a mistake.

They told my client 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 you won’t need and will likely only end up becoming obsolete? In the longer term, this was bad advice, and now has severely limited his options to update his now ageing AV system, including a lot of the cheapest options that would have fulfilled his requirements precisely.

My response to this advice: if anyone tells you that coax cable is obsolete, or will be obsolete, or is not required, or is ‘an old cabling system’, simply ignore them; they clearly do not see the bigger picture on how heterogeneous and open systems are designed; you more than likely will be taken down a proprietary systems path, where you are buying into a specific brand and product range with a cabling system that only addresses the current, immediate and specific cabling requirements of the proprietary system, rather than cabling systems that can be adapted for future requirements.

Proprietary systems, not matter how good they are, will always be severely limiting on future upgrades and changes to the system and can be more expensive to maintain. Proprietary systems place a lot of trust in the manufacturer staying open for business, and hopes the manufacturer will continually develop new and innovative products, products that will hopefully not render any of your existing (their brand) equipment obsolete.

in the longer which may or may not be in business in 5 years time when you need to upgrade your system or buy parts for the system – which means you could end up needing to replace complete systems and will be limited to systems that can be adapted to use the proprietary system’s wiring, or you will be stuck with that specific brand and product line which might not 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.