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UWRF TV to transition to digital next summer

November 13, 2008

The contract for the UW-River Falls cable service provider will be expiring this summer and Student Affairs is taking the opportunity to make the transition to digital television.

The current contract with the old cable provider is ending and will be replaced by a digital provider.

Jason Winget, FredNet information technology manager, said that he does not know if it will be more expensive or less expensive than the old cable provider, but the University is currently seeking the lowest bidder.

The hardware for digital television is sleeker, takes up much less space and can be expanded without adding additional hardware.

“The current design is very tough to expand because it actually takes floor space to do, whereas the new system is computer-driven,” Anders said. “We don’t need to have a bigger room to have 1,000 channels compared to 200 channels.”

Initially, digital television is expected to expand the current lineup of 37 channels to 50 channels.

The channels were chosen based on a survey of residence hall students earlier this year; anything with more than 100 votes was requested, Winget said. However, the lineup is not concrete until a digital provider is chosen.

“Potentially, the system could go on to 2,000 channels; it’s basically a limitless system,” Winget said. “It’s just a question of how much your network can handle and how much we can afford.”

Two additional services that Winget said were requested are pay-per-view events and video-on-demand movies. With video on demand students can choose from a list of movies and watch them on their time, as opposed to simply having channel 10, which shows a number of pre-selected movies every day.

Anders said that digital television provides more integration with students, describing it as a “two-way street” instead of a “one-way street.”

This comes in the form of electronic program guides that can be customized for different viewers. It would also provide messaging within the set-top box, such as better emergency alerting, or a way to contact the student affairs system on campus, for situations such as a lost ID card.

The primary reason for transitioning to digital television is that it is the future: better picture quality and less hardware space. However, another reason is that there is dissatisfaction with the old cable contract, which is ending, and all of the equipment except the cable will be removed.

The cost of replacing the equipment would be significant, whereas the equipment for digital television is already in place, Anders said.

Winget said that he had issues with the responsiveness of the old provider in dealing with channels that have been out.

“Our standard is not to have a channel out for more than 24 hours,” Winget said. “We’ve had channels out for as many as 24 days.”

For the campus transition to digital television, students will not need to go out and buy a converter box or a new TV, Winget said. If you can plug-in a gaming console (like an Xbox) you meet the requirements for digital television. However, converter boxes would be provided if students need them.

The old cable system will go down in June and the new digital system will be available in August, Anders said, so students leaving in the spring will return to a 100 percent different experience in the fall.

“There will be some transition issues over the summer,” Winget said. “We’ll try not to have any lapse of service in the summer, so we’ll work with our current contractor to extend the contract if needed.”