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rkolsen

Premium Channels Monthly Maintenance - Is it necessary and why don't others do it?

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If you subscribe to a premium cable channel or even just looked at their listings you may have noticed they go off air for about 90 minutes a month for testing and maintenance. These tests usually start by 5AM ET and end by 7AM.

 

All the premium networks seem to this. Channels owned by HBO and Showtime Networks usually undergo testing two or three channels at a time while the ones owned by Starz go off all together. They usually put up some sort of color bars but Starz actually cycles through a whole list of different test cards and sounds:

 

 

So I am wondering are the tests really necessary? The networks are still transmitting some sort of signal (color bars with channel ID) - unless they are doing something with the satellites. So why don't they use their back up playout chain while the primary is off air?

 

Also if maintenance is so necessary for channel playout why don't the basic cable channels do the same?

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I assume part of it is to square the schedule back up so that you always have things starting in prime time at an exact time and to balance the runtime of long films with shorter ones like 65 minute kids cartoons. It's a low trafficked time slot where you're usually showing 90's glurge and they have to do video and audio balancing tests to make sure the signal is going out in an optimum form; you don't want to be having to fix your 5.1 sound mix during an episode of Thrones, for instance.

 

InDemand still does the same thing on their channels too, usually for three hours, but it's less noticeable since cable PPV is basically now events and adult stuff, not movies.

 

As for cable channels? Some of them still do it, but much more sparsely than premium channels, usually yearly.

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Also if maintenance is so necessary for channel playout why don't the basic cable channels do the same?

 

As a kid in the early 2000's, I remember being up sick one night and trying to find something on TV. I came across "Bars & Tones" on TV Land, I thought it was some bizarre infomercial, they actually signed off for about 30 minutes. This was way before they started squeezing in extra commercials and had shows worth watching, which have all mostly gone to MeTV, Cozi, etc now.

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A premium channel deserves premium attention. The same way the food at a fancy restaurant is likely going to be higher quality and have more attention paid to it than, say, McDonalds.

 

These test patterns are probably being analyzed on a receiver (or receivers) somewhere and compared to the signal being uplinked to the satellite. For fun, notice how awful the picture quality is for the "encoder stress test". YouTube's video encoders can't handle the stress, apparently.

 

Speaking of, YouTube actually has an automated encoder testing channel called "Webdriver Torso" that uploads random videos of shapes and audio tones so a computer can look at the transcoded video and compare it it to the original.

 

Making sure the image the viewer sees is of the highest quality possible is of utmost important when someone is paying extra for your channel.

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If you subscribe to a premium cable channel or even just looked at their listings you may have noticed they go off air for about 90 minutes a month for testing and maintenance.

 

So I am wondering are the tests really necessary?

 

This is how engineers get some "me time".

 

Those videos are meditation for the hardcore broadcast junkies.

 

Some engineers do the nasty to those videos and end up with kids named Magenta, Cyan...etc.

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