Why can’t you “RF Modulate” an HD signal?

Remember these? For you young’uns, this is an RF Modulator. The purpose is to take an SD video signal and put it on channel 2,3, or 4 of your television. You see, kids, there was a time that the only input on a TV was the antenna, and if you wanted to watch something from a newer VCR or DVD player, you needed one of these to make it work.

They were also very nice for getting TV signals from place to place on a single cable. You set it to output on a channel that didn’t come through the TV, used a combiner (even a cheap splitter turned upside down would sometimes work) and voila, you could distribute that video signal all through the house with practically no distance limitation.

Today, if you want to distribute signals throughout the house from a single video source, you need HDMI to Cat-5 converters or some other source, and it might feel like you need a Ph.D. to make it all work. So what happened to the idea of spending $25 in parts and getting everything you need?

Fact is, it’s not a cost issue. There was a time when HD modulators were very expensive but today if the manufacturers wanted to do it they could make a modulator that was as inexpensive as the old days and it would work with HD channels and your TV’s antenna input. Who’s stopping it? Content providers.

If you were able to modulate a signal and send it over a coax cable, the signal wouldn’t have any copy protection on it. And, that would mean that you could easily capture and make pristine digital copies for you and your 5,000 facebook friends (or just post them on YouTube.) That would make it impossible, according to them, to charge for that content and very soon no one would make any TV programs because everyone would be out of business.

Or so, that’s the theory that’s preventing the manufacture of cheap modulators. It’s actually against the law to defeat the copyright protection on any broadcast for the purpose of redistributing it. (At least, that’s what they say on every movie and every sports broadcast.) So, it just isn’t done. Part of the agreement you sign when you get the super-secret specs to making HDMI cables work is that you won’t participate in breaking any copy protection. So they’ve got you where they want you.

What about those friendly, copyright-free red/green/blue component cables? Many manufacturers have agreed to limit the output on those to SD quality. So far, DIRECTV and DISH are exempt from those agreements, but the feeling is that sooner or later those nice colored connectors are going to disappear or be disabled, even on the equipment you already have.

There you have it friends, once again we all suffer because a few video pirates have put the fear into equipment manufacturers. What can you do? Well, for starters you can look at long HDMI cables and HDBaseT systems, as well as HDMI splitters, all available at SolidSignal.com. Using an HDMI splitter can help you propel your HD signal up to 250 feet to a second TV using the right combination of hardware. You can then use a remote extender to give you the power to control your electronics from a different room. The effect is similar to having a modulator, except you won’t have the copy protection police breathing down your neck. Yes, the cost is still higher than a cheap SD modulator, but it’s manageable compared to the price of an HD modulator with all of the copy-protection fees built into it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.