Is RG59 cable really worse for antennas?

One of the blog staffers asked me recently if RG59 cable was really all that bad. Seems that some other blogs are claiming that if you don’t use RG6 cable, you’re doomed. Friends, I’m here to set the record straight.

RG59 cable looks a lot like the RG6 cable sold today. It’s a standard coaxial cable and the real difference between RG59 and RG6 has to do with the thickness of some of the components that make up the cable. Less copper, less foam, and you’ll get a thinner cable. It may not even look a whole lot thinner. RG59 cable was used in the 1970s and 1980s as people moved away from flat antenna wires and moved to the early cable TV systems. In those days, cables were still much more expensive than they were today and RG59 cable was used because those cable systems didn’t need to carry as many channels as they do today.

It’s hard to know for sure what kind of cable you have, except that most cables do have their specs printed on the side. Also, if the cable is over 20 years old or has a crimped-on connection, it’s probably (although not definitely) RG59.

So what’s the big deal with RG59 cable? RG59 cable has more signal loss over a long distance than RG6 cable, but the loss isn’t that great. You’ll lose about 1dB more on a 100 foot run, and that’s practically nothing, it’s about 1/3 of what you’d lose from just splitting the signal once.

RG59 cable isn’t sold much anymore and it isn’t used for cable and satellite applications because it’s not good for those high frequencies used by cable and satellite systems. But for antennas, which only need to receive frequencies up to about 700MHz, it’s no problem at all.

If you have a home pre-wired with RG59 cable, as many were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s perfect for distributing an antenna signal. It won’t work for satellite, but you don’t need to worry at all if you want to get free HDTV throughout your house with an over-the-air antenna.