Why Comcast Won’t Be Getting a Christmas Card From Me This Year

Three years ago, I did a major re-org of my home technology. I wrote two blog entries on my old tech blog (Evolution and Living The Evolved Digital Life) about how I cut the cable (or at least trimmed it), by downgrading my service from Comcast to the bare minimum. For the last three years, I’ve paid only for the lowest tier basic cable (local channels + Discovery Channel + Northwest Cable News). There have been a few shows/channels we’ve missed, but for the most part, we’ve been just fine. We watch a lot of stuff via NetFlix, both through Instant Watch and DVD rentals, and occasionally we’ll watch something on Hulu. We’ve gotten used to being a year behind on most of the popular shows (don’t tell me what happening in this year’s Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Sons Of Anarchy), but all-in-all, it really works for the style of life we lead.

When I was making those changes, we also set up our home PC with Windows Media Center as our DVR. For the last three years, that’s worked just great. Instead of paying $10 a month for a DVR rental to Tivo or Comcast, we’ve paid nothing. Well there was the initial set up cost of about $75, if I recall correctly, but beyond that, it’s been “free”.

One of the other things we did was to replace our old TVs with new, flat screen TVs. A lot of people have done that, and all the new TV’s have digital tuners in them. Since Comcast has been sending out both the regular, and an HD feed for the local channels, we’ve been able to take advantage of that as well. Nearly all of the stations in my area record and broadcast in HD, so for Comcast to send out the Low-Def signal, they actually have to downgrade it from the regular HD.

For the last couple of months, there’s been a warning coming up on our screen that as of 12/11/2012, Comcast would be sending out Digital Only broadcasts via the cable—the old analog signal would be removed. In order to continue to receive their transmissions, we would need to acquire (from them) a new Digital Transmission Adapter or DTA, also known as a Set-Top Box. We ordered the boxes, but we didn’t install them, hoping that since our TVs (and the tuner card in our computer / DVR) were already digital, that we wouldn’t need to install them.

Alas, December 11, 2012 arrived, and we began to receive a message on all former analog channels that we needed to contact Comcast to get our DTAs. But the HD channels we were getting before, continued to come through. We stopped receiving channels which had no HD equivalent (Discovery, NWCN, KCTS) altogether. I bit the bullet, and installed the DTA on our TV, only to discover the following:

  1. All signals were now low-definition, even if the native channel was HD.
  2. Our Windows Media Center PC would not be able to function as a DVR any longer if we installed the DTA, because the DTA had to change the channel, and with the equipment I had, I didn’t have a way to interface the DTA with Media Center for control.

This left us in a bit of a quandary when it came to the DVR. The DVR could receive HD signals, but not regular def, so we wouldn’t be able to record Discovery (Gold Rush) and KCTS (Masterpiece Mystery / Downton Abbey). Fortunately, I found a component from Hauppauge (http://hauppauge.com/site/webstore2/webstore_remote-mckit.asp) which should allow us to maintain the Media Center PC as our DVR. The downside is, the we will lose our HD recording.

The other problem we’ve run into, is that I spent the better part of a day trying to redo the configuration on our Logitech Harmony 900 remote to control the DTA to change the channel. It was actually easy to add it, but I suspect we had had a long standing misconfiguration in our remote, and adding the DTA really caused this issue to show itself. The TV kept switching sources unexpectedly after switch from DVD to TV. While I could figure out how to get the picture back, there was no way the kids ever would be able to. That would mean I’d have to come downstairs every day at 6:00 AM so they could watch cartoons, and we could sleep. I eventually got it fixed, but it took more time than I planned.

So, after all this is said and done, we will have likely lost our HD signal, which we were probably getting and shouldn’t have been, all this time. The new part for the PC cost about $40 with shipping, which is about 4 months of renting a DVR from Comcast, assuming it works. But the biggest cost was the time and hassle and energy I spent dealing with this. I had assumed that because I had new equipment with digital tuners, that everything would be okay. But clearly, Comcast is trying to force my hand to pay for the HD channels since I have gotten used to having them. HD is really nice when watching sports. Their strategy will probably work with most people not willing to give up what they already had.

But every time I have to go through a hassle like this, I don’t upgrade my service—I downgrade it by reducing my use of that provider. I currently use Comcast for my phone service, but I can now see a day coming very soon where I no longer will. That’s $40 a month they won’t be getting from me. And in all likelihood, within the next few years, I’ll get rid of my basic cable as well, and completely go to web and streaming services for everything. I thought the adjustment 3 years ago would have been hard, but it really wasn’t. Cutting the last part of the cable cord shouldn’t be that big of a deal either.

Could Comcast have avoided disgruntling this particular customer? Yes, in one step. For those people with digital tuners already in their devices, don’t require a DTA. Do I know that is possible? No. But it sure makes a lot more sense at first glance, than forcing a DTA onto everyone’s home entertainment center.

I can’t blame Comcast for trying to get me to pay more for what I once took for granted. I mean, that’s what big monopolies do. But that doesn’t mean I’m actually going to go along with that plan. And I’m sure not going to send them a Christmas card this year.

4 Comments on “Why Comcast Won’t Be Getting a Christmas Card From Me This Year

  1. Have you investigated cablecards? There are a couple of TV tuner cards that accept them and you could still use Windows Media Center.

    • I haven’t checked into that yet. I jerry-rigged a setup that works using a Huappauge Windows Media Center remote control kit with a DTA – USB adapter, and that seems to work.

      The biggest complaint I now have is the sheer number of cables coming into and around my main PC. I’m going to have to deal with that at some point

  2. Wow, you really went thru the wringer!
    We quite dislike Comcast, but are still their indentured servants. Seems like another co could do better — from their freq badly encoded glitchy stations to the DVR that has a horrible UI & lots of ports that are disabled (USB, LAN/network, esata, etc) to our general disatisfaction w/pricing.
    But we were triple play (cable, phone, Internet) customers whose deal ran out & pricing doubled — and I can’t figure out a better way to go!
    We have Netflix too & love them. Tried Amazon Prime — horrible. Haven’t tried Hulu plus, which I hear people love.
    It’s the changing of the paradigms — VOD vs DVR ‘management’ of all the scheduled broadcast content. Which will win? Pretty obvious — I hate dealing w/endless charts for timeslots & watching hours of crap — or having DVR ‘mess up’ and not catch last 5 mins of movie!
    Good info, interesting topic — hope you bypass all these artificial corporate obstacles (which IMO are focused on forcefeeding us commercials).

  3. Get one of these: http://www.silicondust.com/products/hdhomerun/prime/ Then call Comcast and ask for their Blast Plus promotion. We were paying $69 20Mb internet ($51) + Limited basic TV ($17). But, the Blast Plus plan is $79 bucks a month, for 50Mb internet and Digital Economy TV, which has 10 or more channels then the basic. I’ve been just as disgruntled with Comcast as the next guy, but I got to say, this is the first time I’ve been happy with something Comcast has offered me. Great deal.

    FYI – of that promotion doesn’t work for you, you can still get limited basic cable with a CableCard device. besides the cost of the device, it shouldn’t increase your monthly rate and you’ll get HD channels. IT’s also better because the CableCard will keep all channels in sync with Media Center and you won’t have to rescan.

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