Rant Time

Today’s blog will be something of a minor rant. But first, the normal stuff. Mhari and I are doing well. Mhari’s arm (which suffered a strain from a very minor fall some weeks back) is doing much, much, much better. Dr James and time together helped her heal from things. And she’s regaining grip strength rapidly. And that helps my personal frame of mind a great deal.

On the MMO front, we’re mostly doing the normal things in the normal ways on the normal game. Haven’t done much on the Issue 14 open beta this week. Mostly because I’ve sort of got tired of dealing with the bugs (which are to be expected… it is still beta for a reason, after all) and just been generally tired.

On the movies front, Mhari and I watched Twilight during the past week. (It might have been Tuesday night.) I’m not going to go into a deep review of the movie as plenty of people have done that out on the web. Personally I thought the movie was slow and not all that good. But I also don’t feel like I wasted the 120 some minutes that I spent watching it. It was a movie. It was sort of a vampire movie. Best thing I can say about the movie is that the ‘family’ of vampires in it were cool. I was expecting dark purposes and evil and things from them, but they are really a family and that was cool to see. But otherwise it was a ‘ho humm’ movie to me.

And now, the rant…

You see, last weekend we got the ‘World of More’ letter from Comcast, telling us that they were going to do away with analog transport of channels above channel 34 on their cable. And in support of this they would be providing us with little boxes for our TV’s, free of charge, so that we could keep watching the channels we are paying for. We have Basic and Expanded Basic. Comcast is doing way with Expanded Basic and forcing (no matter what THEY call it, it is still force) their customers to go digital.

In the letter they gave a number we could call. I set it aside to deal with ‘later’. But on Sunday (I think… might have been Saturday) I received a call and it was Comcast calling ME to see how many of the free boxes I needed (and trying to sell me a Starz package free for the first year… I turned it down, but it took three trys for them to accept me turning it down). The long and short of the call is that I told them we had 3 TVs (which we do). And they said they would be sending them to me in the next 3-5 days. I said okay, shrugged and hung up, going back to my game or whatever I was doing at that time.

Then Monday on our door is a UPS tag saying that something from Comcast had been tried to be delivered. And on Wednesday the moons and planets were aligned and I picked up the package from our complex landlord.

When I opened the package there were three units in there. A larger DCH70 set-top cable box and 2 PACE DTA’s. The Motorola DCH70 is the standard digital tv set-top box used by Comcast and is a no frills box that supports Comcast On Demand and the like. It has some on-board ram for storing a limited amount of content locally allowing it to do some minor DVR-like features. When you plug it in, it sounds like there is a hard drive spinning up, but it might just be fans. I don’t know.
And the DTAs (which it SAYS is for Digital Transport Adapter but could easily mean Digital to Analog) are little boxes with a coax in and a coax out, a serial port (mini-plug style) for technician use, and a channel 3/4 switch.

All of these boxes were easy to install and came with all the cables and things. The DTA’s also come with a little dongle for the IR receiver for the remote control for the box so you can hide the box out of site and just have this little button of a thing where the IR signals can reach it.

Speaking of the remotes, the one with the DCH70 is a ‘Universal Remote’ and can be set up to control the other A/V devices you are going to use with it. The remote with the DTA is a basic semi-universal remote in that like the simpler remotes, you type in a code based on your make of TV and it can then control your TV for you, with it doing channel changes on the DTA (with your TV tuned to channel 3 or 4) and the volume control from your TV and the power button controlling both DTA and TV at the same time.

Once things were installed, I then had to call in to Comcast’s Digital Activation service center and get activated. All the information I needed for that was in the letter that came with the package. EXCEPT that it DID NOT tell me that I would be chasing back and forth to each of the TVs doing things at the direction of the person on the phone. I was chasing from room to room making sure the screen said the right thing and then they had to ‘send signals’ to each of the boxes to tell them to download their programming. 45 mins for the DCH70 and 30 mins for the DTAs. Sure glad I didn’t get any work calls during that time. (I was working from home.)

Initially the reception on the DTA’s STUNK. Lots of digital dropouts and blocky vision so common to incomplete signals. But after an extra hour, that all faded away and settled down and Mhari says the signal clarity for her TV, which was never that good with an analog signal) is more than fine. Better than the analog signal.

The only problem we had left was that one of Mhari’s channels that she likes to watch, the History Channel, wouldn’t work. All it gave was a ‘One Moment Please’ message explaining that the signal was temporarily interrupted. I spent another hour on ‘live chat’ with a support rep trying to get that channel to work on both the DTA-equiped TVs. Eventually, it finally worked on Mhari’s TV. It still doesn’t work on mine, but I am sick of trying to deal with it and the rep said to just take the unit to the nearby service center and they will swap it. GRRR.

Now, here are my gripes and purpose for this rant…

Thanks to being FORCED to go to these boxes, we can no longer record anything on channels 35 and up as those channels are soon going to go away in analog form to make way for more ‘on demand’ and pay-to-view content. And if we want to record anything above 35, we would have to have the box in line to the DVR and make sure the set-top box is set to the channel we want to record from. And we don’t have IF Blaster tech in the DVRs because them being ‘cable ready’ was supposed to avoid having to worry about that issue.

Second, I bought an HDTV for myself back in January. When I hooked it up to cable I suddenly had 720i or 1080i additional channels I could get from my cable. Now that I have this box hooked up as required to get the 35 and up channels, my 1080i and 720i signals from the channels BELOW 35 are GONE and no longer usable. If I want to get those, I have to disconnect the DTA so it doesn’t interfere. GRRRRRRRRRRR! Now I only get HD from my Screenplay HD. And if I want HD from Comcast I am going to have to pay Extra for it. GRRRRR. Or use a antenna to get the broadcast signal.

So, I am now really quite upset with Comcast. Their advertising campaign about not having to worry about the Digital Switch (now coming this summer rather than having happened last month) because you have Comcast, while true, is misleading. People with analog equipment DON’T have to worry, but not because things are not going to have to change, but rather because rather than having to spend (or get for free with a coupon) to get a converter box, instead Comcast is going to SEND you a converter box and make your VCRs, DVRs, Dual Tunner TIVO series 2’s and the like next to useless in the same way that the Digital Switch is.

What I am most disturbed by is that I really, really, really don’t want to have to buy new DVRs with CableCards, and then be charged by Comcast for these ‘extra TVs’ that will be connected to their system, just to be able to watch programs on MY schedule and NOT on the schedule of TV Executives and advertisers.

Of course, to be honest, both with myself and the world at large, do I really WATCH true TV any more? Yes, I had been recording Heroes to watch later. I believe Mhari records Desperate Housewives or some other set of programs. And we sometimes learn of a program that we’d like to see and set up a one-time recording of it. All this because we play our City of Heroes games during the primetime hours that these programs often are aired at, and want to watch the programs later, on Tuesday or Thursday night or on the weekend when we are NOT playing CoX. We like to adjust the TV viewing to OUR schedule and not adjust to the TV’s schedule.

However, that being said… Heroes, as an example, is available on a NUMBER of sources either starting the same night it is aired or the next night. We have a Roku, and through that we can watch Netflix Watch Instantly things directly on our TV. This includes Heroes at no extra charge beyond our normal Netflix subscription. Programs like Dr. Who we can usually watch the same way as soon as the DvD set comes out. Or buy the DvD set ourselves and watch it (or both, as we have done of late – we own the DvDs but are watching it through the Netflix player as it is more convenient).

So far, nearly everything we might want to watch is available on DvD or through the Netflix player on the Roku. And recently the Roku added support for Amazon. This means that if we can’t get it ‘free’ via Watch Instantly on Netflix, and don’t want to wait for the DvD to reach us in the main, we can RENT it through Amazon! And all without watching Cable TV. Or ‘broadcast TV’ for that matter.

So… really, what do we need with Cable TV any more? Hell, if it wasn’t for Comcast’s great broadband internet service (said internet service being something that makes the Roku able to work at all) I would likely ditch Comcast altogether at this point. I only need it for internet service.

Oh, and by the way, Said Comcast Internet service would cost more if we were not also Comcast Cable TV subscribers… so that little thing sort of means we aren’t likely to switch it off yet.

Now, we have been getting HUGE amounts of offers from AT&T UVerse to go over to THEIR system. I am getting sorely tempted. Again, if their internet service was as good as Comcast’s is, and their cost was less than or equal to what Comcast charges AND I could record TV and use my HDTV without the stupid restrictions that have come into being… I’d jump in a minute.

Lastly… I don’t see CableCard slots being advertised with HDTVs… do any of them come with those slots without my having to have a stupid cable set-top box to talk to my cable system?

Right now I am just wondering how soon it will be before Comcast starts charging me as if I were one of their digital subscribers, which would mean at least a $30 month jump in my bill. AND I am expecting to be charged rent for these ‘free’ boxes they sent me.

All I know is, right now Comcast is pushing me away more. And contributing more to my stopping watching TV. Can’t say that’s a bad thing, really… but it really doesn’t sound like that would be their Intent. Don’t they want to KEEP customers, not lose them? Aren’t they in the business of feeding my supposed TV addition, not curing me of it?

Anyway, that’s my rant… I’m done with it. It’s not all coherent, and it’s not all rational. But it’s there. Thanks for wading through it, and if you just skipped to the end, I won’t blame you. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with praises for something, not a rant. Have a good weekend!