Comcast Digital Upgrade Kills PC/Mac DVRs
Comcast's mandated digital equipment upgrade in Seattle threatens to kill my Mac-based DVR system which I've used for over three years. I prefer to use this solution than pay an additional monthly subscription fee to Comcast, TiVo or DirecTV for their own DVR boxes.
Comcast has a monopoly on cable where I live in Seattle. They are poorly regulated by the city e.g. service is poor and they do not have to sell channels a la carte (customers are forced to buy packaged bundles if they want service).
While Comcast is mandated to provide digital transport boxes to all current cable subscribers, it appears that I will have to bear the cost of any hardware and software upgrades on my own. El Gato recommends a couple of solutions, but forum postings say they do not work reliably.
While trying to activate my digital boxes this week, I discovered that the EyeTV is no longer able to change channels via Comcast's Digital Transport Boxes. I assume that all PC and Mac-based DVR solutions e.g. MythTV will be similarly impacted.
The solution involves getting a $49.95 USB-enabled IR blaster to tell the Comcast box when to change channels. My experience with IR-systems is that they are slow. Trying to change channels when watching TV normally will be slowed. Worse yet, it may not work at all - says this forum poster:
It works fine, but almost once a day, stops being able to change channels on the DTA. I can make it work again by using the supplied Comcast remote to change the channel once. After that, the ZephIR "remembers" how to communicate with the DTA. Its almost as if the DTA is going into some kind of sleep mode until it hears from the remote. I've been in correspondence with the folks with ZephIR. Frustrating!
It seems like it might be time for me to finally give up on cable television and switch to other solutions e.g. NetFlix, iTunes, Hulu and the EyeTV Hybrid HD tuner ...
On The Media recently ran this timely segment called Cutting the Cable - "if Netflix can cut the same content deals with Hollywood as Comcast and Time Warner - this could be the beginning of the end for cable.":
Even if Comcast's latest move didn't kill the PC-based DVR, their next step would be to encrypt content on more and more channels to restrict the use of these and other solutions such as TiVo.
Apparently, the digital cable business in Seattle is still so profitable, that Comcast can afford to send free hardware (I got two boxes) to all of its customers without blinking. They probably expect to make up the cost outlay with new DVR subscriptions.
Comcast's Digital Now page says "Welcome to The World of More! More Channels, Higher Quality, No Additional Cost on up to 3 TVs*" - but what it really means is More Money for Comcast and More Costs and Less Choice for Consumers.
It's frustrating the Seattle city council is allowing Comcast to upgrade its systems in this way - without providing full compatibility with existing systems.
The City of Seattle has a long history of poorly regulating Comcast — complain here.
p.s. I should also mention that Comcast's Digital Now Website activation doesn't even work. It kept rejecting my valid digital ID. Attempts to get online chat support kept breaking any time I'd switch away from the page - the chat room would reset in the middle of a support session. I had to call in several times before reaching someone on the phone that could actually activate my boxes. This is when I discovered the bad news. The Comcast technician on the phone said it could take up to an hour to load all the channels - but apparently, he just didn't understand --- I'd need to upgrade if I want those channels.