Scott Hanselman

Comcast Cable adds CBS to Portland HDTV and why digital TV just ain't happening.

February 28, '06 Comments [17] Posted in Musings
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Cbs_logo_240_001I'm growing increasingly frustrated with the Motorola DVR that Comcast includes with their HDTV package. Alex Scoble (who works at Corillian) had similar problems and recently gave up. He went to DirectTV. However, apparently the big draw towards DirectTV, the DirectTivo unit, is being phased out and DirectTV is passing out crappy no-name DVRs again. (Can anyone confirm?)

Just this moment I noticed that Comcast added channel 706 - our local CBS affiliate, KOIN - after a protracted battle, they've worked something out. However, the compression artifacts are ridiculous. It's so hard to watch, even my wife noticed them. When Mo notices MPEG artifacts (in the guise of, "what's with the picture" questions, then it's BAD.

I just want:

  • 5.1 Audio out via optical
  • 720p HD video out via DVI/HDMI
  • Dual Tuner DVR with 20+ hours of storage
  • No blips, bloops, skips, stutters, random reboots

What's a dude got to do to get a single wire into a single box to get HD in this town? Get me this for $50 a month and we're done. (Comcast has it down 90% if the DVR sucked slightly less. If it glitched less, you'd never hear from me on this subject.)

What are my choices?

  • Comcast
    • Pros - reasonably priced, around $50 a month for more channels than I care about, over a dozen in HD and a (crappy) dual tuner DVR with quirks for only $10 a month with no big lump fee.
    • Cons - increasingly bad DVR, only 120gig ~15-17hrs in HD.
  • DirectTV
    • Pros - They aren't Comcast. 250gig DVR ~30hrs in HD.
    • Cons - A dish hanging off my house. Need a receiver for every room in the house. $399 (actually $599(!)-$200 rebate) for a HD DVR (whose performance I can't be sure about). Regular HD Receivers are $199!
  • Dish Network (Are these guys even a player?)
    • Pros - DVR supports PiP. Upconverts SD beyond 480i.
    • Cons - A dish hanging off my house. Dodgy HD lineup. Only two tuners, one SD, one HD - the difference is called out in the interface, and forces the user to think about which tuner tapes what show. $300 up front HD fee and it's a lease not a buy. 18 month commitment if you want to save money.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006 7:59:56 AM UTC
Wait till end of the year for TiVo Series 3. :)
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 12:38:43 PM UTC
As another choice you forgot:

* Stop watching TV. Most of it is crap anyway.
Grumpy
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 1:22:52 PM UTC
DirecTV is infact out of bed with Tivo, and now on to their own PVR. I have a DirectTivo, and it has been one of the best purchases I have ever made. One thing to be aware of though, at last check all DirecTV PVR's require a landline phone connection. Yup, thats right no VOIP, no wireless, landline. I have to make up some fictitious story everytime I move to get them to hook it up without it. Normally, the Tivo not calling home would be problematic as well, but lets just say I made a few modifications to mine;)
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 1:48:10 PM UTC
DirecTV's getting ready (end of March?) to go to a lease model for their hardware. The new DirecTV pvr's aren't 'crappy' but they aren't as fun to 'play' with as the DirecTivo's. DTV is also getting ready to greatly expand their HD lineup later this year.
Jason Dossett
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 3:14:36 PM UTC
Two rays of hope are TiVo Series 3 and the as-yet-unnamed product of the Comcast/TiVo development arrangement (essentially a Comcast STB with TiVo software). Honestly, this whole issue is one of the things keeping me from jumping on the HD bandwagon in a big way.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 4:16:49 PM UTC
And with those choices, comcast is the winner of the coveted "Lesser of All Evils...For Now"

Personally, I'm a big fan of the off channel that I jokingly refer to as "K-O-F-F my favorite channel"
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 5:17:02 PM UTC
Maybe you just have a bad Motorola DVR? I've had one for almost a year now, and I don't have any complaints. It's a little slow to navigate through the menus, but it never has any quality problems and I haven't had it reboot on me once.

I'm looking forward however to either a TiVo Series 3 or a Vista Media Center, both of which should support CableCARD, and therefore HD recording. I'm just worried that Comcast and whatever network are going to start tagging all the good shows with the "do not record" bit. I've already seen shows like this poping up in Media Center.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 6:51:06 PM UTC
welcome to the bleeding edge, I guess.

FWIW, my folks just got a dual tuner DirecTV PVR hookup (not sure if it's TiVo or not), and they love it. But they're not exactly videophiles. They're now addicted to PVR.
Dave
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 8:46:07 PM UTC
You may get it next year with FIOS and Verizon. I really like my new internet with them and they are working on getting the TV Franchise set up in Portland/Vancouver(should be full digital delivered via fiber to your house, including video on demand). Perhaps I will get to one provider again.
Nathan Kline
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 8:56:39 PM UTC
The link to Fios TV:
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A//www22.verizon.com/FiOSForHome/channels/FiOSTV/FiosTVHome.aspx&ei=67YERPisAcr2YKG56YwO&sig2=eeqLfhsYezuoCKPzJeOgUw
Nathan Kline
Wednesday, March 01, 2006 2:54:40 AM UTC
Thre's another option that is missing from the list. Buy your own high definition PVR (either new or used) and hook it up to an antenna. Right now, the choices are limited -- models from LG and Sony -- but this is an option. There are also some television available that have the HD PVR built in.

The upfront cost will be higher. But you'll get the upfront cost back within a year because of the monthly fees that you won't be paying to Comcast, DISH, or DirecTV.

As an aside, I believe the TIVO Series 3 PVR mentioned by Kevin and Michael will work with either cable or an antenna when it comes out.

Texas Tom
Wednesday, March 01, 2006 6:38:43 AM UTC
I looked at FiOS and it appears that they will be using the same crappy Motorola DVR that Comcast now uses.

As you can read on my blog, I had the same problems that Scott blogged about.

By the way Scott, if you switch to DirecTV, you will only have to pay for the Tivo. They gave me two additional receivers for free (although they aren't HD).

Also, I think that you will find that DirecTV is competitively priced with Comcast.

One other con that should be mentioned with DirecTV is that to get the rebates and free installation, you need to sign up for a 2 year commitment.

Oh and for the record, we have had ZERO problems with our new Tivo box.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006 7:34:44 AM UTC
Here's my thoughts on DishNetwork nowadays. We got rid of them.

http://richhubbins.theclaussens.com/2005/08/09/UpdateOnTheDishNetworkChallenges.aspx
Wednesday, March 01, 2006 3:02:18 PM UTC
Retro suggestion: Buy an ANTENNA!

And an HDTV tuner (if your TV doesn't have one built in). This provides a cleaner picture than digital cable (here in Minneapolis).

I realize this doesn't do anything to solve your PVR issue.

(I tried to post a similar comment yesterday... but it didn't show up... I probably fat fingered the security code.)
Wednesday, March 01, 2006 11:56:00 PM UTC
Or use Windows Media Center....

...today with an antenna and an Over The Air HDTV tuner

...later this year with Vista and the new support for HD recording via DirectTV and/or CableCard compatible providers (not sure if Comcast supports CableCards, but they probably do).

You get better PVR functionality, but it'll end up being a larger upfront cost for the media center PC.
Thursday, March 02, 2006 5:41:09 PM UTC
A comcast rep told me "Trust me, if we keep replacing them, eventually we will get one to you that works". He was right. It took 4 replacements, but my current one has almost no issues.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006 2:20:02 PM UTC
3rd vote for antenna. You can use a PVR of your choosing (although choices are not great at the moment), and more importantly the quality is way way better than anything you'll get over cable or a satellite. This goes for analog TV as well. Actually, you'd be totally floored how much better analog TV looks over an antenna than anything regular def signals from cable or a dish. Night and day.

I believe http://www.antennaweb.org is the site that has all of the details of what type of antenna to get and where to point it.

The only caveat is of course that some places will get better reception than others, depending on mountains, buildings, distance from transmitter, etc.

If you care about quality it's the only way to go. And a good antenna is only about $35 and can be installed in just an hour or two. And no long term contract! :-)
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.