Re-upping with the CableCo

Dave Zatz —  July 26, 2009 — 15 Comments

cox-tuning-adapter1

While I dig pay television content and broadband, I can’t say I always dig the cable company. Historically, I haven’t had the greatest experiences with things like billing or installs. Those installs, in particular, have been a recurring pain point. With a 25% no-show rate, the possibly high contractor who had to be escorted out after getting aggressive, his replacement drilling through the wall as intended and continuing on into our dresser as not intended, having to call the franchising authority to encourage Comcast to locate CableCARDs, etc.

So, upon making the move from DC’s Maryland suburbs to the Virginia equivalent I flirted with the idea of giving up cable. Well, most cable. Since dissembling the home theater and selling my place in 2005, we’ve lived like gypsys… and our new rental community bundles basic cable into our monthly fees (for $45). I figured SD CNN would satisfy Melissa and I’d get my fix of HD video over-the-air and via Netflix. Unfortunately, given the construction of our building or our location, I haven’t been able to tune a single major network OTA (WJLA and WUSA haven’t helped the situation) using several indoor antennas and tuning devices. Combined with Verizon raising their FiOS Internet fees, I pretty much had to re-up with cable (we face east and north – no satellite options available).

cox-tuning-adapter2

As if CableCARDs weren’t complex enough to implement with Comcast, Cox Communications here in Virginia utilizes SDV – so TiVo owners also require fugly “tuning adapters” mated to their units via coax and USB to handle switched programming. (Some of my thoughts on the industry cluster here.) At least they’re provided free, although commentary on the TiVo Community indicates reboots are periodically required to keep everything synced up and that they may unintentionally inject copy protection flags – limiting the usefulness of multi-room viewing and TiVoToGo.

Bottom line, after an 8 hour ordeal yesterday, I’m up and running on 3 CableCARDs, 2 tuning adapters, and a cable modem. Cox HD looks great and we may receive even more channels than Comcast. Plus, broadband speeds are very good (see pic below) on the mid-tier package which runs $38ish/mo. All I need now is some sort of stand or entertainment center to house the living room plasma.

For the complete blow by blow of how the install process played out, here’s a capture of my Twitter feed:

  • 3 CableCARDs, 2 tuning adapters, and 1 modem scheduled for install tomorrow, 10-12. I’ll surely tweet Cox’s performance.
  • Why is QVC selling Christmas lights this morning? And why am I even channel surfing QVC?
  • I have no idea where my new cable operator puts channels? Waiting for the installer with CableCARDs this AM. We shall see…
  • Yep, Cox installers suck as bad as Comcast. Received a voicemail on my work line that no one’s home, call to reschedule. BS.
  • After 30 minutes with three phone reps, they’ll try again after 1PM.
  • I just turned off Google Voice’s requirement to announce your name to prevent further confusion of/by the cable guy. *shakes head*
  • Oh, and I offered to pick up the three CableCARDs. But apparently installing them is highly technical and requires a home visit. Uh-huh.
  • With a $30 per television CableCARD “installation” fee, I’d rather sit on hold to activate them myself.
  • I hooked up the cable modem while installer wrestles CableCARDs and tuning adapters. Going on 2+ hrs.
  • There’s gotta be a better way.
  • Success. Finally. I need a beer.
  • Glorious, glorious HD. How I missed you. Cox’s Internet speeds are solid, too. Getting 25+ down on the $38/mo plan. Why’d FiOS raise rates?

15 responses to Re-upping with the CableCo

  1. I can only imagine how much that fugly Cisco box offends Dave’s sense of aesthetics ( all STB connoisseurs too! )

    High gloss, piano black flat screen TV, piano black TiVo box with matching piano black remote control, and…

    …a matte gray/bronze “tuning adapter” with all the wrong color LEDs. How gauche!

  2. “Why’d FiOS raise rates?”

    Gee, with their competitors being so competent and customer-service friendly, I wonder how they think they can get away with it?

    I agree w/ Todd on the SDV box. That’s WAY nicer than the POS Scientific Atlantic Explorer 3000 BRICK that Time Warner here (still) gives out. It’s a relic from ages ago. And it’s HUGE and it’s not even a DVR.

  3. I helped set up a TiVo HD for some friends (we live in Duluth, MN, so we have to deal with Charter) and our local office actually handed over an M Card for a self install. I was completely shocked, but decided to go ahead and try to do it myself. After calling Charters main phone number, I talked to some very helpful reps who tried to activate the cards even though it “wasn’t their job” and “the contractors call a different number, but [we] don’t know what it is.” Nothing worked, of course, so I told my friends to schedule an official appointment. The next day, they woke up to find everything working – all their premium channels and HD channels were displaying properly. They cancelled their appointment, and all was well. However, the TiVo CableCARD screen still reads “unpaired” and “contact your cable company.” It’s been over a month now, and they’ve had no problems at all.

    Anyways, I thought you might be interested in this story, because I couldn’t find a single instance anywhere on the web of someone being allowed to do a CableCARD self install. Even the reps on the phone said that giving out the cards violated company policy.

  4. Todd, Chris, Maybe ‘fugly’ is an overreaction. But as someone who’s followed the evolution of CableCARD and separable security for many years, I’m disappointed in how it’s played out and that I even require a separate cable box. Also, the FCC has no regulatory teeth – those fines they levied on folks pushing SDV to one-way CableCARD devices before the adapters were ready have been rescinded. And they amount was a pittance to begin with. Consumers, the cable industry, and TiVo are all losers here. (I did tip the cable guy $10 – it’s not his fault the system is a kludge. But he was very patient, took good care of my stuff, and cut me an extra coax cable to a precise length. I also snapped a pic of his computer screen showing my account when he wasn’t looking, so I had to put him on the ZNF payroll.)

    On the positive side, these Cisco boxes are new and not too large – though larger than Moto’s solution. I understand why they’re reusing hardware already in play to limit their expense instead of manufacturing a smaller USB dongle as originally conceived – after all, there’s only about 1.6 million stand-alone TiVo subscriptions nationwide and X% is using CableCARD. In the living room, we’ve mostly given up on a sleek, modern glass Bello stand and will get something with doors or compartments to hide all my gear. In the bedroom, the TiVo sits on top of the television (30″ HD tube) and now the adapter sits on top of that with its 3 additional cables – doesn’t look great and there’s no way to turn off the green LED.

    Chris, Verizon customer service isn’t any better according to the folks I know. In fact, yesterday while I was bitching about Cox, Peter Ha of Crunchgear had this to say on Twitter in regards to his FiOS account: Verizon has the worst f*cking customer service on the face of the planet.

    Nareem, my pal in New Jersey and a blog associate in Washington State have both been able to pick up CableCARDs successfully, without requiring a truck roll. Either they activate them when they give them to you, or you call the numbers in yourself. So it’s not unheard of, maybe just not common. And what slowed the install down yesterday was exactly that: multiple hits, multiple reboots, and then waiting.

  5. Well Dave, can’t you hide the tuning adapter behind the TV? It doesn’t need to intercept any kind of I.R. signals right?

    Well look at the bright side… You have 64 HD Channels in that list you posted. Comcast in my area is lucky to have half of that. SDV does work to free up bandwidth! Still I would always get Fios if it’s available, regardless of price.

    There’s plenty of diagnostics to shake a stick at. Hey does the tuning adapter work with MOXI or those ATI Digital Cable Tuners for Windows Vista Media Center?

  6. Oh and one last question, sorry I forgot… Does the SDV tuning adapter make channel changing much slower? Is there noticeable delay since the Tivo has to talk to the adapter, then it has to request a channel?

  7. Blasphemy! How can anyone choose cable over FiOS? In my area, they run the HD package (with all HD non-premium channels and 20/5 internet) for $109 – and that includes home phone service. Not so competitive there?

  8. Dave, This should teach you never to move to the Commonwealth. I realize the commute stank but VA?
    Do you find yourself “Living Passionately” (http://www.virginia.org/) now? I hope the job was worth it. Good luck.

  9. cypherstream, as far as I know the only retail devices that work with SDV via the tuning adapters are TiVo. Moxi’s next software update will supposedly bring support as well, but I’m unsure of timing. Channel changes may be slightly slower (not sure), but within the realm of reason and certainly quicker than using say an IR blaster.

    RandomRage, I’m paying Cox $45/month for cable (via the complex) whether or not I use it. Plus, and probably related, only FiOS Internet (no TV services) are offered here. The kinda equivalent Internet tier on FiOS runs $50/mo. My total Cox bundle/expenditure, including the $45, is about $105, without phone service. (We’ll get to the premium channels shortly.) For the same money, they’d have thrown digital voice in – but we both use our cell phones exclusively at this point, and have for several years. (Melissa also has unlimited cell minutes on T-Mo.)

    Bob, I bought a pickup truck with gun rack and started smoking too. ;) Seriously, the Virginia suburbs aren’t much different from the Maryland ones. Not to mention, I’ve worked in Virginia 8 of the last 10 years. The biggest adjustment for me was moving from Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase to nearly Gaithersburg (2008) – that was the first time since arriving in the region (1993) that I haven’t been able to walk to the subway to get into town. I still don’t like it. We’ll see what the housing market (I suspect values will fall further) and my job situation looks like next year.

  10. Didn’t the FCC ruling preventing complexes from exclusive TV providers finally get upheld? Shouldn’t FiOS be able to move in entirely at this point? I mean, that doesn’t do anything about the cable bill rolled into your rent, which is unfortunate but understandable…

  11. That’s true, but FiOS has been slow to roll out services to MDUs in our area in general and the community’s deal with Cox is a disincentive. (It’s not billed directly within the rent, it’s a line item that is supposedly non-optional.) I do see a few satellite Dishes in the complex, so folks are willing pay for the partially double-pay for programming they want. Until DirecTV rolls out the new HD TiVo sometime in 2010, I’m not sweating it.

  12. Dave, stash your AV gear in one of these:
    http://www.avrak.com/avfurnishings.html
    With the frequency that you move about it this stand may just pay for itself in it ease of configuration. Check out the lazy-susan action.

  13. @RandomRage

    “…Didn’t the FCC ruling preventing complexes from exclusive TV providers finally get upheld…”

    I have that issue in this crappy apartment I live in. We can have their lame third party re-seller of local cable as our *only* TV – or nothing. They don’t allow dishes on balconies or on free standing tripods, no antennas, no TV through the phone line. Just the apartment complex’s craptastic “Ignite!” cable for…get this…$80.00 a month for basic cable channel line up ( that price does not include any extras or premium movie channels ).

    I cited the legal precedent you’ve mentioned and they just laughed, knowing I do not have the money to take them to court and press the issue.

  14. Interesting. You’re living in a rental yet you own a plasma tv and high end cable tv products/services. And we wonder why our country is in the shape it is…

  15. I suspect you don’t live in a major metro area – there’s no stigma to renting here and you may not be able to draw the conclusion you’re trying to. But you might want to re-read the post and comments. I sold my home in 2005 (at the peek, for a nice profit) and am awaiting the housing market to bottom out before rejoining. Not to mention, I carry zero debt – not a single loan, no credit card balances. So, I guess my conservative spending habits and living well within my means could indeed make me a problem for the economy.

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