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Charter digital conversion, the end of cable?
April 28, 2014 6:47 PM   Subscribe

We just received notice (so far just an automated phone message) that Charter is switching to 100% digital signal on their cable TV system, and as a result we would be required to get a cable box. Now, part of Charter's signal is on analog channels, and part is on digital, and the tuner in our TV can locate them all. Does tis mean that post-conversion all the channels will be beyond the range of the tuner in our recent-vintage LG TV? We have the 3-way bundle with Charter for phone, broadband internet, and cable TV all at their lowest level of service, the TV is called "Basic cable." I understand they are phasing this in, so I'm wondering if someone who already has experienced this could comment on what was the result.

We also have a Roku box and a media computer attached via HDMI to the TV, and WIFI to the internet router. Charter seems to be charging $30 to install the cable box, and a rental of $6/month. Is there any way for us to continue to get cable TV without these additional charges? AT&T U-verse has not made it out as far as us yet, but I understand that Dish TV might be an alternative. If we cancel the TV part of our bundle will we be able to afford the alternative service? Thanks for your help!
posted by ackptui to Technology (9 answers total)
 
Now, part of Charter's signal is on analog channels, and part is on digital, and the tuner in our TV can locate them all. Does tis mean that post-conversion all the channels will be beyond the range of the tuner in our recent-vintage LG TV?

Yep. You might get a couple of home shopping channels and the riveting stuff from your local government service channels, but that's it. Here's a discussion of what happened in another Charter market when they switched over last year. It allowed them to take out some of the signal filters that they were using for customers who don't pay for TV service because it's encrypted right down to the cable box. You'll also lose any Clear QAM digital channels that you might currently be able to receive, since the FCC gave cable companies the green light to encrypt them last year.

If you already had a media box like a TiVo with a CableCARD slot, then you'd be able to use it with a smaller tuning adapter, and it might be worth it, but you don't, so it isn't. If your TV has a CableCARD slot (not common) it might be worth investigating that option. You might also want to tell Charter that you're considering dropping their service entirely and see if their retention people give you a deal on the box install and perhaps the monthly rental fee.
posted by holgate at 7:11 PM on April 28


I'm not sure about whether you can actually buy a digital box on the market that would be able to pull in the channels. I have a feeling if you were to present a convincing argument or threat to leave with customer service you'd be able to get the 30 dollars waived and possibly a period of free box rental.

I do know more about why this is being done though. The problem with analog cable is that it takes up a lot more bandwidth than a digital signal. While it's convenient to have cable pipe right into your TV, it actually bogs down the amount of bandwidth that they can deliver to internet customers. It limits the number of channels they can offer customers. Of course the cable companies are around to provide TV so they have resisted this all digital change for as long as possible but the entire industry is going in this direction so Charter has to compete.

The thing to keep in mind is that you're really not getting all of the channels through your analog solution now. If you pay for the cable package, you'll be able to get a LOT more of the ones that are really available. If you're just buying cable for local channels, there's usually an option where you can get bare minimum local service with a few news channels for a much lower price. You won't get basic stuff like Comedy Central and Lifetime but maybe it's a possible trade off to offset the cost of renting the cable box.
posted by zero point zero at 7:18 PM on April 28


Just read Holgate's post. Makes a good point. You can probably get a TiVo box at Best Buy for a hundred dollars or so. Then you have to pay TiVo 13.00 a month though...and 2.00 per month for Charter to give you a cable card.

I'll preface this by saying that I personally like the TiVo product better, but I think that Charter offers up to 4 DVR boxes for 20.00/month so that could easily become cheaper than TiVo.
posted by zero point zero at 7:26 PM on April 28


If you're just buying cable for local channels, there's usually an option where you can get bare minimum local service with a few news channels for a much lower price.

Going "sub-basic" will probably lose one of the discounts you get from bundling services, and my guess is that it'd be a wash.
posted by holgate at 7:51 PM on April 28


Your understanding is correct - once the conversion to digital goes through, you will not get anything worthwhile without a cable box.

As to zero point zero's comment about TiVo, be forewarned - Charter's 'support' for cablecard and TiVo depends entirely on the technician you're talking to. I've had Charter representatives lie to me on the phone about what they were doing. Another technician pointed out that the best way to get anything done with them was to make the phone tech think they came up with the idea of how to fix it, even if you already know what the answer is. For 18 months, my cablecard would lose all the premium channels at the end of each month, and stay that way until Charter sent an activation hit to it. You will know better than anyone at Charter how to resolve the problems you encounter, and you will be frustrated because knowing the answer doesn't get the problem fixed.

(Is it obvious how much I despise Charter? Sadly I don't have another choice.)

Using TiVo also means no on-demand programming. From what I've heard, this is true for any third-party cable box, but I can only confirm the experience of cablecard+TiVo.
posted by neilbert at 8:44 PM on April 28


You know, another thing to think about. Charter does have an app where you can stream live TV. Not sure off hand about any Roku type box that would have the ability to use an app like this but if you have an odd TV in the kitchen that you'd like to have analog for, it's possible to replace it with an Ipad.
posted by zero point zero at 9:17 PM on April 28


> I've had Charter representatives lie to me ... the best way to get anything done with them was to make the phone tech think they came up with the idea of how to fix it ... You will know better than anyone at Charter how to resolve the problems you encounter, and you will be frustrated because knowing the answer doesn't get the problem fixed.

This is every cable/satellite/internet provider in the US, not just Charter. So don't feel unlucky, but don't get your hopes up either.
posted by contraption at 11:00 PM on April 28


I work for a cable company and we're planning to start our transition to all digital.

The future of the cable industry is in high speed data and VOD distribution. The profit margins on the actual television portion of the package is razor-sharp these days. By dropping analog services, cable companies can dedicate much more bandwidth and resources to HSD and VOD. Example: depending on how a company clamps bandwidth rates, they can roughly fit six HD services into the space that one analog channel occupies. It's an expensive process, but one that needs to be done if the company means to remain profitable.
posted by JimBJ9 at 3:53 AM on April 29


Yes, once they push the conversion, you will no longer be able to simply plug the coax into your tv and watch shows. You will need a box from now on.

Comcast did this to its subscribers a few years ago. As part of the migration, analog subscribers were given a free (as in no monthly charge) basic set-top box (not a DVR) for their main tv, and two digital adapters for other tv's in the home. Hopefully Charter does the same.

I should add that our picture has been shit ever since the digital transition. It was much nicer when it was analog. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:44 AM on April 29


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