September 25, 2004 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Once upon a time, there was a young(ish) girl who had a cable box, a tivo box, a VCR, and a televison that played together quite nicely. She could record one channel on the Tivo, and watch a different channel, AT THE SAME TIME. Then one day the evil cable company convinced this girl to upgrade to digital service, and now, alas, she cannot figure out how to recreate this lost paradise. Why (oh why!) is this scenario no longer so? Can anyone answer her call of distress? [For we have to get ourselves back to the garrr-r-den!]

Seriously, any ideas? 'Cause this really BLOWS.
posted by lilboo to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
You need 1 decoder/decrypter per channel being viewed, that's your problem. It's a physical limitation of encrypted signals, and also of the fact that the digital signal requires a (moderately) expensive MPEG-2 decoder to decode.

Since your cable is encrypted, now the cable company can tell you're using it "twice as much".

Modern television went through this RIAA-ization a long time ago, I'm surprised you've been lucky enough to avoid it up to now.
posted by shepd at 7:33 PM on September 25, 2004

You could switch to a dish service that provides a TiVo with two tuners.

If you have a lot of money burning a hole in your pocket.
posted by bcwinters at 7:35 PM on September 25, 2004

Have you determined that none of the channels work without the cable box? I have digital cable but if I split the signal before the cable box and pipe it directly to the tv then I actually get channels (basicly the basic cable tier of channels). You miss out on all the digital cable gems like BBC America and in my case some of the channels are on different channel numbers) but the scenerio you describe does work for me.
posted by mmascolino at 8:37 PM on September 25, 2004

This happened to me, too, though apparently solely based on location rather than switching to digital (because I've never had digital cable, either here or elsewhere). Everywhere I've ever lived before L.A. -- St. Louis, Chicago, Iowa City -- I was able to watch one channel and record another at the same time. Then I moved to L.A. a few years ago and got cable (since abandoned, though mainly for budgetary reasons), and they're all like, "what? Watch one channel and record another? Modern science cannot operate at such speeds, woman!" Everyone I've spoken to in L.A. with cable has the exact same problem, regardless of provider or whether or not they've got digital.
posted by scody at 8:57 PM on September 25, 2004

Try mmascolino's suggestion: get a cable splitter, split before the cable box, and see if either your TV or your TIVO can tune anything off the pre-cable-box line. I have Cox Cable here, south of LA, and we don't even have a cable box. Just a circa-98 Panasonic TV and a cheap, old Toshiba VCR. Both of them get a bunch of channels. Hell, we even have a nasty old 80's RCA TV and that gets some channels.
I'm pretty sure it's digital cable...we have a cable modem for internet access...that's digital, right? And I know we had digital from Time Warner when we lived a few miles away. We had the box and everything, but the old RCA could still tune stuff directly off the wire, with no cable box.
posted by spacewrench at 10:15 PM on September 25, 2004

Can you just tell your cable provider that you have a TV in another room? Then you'd have one tuner for the TiVo and another for watching TV. They might charge you a bit more, but...

Alternately, with the TiVo you should be able to watch a show that's already been recorded while recording another one. That's a sucky solution if you have two shows you want to watch at the same time, but if you just want to be able to zip through commercials it's workable.
posted by willnot at 10:23 PM on September 25, 2004

The splitter thing worked for me, though I had to monkey with it when I switched from analog to digital cable. But don't give up, it should work!
posted by rushmc at 10:53 PM on September 25, 2004

You need a 1GHz splitter for digital cable or satellite. Nobody tells you that. They're $30 Canadian here. Get one with at least three ports (always assume future expansion).
posted by joeclark at 11:01 AM on September 26, 2004

Here's the deal. TVs for the most part come these days with cable tuners built into them. They don't however have digital cable tuners built into them. Get a cable splitter and split the cable as soon as it comes out of the wall. One split will go to your digital cable box (which will still be hooked up to your tivo and the tivo is still hooked up to your TV.) The other split will hook up to another jack in the back of your TV, if you have to, get a coax-to-RCA converter, or a coax-to-something else converter to do this. Now when the tivo is recording something (via the cable box) hit the VCR/TV button or Input botton, or something like that, on the TV. You are now controling the TV but not the tivo, while controling the TV you should be able to watch normal cable chanels but not digital cable chanels. This will solve half of the problem for you. Of course you cannot watch HBO when the tivo is recording ABC because HBO is a digital chanel for you, but you can watch ABC while your tivo is recording HBO.

Good luck.

posted by pwb503 at 3:02 PM on September 26, 2004

I'm not sure that the above responses made the problem clear. So I'll give it a whack.

Assume your cable company is just broadcasting all those digital channels as data over the cable just like they broadcast all those analog channels over the cable. (This isn't necessarily the case, but to keep things simple, assume this.)

As people say above, all your equipment—your TV, your VCR, your TiVo, etc—understand the analog signal on your cable, but they don't understand the digital signal. That's why the cable company gave you a digital cable box: it decodes the digital signal and sends it to your TV (in one of several ways). Unless you either get more digital cable decoder boxes from the cable company, or your other equipment is upgraded to decode a digital signal, you're not ever going to get more than one digital channel at a time...because you've only got one piece of equipment that understands how to decode the digital signal. Your cable box.

Now, the possibility of all your other equipment being upgraded to understand the digital signal is unlikely, because as far as I know, the digital signal and how the box deals with it are not standardized. So basically, aside from getting maybe another digital box from the cable company, you're not going to be able to get at more than one digital signal at a time.

However, depending upon how your cable company does things, all those analog tv channel signals that you are used to using from before are still there on your cable. So, like people said above, if you split your cable signal before it goes to the cable digital box, then you can do stuff with the analog signal the way you used to. But with you still wanting to use the digital signal, of course, the setup gets more complicated. There's a bazillion ways to go this, and I'd be happy to correspond with you via email and step you through it, depending upon how you use your equipment. (Meaning: do you want to TiVo the higher quality digital signal? Tape it? Is only watching the digital signal live on your TV good enough for you and tivoing and recording etc. with the analog? And so on.)

Finally, if you've got premium channels—that is, not special digital premium channels but the regular analog premium channels, like HBO (HBO and similar have a seperate digital channel(s), and, furthermore a seperate HDTV channel(s))—with your digital package your cable company should have made sure you can still get the analog versions of these premium channels. This usually means a filter (or decoder) on the line. If they're not paying attention or careless, or their policy is different, you may be paying for and getting your premium channels via your digital box, but the correct analog filters and stuff might not be installed on your line.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2004

Here's how I do mine:

I ihave comcast cable in brighton, massachusetts. I have a tivo, a digital cable box, a dvd player, and (duh) a television.

The cable that comes out of the wall jack is connected to the input of a cable splitter. The splitter has two outputs: one is connected to the television's "RF in," the other is connected to the digital cable box's "RF in." When I turn my TV on with only this much hooked up, I can get the "analog" stations, but not HBO or any of the digital stations, and nothing above 125.

I connect the "RF out" of my cable box to the RF input of my tivo. I then use the RCA output of the tivo and connect it using RCA cables to my television's Aux 1 input. Now, when I use the "input" button on my television and switch to AUX 1, I am watching my tivo, and my tivo is able to use all the digital channels such as HBO. If I start recording something with my Tivo, I can switch from Aux 1 to normal mode on my television and watch the analog stations while the tivo is still recording.

I also connect my dvd player to the Aux 2 input of my television, but that's beside the point.

Detailed information about this setup is here:
posted by mfbridges at 12:41 PM on September 27, 2004

Response by poster: I just want to say thanks to everyone that has responded here. I will not get to try any of this out until the weekend. So EB, you may not hear from me right away, but I may take you up on that offer...
posted by lilboo at 6:13 PM on September 27, 2004

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