But ... but ... my soaps!!!
March 28, 2010 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Digital transition redux woes...

I have an Insignia HDTV hooked up directly to Comcast cable here in DC (no box) and Comcast has switched many of the channels (from ClearQAM, I guess) to requiring a "digital device". I have no interest in paying Comcast for any sort of subscription plan. Are they obligated to give me the requisite digital adapters even though I'm only an internet access subscriber? (Probably not, even though they rebroadcast the local free-to-air channels). If they aren't, what is the cheapest way to acquire any necessary "digital device" and connect it to my TV via composite, component, or HDMI cable? Assume I'm a total dumbass starting with zero knowledge and only a length of live cable and a POS Insignia LCD HDTV.

Anon because I'm not sure how legal this is.
posted by anonymous to Technology (8 answers total)
My guess is that the digital device would be either a set top box or cable card (a thing that plugs into your Tivo or TV). You'd get those from Comcast, and they're probably not going to give it up without paying for a subscription. Comcast probably did this on purpose to get more subscribers. Yes, they're bastards like that.

Failing that, you could set up something like Boxee to watch Hulu on your TV. Or you could buy a decent antenna for your TV, since it's over the air stuff anyway.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:32 PM on March 28, 2010

Wait, so before now you get cable by hooking up your internet line to your tv?

In essence, you're trying to steal cable then. If you have no qualms about that, just torrent stuff.

Don't get me wrong, all cable companies charge outrageous prices for their subscription plans, but that's the way the world works. You want cable, you have to pay for it or be a pirate.

They changed their service so you need a cable card or cable box provided by them.

I'm not sure why it makes them bastards that they don't want to provide a service for free, mccarty.tim.
posted by royalsong at 8:08 PM on March 28, 2010

If you just want to watch over the air channels and aren't trying to get free cable, you should just need an antenna. I'd imagine your LCD TV, even if it's a POS has a digital tuner built in, so you can skip the digital converter box and just get the physical antenna.
posted by ishotjr at 9:16 PM on March 28, 2010

Depending on where you are in DC you should be able to get good, if not excellent reception with an antenna (the exception is being on the wrong side of a big building). In our old place in Columbia Heights I had access to the roof and I was able to pick up all the DC stations and a few from Baltimore with a basic, omnidirectional, rooftop antenna. We've moved to Petworth and in the process lost channel 50 and all the Baltimore stations because the antenna would have to aim through the building and it's just not that good (I don't think any antenna could get through all that masonry).

As for the cable service: I'm not exactly sure what plan you have with Comcast. The legal landscape surrounding retransmission is confusing and contradictory: basically any cable company that retransmits a local broadcast station is required to do so "in the clear" (AKA "Clear QAM"), unless the cable company and the broadcast station have some other agreement that means they don't. Seriously, the law is that weird. They're required to, unless they have a contract in which either party has said otherwise.

So! Figuring out what this means for one's own local stations involves delving into what the various parties' PR and legal people will tell you about the contracts (usually nothing). Often the cable companies will keep local stations in Clear QAM just to avoid PR hassles, even if they have contracts that let them turn encryption on. What seems to happen with alarming frequency, though (judging by TiVo and other DVR forums), is that the cable companies will change QAM channel allocations for various reasons, and you'll have to perform a new scan to pick up the new assignments.

All of that is a long-winded way to say: if it worked and now it doesn't, tell your TV to do a new channel scan. For some devices you might have to do a second scan immediately after the first. If after that you still don't have anything, wait a few days and try again. But also you could just go buy an antenna. They work wonders.
posted by fedward at 9:33 PM on March 28, 2010

So, none of the channels are coming-through to your set now? It would appear, then, that Comcast has completed their full-digital conversion in DC. As you know, before this, you could get Comcast's basic analog channels alongside your internet service, simply by plugging the coax into your tv. No box needed. Here in Muncie, we can still get the analog service, though Comcast is eventually moving everyone to full-digital.

Anywho, if Comcast has, indeed, rolled full-digital in DC, you have no option but to purchase a subscription. Fwiw, if all you want is your locals, they have an extremely limited basic-channel package that they go to great pains to keep secret. You won't find it advertised on their website. If you beg them hard enough, you might be able to coax it out from them.

Otoh, if all you want are your locals, get an antenna.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:37 AM on March 29, 2010

So, where I am is one of the Comcast test markets for the full "digital experience", which as near as I can tell, means I have the same cable experience I had in 1983, complete with setting the TV/VCR to channel 3.

Regardless, here's how it works here:
- All channels below 32 are broadcast clear in standard def. This includes the majors, public access, a half dozen shopping channels and a couple of Spanish language.
- The majors are also broadcast in HD (presumably QAM).
- As part of the enforced switch to digital, Comcast provided 2 DTA boxes and 1 full settop box. Additionally, I was able to keep my analog pricing (which at the time was a few bucks cheaper than digital).

After a few months of "the digital experience", we decided enough was enough and dropped our service to the lowest level possible.
So, now, we have:
- No boxes.
- Channels 2-32 in analog.
- HD for the majors.
- We are no longer grandfathered in, so if we ever decide for more channels again, we're stuck on the digital plan.

With Comcast's $10 TV plan credit for Internet subscribers, TV costs us about $3. I know you said you don't want a subscription plan, but for us, it's worth it to not have to mess with antennas and the like, especially since I'd likely need two externals to get the same channels I get from Comcast.
posted by madajb at 9:08 AM on March 29, 2010

Fwiw, if all you want is your locals, they have an extremely limited basic-channel package that they go to great pains to keep secret. You won't find it advertised on their website.

Maybe back in the bad old days, but this is the new exciting Xfinity!
It's on Comcast's site for $15/month in D.C. which is curiously $2 more than it is where I am.
posted by madajb at 9:12 AM on March 29, 2010

I live in DC, and have a digital antenna & converter box that I am no longer using. If you MeFi Mail me I would be happy to give them to you. I promise not to tell anyone which stories you watch.
posted by OmieWise at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2010

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