I can has digital tv?
June 30, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Please hope me navigate our transition to Comcast digital...

We've been getting along just fine with our Comcast analog service for many years now. Call us silly, but we like the idea of not having STBs on every tv, and actually using the tuner that came with the tv.

But, last week, Comcast sent us the "Time to go digital or go dark" letter we knew was going to come eventually. Looks like we have till the end of September to switch. The letter gives us some choices and this is where I need my fellow MeFites help in making the best choices for our continued viewing pleasure. Forgive me if this gets a bit long

The letter from Comcast is pretty short. Basically, they are offering to send us up to 1 Digital Receiver and 2 Digital Adapters at no added monthly charge. But...I don't know which box I really need. Here's our current setup...

Our main tv is an old 32" Sony Wega. We casually channel-surf and watch the occasional Redbox dvd with it. That's it. We don't do HBO or On-Demand. And we have no interest in those. Our second tv is a smaller Sony in the bedroom. Something to fall asleep to.

As I said, we don't do HBO, Showtime, On-Demand, etc. Neither are we looking to get a new tv any time soon, so you can scratch HD, too. We don't really follow any shows so religiously that we would record them, so we really have no need for a dvr. As you can see, our needs are pretty darn simple.

The letter from Comcast also says that, if we choose to order a digital receiver, we will get their Digital Starter package at no added cost. I'm assuming by "digital receiver" they mean either of the devices they offer. But, the letter offers no guidance as to which type of box I really need. My gut says the smaller Digital Adapter might be the way to go, but I'm not sure. The letter from Comcast doesn't offer a bit of help in choosing. The only "feature" they mention that differentiates the two is that the Receiver give you On-Demand and the Interactive Program Guide. Woo-hoo.

As for the channels we watch more often...We like TCM, SyFy, our locals. We occasionally hit HG, Speed, Food, FX, TNT, ESPN, depending on what happens to be on. We DO like the idea that going digital will finally give us BBC America...hopefully. That depends on what tier we have to buy to get it. Which bring me to an additional question for my Indianapolis-based MeFites...

Can anyone in Indy tell me what the channel line-up is on the different digital tiers in Indy? The lists available on the Comcast website is horribly incomplete. For instance, none of the lists for Indy shows TCM on any digital tier. I know that has to be wrong.

So...Basically, I'm asking, Which of the two devices Comcast is offering me would be my best choice, based on our viewing habits? For those of you familiar with the two Comcast devices, does the Digital Adapter allow us to use our tv's tuner, or does it also require Comcast's hideous universal remote?

I'm going to peruse Comcast's site more to find more info, but I thought you guys would have better real-world experiences to offer, as opposed to the marketing hype of Comcast's site. I'm also looking at both Uverse and the dishes as options. But, that's a pretty confusing minefield for me.

Please, no AppleTV or similar such internet-based solutions. It's just not gonna happen, so let's not even go there. Also, OTA is not a feasible solution. We might be able to get three stations here, with a tall-enough tower. Not gonna happen, either.
posted by Thorzdad to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That is the only difference - guide and on-demand. I've got one DVR HD box, two plain digital boxes, and two digital adapters. The digital adapters are small boxes, maybe 4x6" and yes, they use the Comcast universal remote. I'm not sure why you dislike STBs, but we managed to get used to them. On demand is perfectly fine, there might be an old movie on there that you'd watch, or you can use it to watch shows you've missed without a DVR.
posted by fixedgear at 9:46 AM on June 30, 2010

You will have to use their remote unless your remote can be programmed to control their cable box.

I had the Digital Starter package for a while last year and it didn't come with On Demand at that time. You had to get at least Digital Basic to get On Demand. The Digital Starter package was very cheap and was mostly advertised to people who were on the cheapest analog package. I had a lot of trouble signing up for this package, as it seemed like all the CSRs I talked to had no idea what I was talking about. They all acted like I must be mistaken and talking about the Digital Basic package. Eventually I was able to sign up for the Digital Starter package but it took some work. I never had any luck finding out what channels I was supposed to get with the package. I had to call and talk to Customer Service four or five times to get anywhere close to the channels that I was supposed to get. Eventually they just ended up giving me a bunch of channels that were not listed as being included in the package (such as ESPN). The Digital Starter package will almost certainly not include ESPN, as ESPN is pretty much the most expensive channel to carry. It also did not include BBC. The Digital Basic package included a bunch more stuff and was not too expensive.
posted by jefeweiss at 10:05 AM on June 30, 2010

Ok I started writing an answer and it got really long and convoluted, so I'm re-writing to try to be clearer and more concise. Here goes:

1. I was, until earlier this month, a Comcast tech in the St. Paul market area, so I know the whole digital transition thing pretty well.
2. If you want anything more than local channels on any given TV, that TV will need a box of one sort or another.
3. The two sorts of boxes are DCTs and DTAs.
a. DCTs are Digital Conversion Terminals and can do all channels except high definition channels, they have a scrollable and interactive TV guide and they provide On Demand.
b. DTAs are Digital Transport Adapters. They can do the standard cable channels and that's it. Nothing from the preferred or premium lineups, no scrollable guide, no On Demand.
4. Both DCTs and DTAs require remotes, but they require different remotes. DTA remotes are smaller and black. You can not use your TV's tuner with Comcast digital, ever, even if you have a super-new LCD flatscreen that works with broadcast digital. Your TV sees what the box sends to it as channel 3 and that's it.
5. Comcast is pushing very hard for DCTs in every home, and one of the ways they're doing this is making it difficult to get a DTA if you don't have at least the digital starter package. So it is possible but difficult to have only DTAs in your home.
6. If you don't think the information online is accurate re: channel lineups, don't worry about it. DTAs can't get preferred/premium channels anyway, so if the channel you want isn't on starter, you're SOL on any given TV unless you get a DCT for it.

My recommendation?

Call up Comcast. Get two DTAs sent out to you. Make it clear that you don't want digital starter, you just want to get something as close to what you already have as is possible. If you decide you want the interactive TV guide or whatever, then ask for a DCT to be sent out to you.

Try to do it as a self-install kit first. If you can't make it work, bitch until they send someone out for free. Please do not bother asking the tech if "this is free": she or he does not know and has no control over what charges you get or don't get. The best way to guarantee anything is to go to the actual payment center for your market. Get it in writing.
posted by kavasa at 10:30 AM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Should have previewed: there are of course differences from market to market, as you can see from jefe's answer. I have never before heard of "digital basic" and digital starter, so far as I know, has always come with On Demand.
posted by kavasa at 10:32 AM on June 30, 2010

if you have a friend or neighbor who can go with you to the comcast office or talk to the comcast people on your behalf that might be helpful.

i have done this for people who dont speak "verizon wireless" and "cable company" before.
posted by sio42 at 10:39 AM on June 30, 2010

kavasa: "Should have previewed: there are of course differences from market to market, as you can see from jefe's answer. I have never before heard of "digital basic" and digital starter, so far as I know, has always come with On Demand."

I actually went back and got the real name of the package that I got. It was the Digital Economy Package. The only way that I heard about it is they revised some of their rates (I think they raised the rental rate for internet modems from $3 to $5 or something like that) and sent out a new rate card in the mail with my bill that listed the rates of all of the available services. I saw a bunch of packages on the rate card that they don't even list on their web page, this was one of the ones that was listed. I think it came to just around $50 a month to get that and the mid-tier internet service.

So the Starter package does come with On Demand and perhaps ESPN. I was mistaken about the name of the package that I got.
posted by jefeweiss at 5:40 PM on June 30, 2010

Here's the update...
The package Comcast put me in was something called Digital Starter, or something like that. In any case, it's essentially the same channels I got with my analog service, plus a few new ones. Nothing fancy.

We ended up with the big STB on our main tv, and two DTAs for the bedrooms. The STB is the OnDemand portal. According to Comcast, you cannot get just the DTAs. If you want DTAs, you have to also get an STB. Dunno why.

Activation of the STB was a huge ordeal and it took four days and two truck rolls to finally get everything working in our house. The second tech that came out was really good. He installed a line amplifier (no charge) and, after testing, put in a work order for someone to come out asap and work on the main feed for my end of the neighborhood. Apparently, the main signal was low throughout our area.

I hate the STB. It's clunky as hell and it acts like its in pain when you change a channel. I wish you could program it to skip channels (like I could program my tv when I had the analog cable running into it) You can only lock channels, but you still get their lock screens as you channel surf. You can't lock anything with the DTAs.

So, yay, I have digital cable. Big whoop.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:17 PM on October 15, 2010

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