Can you still buy a simple cable television setup?
September 11, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I need a really simple digital cable television setup for my elderly, easily confused parent.

My mother, suffering from dementia and easily confused, loves watching old movies on cable television. Unfortunately, the cablebox and television combination with zillion-button remote is causing her a lot of trouble. Her vision is poor and she tends to randomly push buttons on the remote, putting the setup into some weird state. Often too confused to call me for help she will instead grow bored, frustrated, and depressed. I live several hours away from her assisted living facility and, often, the first sign of trouble I know of is when she calls days later, crying, because "things are so terrible." So you can imagine that I'm motived to find something that works better than the current awful Comcast box.

I think the ideal setup would be a television that doesn't need a cable box at all and that is also compatible with one of those large-button, simplified remote controls. I use Cablecard on my Tivo but I can't seem to find any televisions that take Cablecards directly. Have they all gone away? Has something replaced it? Any recommendations would be appreciated.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Technology (11 answers total)
I know this sounds like a major step in the complicated direction, but: internet. I turned my grandma onto streaming video a while back, and she's just been loving it. She can catch up on her "stories" on, and watch Dancing with the Stars and America's Got Talent on hulu. I made very simplified direct-from-her-desktop links to those pages, so she doesn't have to do much work to get there. And every once in a while, I'll email her a few direct links to movies and shows I think she might be interested in. For her, "the internet" consists solely of streaming video and gmail (she knows how to click on desktop icons and links, but not much else) so she doesn't get sidetracked by any other computer stuff.

We recently got her a cheap webcam and introduced her to skype, which she doesn't understand at all but absolutely adores. If you decide to go the computer/internet direction, maybe your mom would enjoy the occasional video chat, too?

Also, my parents don't have digital cable. Whatever their setup is (through comcast), it's still the same old, boring, direct-line-to-the-back-of-the-set cable with one simple remote that we had 20 years ago. Maybe it was granfathered in? I don't know. Have you tried calling comcast and seeing if that option exists? You might have to ask to be transferred a billion times to get to someone who can help you. Just be patient and polite.
posted by phunniemee at 2:04 PM on September 11, 2011

Since she's on Comcast, ditch the horrible billion-button remote AND the giant set-top box.

Replace it with the tiny digital converter box that Comcast also provides. This comes with a regular tv remote. As long as she has a list of what channel her favorite networks are on, she should do just fine. The only downside (if you consider it a downside) is that the small digital converter box does not give you access to any OnDemand programming. It doesn't sound like she uses OnDemand anyway. It also does not provide the on-screen channel menu.

The digital converter box is a little larger than a pack of cards and sits on or near the tv. The remote that comes with it controls both the tv and the box.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:15 PM on September 11, 2011

Oh, I totally forgot: my boyfriend doesn't have digital cable either. His just comes streaming out of the wall in his building, and he runs a coax from the wall to his TV. His building is only 6 years old, so someone, somewhere is still selling non-box cable.

When you figure this out, please let us know. I haven't had a TV since I lived with my parents, so never learned how the cable box works. Every time I go to a friend's and have to futz with their ten thousand remotes just to turn on the news, I shut down. If I ever have a TV in the future, I would really prefer not to deal with the box.
posted by phunniemee at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2011

one thing we did was to simply delete the hundreds of channels my grandmother didn't use. she was thrilled to just use the up and down buttons on the remote to navigate only the channels she watches.
posted by ilk at 2:28 PM on September 11, 2011

The digital converter box referenced by Thorzdad does not allow access to Turner Classic Movies or the Encore movie stations, which are the main ones that seem to carry old movies.
posted by sacrifix at 3:10 PM on September 11, 2011

The digital converter box referenced by Thorzdad does not allow access to Turner Classic Movies or the Encore movie stations, which are the main ones that seem to carry old movies.

I have two such digital converter boxes in my house, and they both get Turner Classic Movies. TCM is part of the basic digital package (at least in my area)

Encore is an extra-cost channel (like HBO)
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 PM on September 11, 2011

I am with Thorzdad. My dad has a similar problem. That box is also free from Comcast. (If they don't know which one you are describing just tell them you want the free one.) It has one advantage over regular cable boxes with the simple remote, it never turns off but it doesn't look like it is on or off. It also comes with a little remote sensor so you can hide the cable box. My father gets frustrated when the simple remote somehow fails to shut off both the cable box and the tv. He then unplugs the one that didn't shut off, or sometimes the tv and cable box get out of sync such that a press of the power button turns one on and one off. That never happens with the free comcast box. However, you do lose HD, some channels (or many depending on what level of service you had before) and the on-screen program guide. When the dementia advances that guide is useless and they really don't miss the rest of it. I wish the cable companies would just let us install cable cards into the tvs so that you don't need a separate cable box. One thing to check with the free comcast box, there are some tv models with which the remote will not sync. Since the box is free (you get two if you would like) it doesn't hurt to try it for an existing tv. If you are in the market for a tv also you might want to check its compatibility.
posted by caddis at 5:14 PM on September 11, 2011

Here is a description of the box that Thorzdad is talking about. It is called the Digital Transport Adaptor.
posted by caddis at 5:26 PM on September 11, 2011

Is she at a point in her dementia where she clearly recognizes the movies she watches and remembers what she just watched? If she has gone slightly beyond this point, why noy give her a dvd player and four or five movies on dvd. Perhaps someone on staff could change them periodically and you could bring her new ones whenever you came to visit. I work in hospice and several of my dementia patients have enjoyed old movies but not remembered what they just watched. They are happy to have the comfort of an old familiar movie and happy to play it over and over again.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:28 PM on September 11, 2011

Let me rephrase, then: The digital converter box referenced by Thorzdad does not allow access to Turner Classic Movies or the Encore movie stations in California, where I live and work for the company. There are differences in channel lineups in different states/locales and it would be best to check with her cable provider to make sure that the DTA is an option that would fit her needs.
posted by sacrifix at 11:14 AM on September 12, 2011

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