How to get Comcast and Tivo to work together?
March 30, 2013 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I have a Tivo Premiere. I have Comcast. How do I avoid throwing my TV out the window in frustration?

About once a week I'll turn on HBO and see a message that that channel is not authorized. It is authorized, so I call Comcast, spend 10 minutes dealing with their customer service line, they send a signal to my Tivo's cable card, and within an hour HBO is working properly... for a while.

Last week I called Comcast and got it temporarily fixed through the phone menus. I dialed the usual Comcast number, followed the prompts, and was given an option along the lines of "If you are seeing an error message that the channel is not authorized, press 3." I pressed it, Comcast did something, and HBO clicked on immediately. I didn't have to deal with their customer service and the results were instant.

This happens with a few other channels, as well. Sometimes I sit down to watch several day's worth of shows and find that none of them have been recorded because of that issue. This is annoying.

My questions:
1. Who's fault is this? Tivo's? Comcast's? Mine?
2. How can I stop this from happening?
3. If I can't stop it, how can I get back to that phone menu? The customer service people couldn't help when I asked.
posted by The corpse in the library to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have series 3 units with CableCARDs. Once every few months I have to reboot them to reinitialize the cards and one Tivo seems more susceptible to it than the other.

Have you spoken with Tivo's CableCARD support hotline?
posted by dknott123 at 9:31 AM on March 30, 2013

FWIW, I have a Tivo HD Series 2 (ie, 2008 era) with a dual tuner CableCard from Comcast and it's worked perfectly, never had a problem. To put it mildly, I'm surprised it works so well.
posted by Nelson at 9:41 AM on March 30, 2013

Best answer: If ever you are considering the possible causes of pain when it comes to Cable TV, CableCards should always be the first thing you blame. As far as I can tell, they are made by chimpanzees and assembled during electrical storms. Seriously, they are one of the most flakey bits of technology you're ever going to run across.

So, the absolute first thing I would do would be to ask Comcast to replace your CableCard; it may just be that you have a bad one. Of course, to paraphrase a famous saying: Some people, when confronted with a Cable TV problem, think "I know, I'll call Comcast." Now they have two problems.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:18 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: +1 on replacing the Cable Cards. I've had TiVos with Cable Cards since the Series 3 was very first introduced (2006), most of that time on Comcast. I currently have four TiVos with Cable Cards. Getting them initially set up can be a pain depending on how clueful the person you talk to is, but once they're set up, they have pretty much been rock solid for me. So it certainly is possible. The only exception is that twice I've had cards that wouldn't pair correctly no matter what we did, and replacing them fixed the problem both times.
posted by primethyme at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2013

Does the unit have more than one cable card in it? If it does and they both go out at the same time, I would definitely blame Comcast. It seems to me that they have many, many computer systems that all need to be in sync for your service to work properly. And most of their customer service people don't know how to do this.

My experience is that if you keep fighting, it will eventually go away and nobody will be able to tell you what happened.
posted by gjc at 3:50 PM on March 30, 2013

Best answer: Yup, you want a new CableCARD. It's a Comcast problem, especially with premium channels like HBO. Since Comcast still has a few local offices, I recommend ripping the card out of your Premier, trundling it down to the local Comcast location, and asking to exchange it. The process should take about 10 minutes for the swap and, as a bonus, you'll probably get activation instructions on a piece of paper. The same number you use for activation may get you back to the automated reset menu. If replacing the card doesn't help, you may have a bad segment of cable that is interfering with the card's ability to receive data from the cable company. Do you have a whole pile of splitters or some 40-year-old coax in the mix here? It's unlikely, but possible.

Long and boring technical explanation: CableCARDs can operate in two modes, authorized and paired. If a channel is merely encrypted but does not have a copy-protection flag set, it can be viewed by an authorized CableCARD. Authorized cards have received an initial decryption key from the cable company and are able to "listen" for new decryption keys that come down the wire, but cards operating in that mode do not care what device they are in. Paired cards care what device they are in and have actively exchanged information with the host device--the host being your TiVo--about the serial number of the slot and of the overall host device. In order to prevent eeeevil piracy, channels that are copy-flagged, such as HBO, must be viewed with a paired card so that you can't move your CableCARD to another device and save off the digital stream for easy uploading to the tubes. Pairing can be finicky at best and is downright obnoxious at worst because if the paired card misses even one decryption key update it becomes unpaired. That's what Comcast is doing: sending the new decryption key and request for pairing to your CableCARD so that the card essentially resets itself and does the pair sequence again. It's also why you notice it most on HBO. If you want to see the gritty technical details of your card's status from an interface that closely resembles a Commodore 64, TiVo has a page for that.
posted by fireoyster at 1:29 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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