New cable box?
May 15, 2007 7:13 PM   Subscribe

I subscribe to Comcast digital cable and I'm interested in getting some HD programming for my HDTV: the problem is that my cable box is not capable of supporting HD. I would like to get a new box that can transmit an HD signal to my TV, but I don't want to rent one. Can anyone tell me where to find out which boxes are supported and where best to buy one?

I've tried to find information on Comcast's website, but I'm having some difficulty. It seems that they want me to rent their cable box, but I figure it will be cheaper in the long run for me to buy my own. If it helps, I live in Colorado Springs, area code 80920, and Comcast just moved into the area. My old box from Adelphia still works fine, but as mentioned, it doesn't support HD. Any ideas on which one I should buy and where to get it? Thanks!
posted by Aanidaani to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If your TV has a QAM tuner (or possibly a different name) you can get HD over the air with regular rabbit ears.
posted by rhizome at 7:22 PM on May 15, 2007

Best answer: If your display is recent (last year or two) and was sold to you as a "television" (not just a monitor like you'd use with a PC) then it has a tuner in it. The FCC mandates that that tuner receive over-the-air (OTA) digital TV signals.

Now, there are two different kinds of digital signals that that tuner might be able to get: ATSC and QAM.

Assuming that you do in fact have a "TV" and not a monitor, then your TV has an ATSC tuner (note correction of what rhizome said incorrectly above) and you CAN get absolutely gorgeous HD over the air with regular rabbit ears. However, in my experience, you'll need an attic antenna to get ALL of the HD stations transmitting in your market, but rabbit ears will at least get you some.

If your TV then also has a QAM tuner (check the specs in the manual) then you can get FREE HD stations from your basic cable feed. YOU BYPASS THE CABLE BOX (try splitting it) and run the cable straight into the TV.

It's complicated but hang with it, it's pretty great once you get it working. I just got all the OTA HDs working on my new set this weekend.
posted by intermod at 7:41 PM on May 15, 2007

We have an HD tv with a QAM tuner and Comcast, but no digital cable. We get precisely four HD channels, ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS (and the PBS HD programming is different than the regular programming, what is up with that sh*t?) Perhaps digital cable would give us all those other channels, but I somehow doubt it. I think they come in scrambled. It is worth the op trying though. This does mean no scrambled channels though, like HBO etc, but we don't pay for those anyway.
posted by caddis at 8:02 PM on May 15, 2007

You can't get off brand ASTB's at this point. The digital encryption is built into the box.

you're going to have to wait until CableCARD technology comes out to use 3rd party boxes.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:09 PM on May 15, 2007

does your TV have a CableCard slot? many new ones have them. if yours does, call up comcast and tell them you want a CableCard. then, you just shove it in 'er (your TV may need some configuration, or you may need to call and activate it). you can definitely get the OTA stuff with just a set of rabbit ears - in Memphis, TN that actually seems to work pretty good - but you won't get any premium channels (like any sports or movie channels you're paying for) w/out the cablecard. AFAIK, you're supposed to be able to get one for free. (check the various TiVo forums for more info.)

if your TV doesn't have a cablecard slot, then I'm not sure what other options you have. the new Series3 TiVo has an HD tuner built in (2 of 'em, actually) but it's real expensive - $800 for the box, and you need two CableCards to get both tuners recording, but then you get a nice DVR with it. you might also try calling them and asking, but (given the service I've gotten out here, where Comcast took over the incumbent) they probably won't tell you much.

if you go the CableCard route, be aware that most of the cable operators in the US use the 1.2(?) cards, which means you won't get any on-demand content. there's a new CableCard 2 standard that's supposed to let you do that, but I dunno if you can get new cards from anywhere.
posted by mrg at 8:09 PM on May 15, 2007

Actually once cable cards come out you won't need a cable box
posted by bitdamaged at 8:10 PM on May 15, 2007

We have HDTV from Comcast, so maybe I can shed some light on how it worked for us.

When we first got the HDTV (it was a gift), we didn't bother with HD cable, we just used a QAM tuner to watch the channels we could get over the air - the four you named - and watched the other channels on our digital cable service. The cable box that you get from Comcast with plain digital cable is not capable of showing HD, so even if you got digital cable you still wouldn't have access to the HD programming.

We loved the quality of the HD signal, but got sick of the intermittent over-the-air reception and decided to upgrade to an HD-capable cable box.

We added HD service to the bill, which comes down to $6.95/month extra - on top of what we were paying for digital cable. That includes the HD-capable cable box and the HD-quality "feed" from Comcast. All we did to effect the switch was to take our old cable box to the Comcast office closest to us, and they gave us an HD-ready replacement. Note that just having an HD-ready cable box didn't do it, they had to switch our feed to be HD ready too. We now have access to about 16 channels in HD, inclusive of the four you named. They have added two new ones in the last few months, though.

If you subscribe to a premium channel and have HD service, you get the HD signal for that channel as well. I don't know how that would work with a de-scrambler though. They also preview the premium channels in HD about every quarter for a weekend to entice you to buy.

The cost structure is pretty well spelled out on their site, I thought. You just have to use Internet Explorer to be able to navigate. If you visit in Firefox, none of the navigation buttons work correctly.

Feel free to ask if you think I can answer a specific question. Good luck!
posted by gemmy at 8:35 PM on May 15, 2007

doh. By the "four you named" I meant, by the "four caddis named".

Short answer is that you could buy an HD ready cable box for yourself, but you would still have to pay the 6.95/month for the HD signal from Comcast. Since the HD-capable cable box is free with that subscription, you might as well "rent" it from them instead of trying to buy one.

/reminds self not to post when tired...
posted by gemmy at 8:52 PM on May 15, 2007

Best answer: There are cable card using third party boxes, but as far as I know they're all DVRs. I love my TiVo Series3. It won't really be cheaper in the long run, though, unless you consider 8 years to be a reasonable amount of time to recoup the investment.

In cable boxes (at least ones that are also DVRs!), it all comes down to what you like best and how much money you're willing to shell out for it.

Cox is kind enough to throw in HD for free with your regular cable subscription. If you subscribe to basic, you get the broadcast nets in HD, if you subscribe to expanded basic, you get the Discovery HD, TNTHD, etc.. If you pay for the premiums, you get the HD versions as well, at least for the ones they carry.

What you get really depends on your location. For what it's worth, Comcast's HD lineup appears to be more anemic than Cox's in Tulsa (which I didn't think was possible!) You would get all the broadcast nets in HD (which you may or may not be able to do over the air in your particular location) and MOJO, TNTHD, ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, and HBO/Showtime/Starz in HD if you subscribe to them.

One thing you will miss out on with CableCARDs instead of their box is onDemand. I understand that Comcast (unlike Cox), has some HD programming on their onDemand service.

Generally speaking, you'll need a CableCARD or a box (or a box with a CableCARD) to get anything but the broadcast nets from the cable line, even if your TV set does have a QAM tuner, as almost all cable companies encrypt those channels to prevent people who don't subscribe to expanded basic from getting them.

Really, your options for HD boil down to the following, presuming your TV has QAM and ATSC tuners:

1) Get something like this indoor antenna (a rebranded Terk, this one is pretty good for an indoor antenna) or an oudoor antenna and try to get HD over the air. Given how hilly Colorado Springs is, you may not be able to get all the channels in the market over the air, although there is a chance.

2) Plug the cable line directly into your TV and do a channel scan and see if you can receive the broadcast networks from Comcast.

2) Get a Series3 and a couple of CableCARDs from Comcast and continue using cable, although paying them more money each month, both for the HD service and the CableCARDs. This will get you all the HD channels that Comcast carries, plus whatever broadcast nets they carry. You can also hook up an OTA antenna to it if there's something you can get over the air that Comcast doesn't carry.

3) Rent an HD box or HD-DVR from Comcast. This gets you the ability to watch pay per view without calling an order in (or ordering online) and the ability to use onDemand, which in some Comcast markets has some programs available in HD.

4) Switch to satellite and enjoy the reduced resolution psuedo-HD (still better than SD by a long shot!), but have more money in your wallet at the end of the month.

Check and enter your address to see what kind of antenna they think you'll need to get the various stations in your area. Obviously, if there is a mountain between you and the transmitter, no antenna will get you anything. ;)

Personally, I have OTA, a Series 3, and Cox's HD-DVR, although I'm going to get rid of Cox's box at some point, as I'd like to save the $15 a month it costs me. Comcast gives the first one away for free, as I understand it. Similarly, you get one free CableCARD, as long as you don't take a box from them.
posted by wierdo at 10:09 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Comcast is required to give you a digital box if you ask for one. They charge $5 a month, and although you didnt want to rent one, this seems reasonable. If you have a Mac you are in luck because they are HD ready.
posted by DudeAsInCool at 10:20 PM on May 15, 2007

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