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Television Media Businesses Technology

Are You Being Cheated by Digital Cable? 291

Posted by Zonk
from the every-bill dept.
Lauren Weinstein writes "Even though your cable company may claim that a channel is in a digital tier that you're paying for, they may be sending it to you in analog form, with associated negative effects. Surprise! Are You Being Cheated by Digital Cable? 'You're paying for digital, you should get digital. Outside of the lower video and audio quality that can be present on many analog feeds, third-party devices (like cableCARD TiVos) which could otherwise record a digital signal directly, will be forced to re-digitize an analog signal, with inevitable quality loss in the process. But how to know for sure if a channel is digital or analog as received?'"
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Are You Being Cheated by Digital Cable?

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  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:24PM (#20621719)
    and it doesn't surprise me ... I finally dumped cable because too many channels came in looking like fuzzy analog channels, even though they were supposed to be all digital.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by patrixmyth (167599)
      Lucky me, I know my cable is digital because instead of static, I get freeze frame, skipped frames, and cube shaped anomalies on the picture. I'd rather have a little static, please. As for the cable provided "DVR", I'd be better off with a programmable remote and a double deck VCR set on extended play recording. Why do I keep it? Actually, since moving and packing away my two Directivos, I have lots more time to read and don't find I really miss having 18 hours of programming recorded daily. If I REAL
      • by iocat (572367)
        My cable box outputs a totally clean, unscrambled signal via firewire. It's pretty cool, I guess it's used with some HDTVs (I use HDMI). Anyway, I use that signal sometimes to record stuff to PC. Analog stations come in at 640 x 480. HD comes in at 1900 x 1080 or whatever. SD digital comes in at some weird, non 4:3 resolution, like 512 x 480 -- basically they compress it horizontally and then expand it in the box. So it pretty much looks like shit compared to analog (non square pixels, etc).

        So, uh, I'd be

        • by jasonwea (598696) * on Sunday September 16, 2007 @06:08AM (#20624193) Homepage
          Non-square pixels are actually quite common. In PAL land 16:9 SD is transmitted as 576i (720x576 or 702x576). I'm guessing your SD feeds are 720x480 and need to be scaled to 16:9 (say 854x480 or similiar). This is quite normal for PAL/NTSC compatible feeds. (Again in PAL) there are other aspect ratios that are used on lower bitrate channels such as 544x576 and 480x576.

          If you are using something like VLC or mplayer (or even Media Player Classic on Windows), it shouldn't be too hard to get it to look right. Most feeds should have the MPEG aspect ratio flag set and it should Just Work. Otherwise you should be able to force the aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9) in your playback software.
    • by Maller (21311) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @11:05PM (#20621975)
      Why does everyone assume digital means better? In my experience "fuzziness" with cable is usually cause by horrible wiring (no grounding, split many times, etc.) within a house/apartment, not an inherently bad signal. Cable companies still have a significant portion of their customers using the analog signals because they either don't have digital cable or have more than one TV but don't want to have multiple cable boxes. Thus, the analog signals tend to be relatively clean. The purely digital channels, on the other hand, look to be encoded at such a low bitrate that one can easily see macroblocks continuously.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Slorv (841945)
        >Why does everyone assume digital means better?
        Mod parent up!
        However since digital is cheaper it will be preferred by the distributors regardless of quality.

        It's not unlike those digital thermometers, most people assumes they're more exact since they have numerical readout - wrong wrong wrong......
      • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:48AM (#20623529) Journal
        HDTV is actually better-looking TV (doesn't help the plot, unfortunately, except for sports channels where it really _is_ better when you can see the puck.) But Standard-Definition Digital TV isn't better than analog - it degrades differently with noise, but its primary advantage is that it's easier to put more channels on the cable using digital. The channels you get don't look better than the ones you get on analog, but the channels you didn't get on analog might look better in digital.
        • But Standard-Definition Digital TV isn't better than analog - it degrades differently with noise, but its primary advantage is that it's easier to put more channels on the cable using digital. The channels you get don't look better than the ones you get on analog, but the channels you didn't get on analog might look better in digital.

          Not true.
          If the transmitted program was recorded digitally, ie. recently, it does look better, and is mpeg2 standard (DVD) with bit rates up to 15 Mbs (thats the highest I've s

          • by ePhil_One (634771) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @08:22AM (#20624839) Journal

            But Standard-Definition Digital TV isn't better than analog

            Not true.

            Not True.

            I think what the grandparent was saying is its not neccessarily better

            . If the transmitted program was recorded digitally, ie. recently, it does look better, and is mpeg2 standard (DVD) with bit rates up to 15 Mbs (thats the highest I've seen so far).

            I'm sure that would look better. What if it were transmitted at 256 kbps instead? Would the quality still surpass a virgin dub from a high quality master onto broadcasters professional tapes (1/2" Beta as I recall)? No way in hell. And broadcasters I'm pretty sure don't generally use DVD's to store their material. So the bitrates you see on you DVD player are irrelevant. Actually, in general the quality of the source material is irrelevant. Yes, good tranmission won't help bad source material, nobody is arguing that. Assume pristine best case source material.

            Now think, does an CD (digital representation of an analog sound wave) or an MP3 (compressed digital represntation of an analog sound wave) sound better? At higher bandwiths the compression losses (MP3 is part of the MPEG2 standard, a "lossy" standard) become negligible, sure. But almost nobody argues it is better than the original source.

            Now lets think bandwidth. An analog signal consumes some amount of bandwidth (I think 38 Mbps). By compressing it via MPEG2, the cable company can now fit 7 (very good quality) to 12 (Ok quality) channels. With all the bandwidth pressure though (more channels, faster internet, HDTV), cable companies are being tempted to add even more channels in each slice, I've heard of up to 24 less popular digital channels being squeezed into 1 "analog" channel.

            So why is "digital" sold as cleaner? Interference. While a very clean signal is injected at the head end, By the time it runs through all the splitters, amplifiers, it can be very muddled. The benefit of digital assuming about 85% of the signal can be ressurected at the far end, and near ideal picture can be constructed. Problem is, at about 75% loss, no picture can be reconstructed. Analog pictures can yield usable content with much higher loss level (we used to what OU football games out of NYC (OTA) with maybe 40% of the signal surviving. A staticy mess, yes, but we knew what was happening on the field.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Lumpy (12016)
        100% correct. Comcast for example compresses the digital channels so hard they look like they are 480X480 and incredibly heavy compression. Comparing a show recorded on cable for a OTA HD station and the actual OTA signal shows heavy compression on the HD digital channels as well so they are even re-encoding the HD content.

        Around here anyone buying a HD set finds that SD digital cable ends up looking horrid. we actually set up their cable box to use composite to the Set and switch to that from the compone
  • Shocking? (Score:3, Funny)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:24PM (#20621721)
    Does this surprise anyone?
  • old news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zof888 (1149007)
    this message brought to you by direct TV and dish network, losing signal from thunder storms and tree branches for over a decade!!! Seriously this was news like a decade ago.
    • Re:old news (Score:4, Interesting)

      by plover (150551) * on Sunday September 16, 2007 @12:00AM (#20622317) Homepage Journal
      Your post reminded me of the stupid TV commercials from a while back that featured "humorous" do-it-yourself satellite installations gone awry: a dish balanced on the top of a bookshelf or duct-taped to a cinder block, a hole bored through a tree to improve reception, or featuring the same football game on every TV in the house. And satellite advertisements claiming their over-compressed digital signals were somehow magically better simply because they were digital.

      Both cable and satellite providers effectively called their viewers "idiots" with these spots, yet they continued to run them. I found their race to be the lowest common denominator personally offensive. (Almost like a political campaign.)

    • You know... I have Dish Network and the best location for the dish was on top my root but there's a huge ass tree blocking line of sight to the satellite. I have no problem with reception. It works fine in summer and winter (it's a deciduous tree).

      As a side note, I also have Time Warner for cable internet (plus analog TV). I've had equal amounts of down time with Time Warner (due to people tinkering with the line) as compared to satellite (during storms). Time Warner may be a hard line, but they don't me
  • Audio (Score:2, Informative)

    by thebear05 (916315)
    The point about audio is very important the digital picture quality does vary mine is somewhat close for sd programming but the audio quality that goes to a receiver from the digital channels vs the analog channels is night and day in my market some networks are digital some are analog and the difference is very noticeable. I assumed using optical or coax from my cable box to my receiver all the content would be at least digital stereo not only available through the rca jacks in an analog format.
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:39PM (#20621805) Homepage Journal
    We have cable (Tivo HD with 2 cableCards, plus an MCE for our XViD movies and playing DVDs) and we're transitioning away quickly. Our cable bill is ridiculous, and more often than not, we'll download torrents of shows we want to watch rather than wait for them to be recorded by the Tivo.

    Honestly, I'd rather pay a la carte for shows we like than deal with the cable mess. A la carte would mean better handling of their massive bandwidth, and a better distribution of proceeds for shows. No need for Nielsen when advertisers will know exactly who is buying what.

    I think we'd honestly pay $5 for a 30 minute show -- what does it cost in our time preference to sit down for 30 minutes? I'd pay less with ads. If we liked the show,we'd pay for an annual subscription -- giving shows the chance to continue even without massive ad-funding (see: Firefly).

    With our 8-12Mbps Comcast Internet (not oversold in our neighborhood, yet), we download moves quickly enough to make it worth the wait. If we like the movie, we'll buy it, but I have no problem reimbursing even without a physical medium to save it.

    I can't figure the TV distro system out, really. Sure, the powers-that-be are paying millions (or more) to keep the monopoly they have, but as the next generation ages, I'm sure the old system will hit the toilet, to be replaced by what? Hopefully more a la carte.
    • by evilviper (135110) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:59PM (#20621937) Journal

      I think we'd honestly pay $5 for a 30 minute show [...] I'd pay less with ads.

      A 30 minute show, without ads, is a 21 minute show.
      • by Adambomb (118938)
        so 3.5$?

        heh.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jim3e8 (458859)
      Transitioning to what? Illegal downloads? Cable is too expensive compared to simply stealing the stuff?

      What you're saying, I hope, is that for now you're willing to be behind on your shows, and you'll instead buy or rent entire seasons on DVD, or just stick to rented films, until legal downloads / a la carte cable becomes available. I'd suggest iTunes at well under your $5 an episode target, but I assume this is too low-quality for you.

      Or maybe you'll just steal it.
      • How about broadcast TV?
        • by jim3e8 (458859)
          You're right, that's certainly an option and if you can get HD broadcast, it'll probably look a lot better than cable anyway.

          It sounded like the parent poster watched non-broadcast channels, though.
        • If you live near a big city, you can probably get a decent number of HD channels over the air. I get about 10 and they all look 5 times better than any channel the cable company offers. Cable companies compress the hell out of their HD signals.
      • by Spazmania (174582)
        I transitioned from Cable to Netflix. Now I get my shows a season late but I watch them when *I* feel like it and I save at least $30 per month.
      • by glindsey (73730)
        If my Tivo records an episode of Heroes on NBC, and I fast-forward through all the commercials, how is this different from my downloading a torrent of the last episode of Heroes? Or if I watch a syndicated rerun of Stargate SG-1 on a broadcast station, again, how is this different from grabbing a torrent and watching it?

        If they're already providing the show to me for free, it shouldn't matter if I'm getting it for free via some other source. Maybe they can pull some legal bullshit about it being a "deriva
        • by jim3e8 (458859)
          Now if you're talking torrents of cable shows, then yeah, maybe there's an argument to be made. But otherwise you can just STFU about how grabbing a torrent of something that is already available for free is "stealing."

          In fact, I was talking about torrents of pay cable shows, and that is precisely the argument.

          Neither the parent nor I mentioned broadcast, and it's a safe assumption that if your cable bill is outrageous, you're not just watching local broadcast on it. And if you're already getting it for fr
          • by Mike89 (1006497)

            I'm not sure why you used Heroes, as it's a bad example--being not only available for free over broadcast, but even officially available online.
            Not anymore [nbc.com] - "Season One is no longer available online, but you can buy the DVD on August 28.
            But stay tuned... Season Two launches in September, on air and online!"
    • I think we'd honestly pay $5 for a 30 minute show

      I'd rather wait and buy the season box set that's mine to keep indefinitely for less than half that much a few months later: $5 x 24 eps/season = $120 while box sets often retail for less than $50.

      With our 8-12Mbps Comcast Internet (not oversold in our neighborhood, yet)

      If you knew the insides and outs of bandwidth oversubscription, you would know there is no such thing as non-oversubscribed bandwidth. Congestion between your modem and the head-end is easily

    • by Kjella (173770)
      I think we'd honestly pay $5 for a 30 minute show

      Currently there's Sanctuary [sanctuaryforall.com] which has 15 min webisodes (say 14 less intro, no ads, credits in pdf) which in bundles work out to about $3.30/21min content which is what you get in a 30 minute show. More like $4.50 if you want 30 mins of content, but then it's a 45-50 minute show.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by edwardpickman (965122)
      The down side of ala carte is there are no guarantees so it's a major risk to produce content. When they do a series say Firefly there's a major investment in just doing the first episode. Generally they can't repay the first episode with one showing so they do it by getting an 8 to 12 episode guarantee. If there's no guarantee of a return then they'll be hesitant to do a pilot let alone a season's worth. Without a guaranteed time slot they have to heavily advertise so people will even know about the show.
    • by Sancho (17056)

      I can't figure the TV distro system out, really. Sure, the powers-that-be are paying millions (or more) to keep the monopoly they have, but as the next generation ages, I'm sure the old system will hit the toilet, to be replaced by what? Hopefully more a la carte.

      Maybe it's because you have a poor grasp of math?

      I think we'd honestly pay $5 for a 30 minute show -- what does it cost in our time preference to sit down for 30 minutes? I'd pay less with ads. If we liked the show,we'd pay for an annual subscription -- giving shows the chance to continue even without massive ad-funding (see: Firefly).

      Your setup looks pretty high end--at least, it's HD and you have two CableCards. My assumption is that you watch quite a bit of TV.

      Most seasons are 22 episodes long. 22*$5 = $110. Assume 12 shows (the average American watches something like 4 hours of TV a day so this isn't unreasonable--in fact, it's probably lowballing it), and we're at $1440 per season.

      Around here, at least, the extended cable package (without premium channels like HBO) is around $60/

      • by Sancho (17056)
        Just rechecked my math, and I obviously got it wrong--it's $1320/season in my scenario. Apologies, but it really doesn't affect the discussion in this case.
  • On Comcast it's easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by kimvette (919543) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:41PM (#20621821) Homepage Journal
    On Comcast it's easy to tell analog from digital feeds: on digital cables the S/PDIF signal is present, on analog feeds it is not, so on the analog feeds I need to switch my audio receiver to use the line-level input instead of digital.
    • I'm puzzled by the story submission. One major selling point on the cable provider side is that digital saves bandwidth or allows them to push more channels down the cable. What would have been one analog channel can be partitioned to maybe four digital channels instead, and still get good quality. Digitizing an analog signal doesn't save any bandwidth.
      • No, but it saves money on reception equipment. Our local Charter cable (San Bernardino mountains to Victorville) receives the local channels over a bent-up set of rabbit ears, and then digitizes them for its 'digital cable' service. At least, that's what I've surmised from the snow and static in the signal for those stations.
      • by The Vulture (248871) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:02AM (#20623323) Homepage
        In a typical cable company office (I've been in a couple), you'll see rows upon rows of boxes that they use to receive the actual television signals from satellite (one per channel they receive). Most of these boxes are provided by the networks in question.

        Many of these boxes can only output the signal as analog (on a user-specified frequency, for arbitrary placement in the channel map), some of them are capable of outputting MPEG-2 data using ASI as the physical link. In order to cram multiple channels in one frequency, the MPEG-2 streams have to be changed (PID numbers must be changed to be non-duplicates, PAT and PMT packets need to be updated), then these MPEG-2 streams need to be muxed together and encoded into QAM.

        Seeing as this is an expensive process (that cable companies might not have planned for, especially in the case of smaller operators), I believe that many of them are waiting for the migration to MPEG-4, to get the most bang for the buck.

        -- Joe
  • I don't know about other places, but the cable company here compresses their digital channels so much that they look worse than cable analog channels (although better than over the air). Furthermore, it is much harder to record digital channels using cable card than it is to record analog channels using a plain old tuner.

    As far as I am concerned SDTV is just a means for the cable company to free up bandwidth for other purposes, not to provide better service. I could see pushing the cable company to ditch an
    • My wife and I just switched to digital from analog this week. We were taken in by the $25 for six months with HBO. I have to say, analog was better. Sometimes there is so much compression that it looks like a video game. I'm seriously upset.
  • Seriously, with Cox Cable (digital) in Phoenix, Arizona, I notice that at varying times during the day, certain channels are just not accessible,... for example, CNN or Comedy Central or some other channel, will just blank out completely for a couple of hours, then come back later. It's kind of hard to file a report on this, since you call them saying CNN doesn't work, and when they finally send somebody out, it's working again. I haven't complained too much since I don't really give a flying fark if I can'
  • Look at the noise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:49PM (#20621883) Homepage
    But how to know for sure if a channel is digital or analog as received?'

    Look at the noise characteristics. Analog and digital respond to noise differently. Digital pixilates and stutters but otherwise displays a perfect picture. Analog ghosts and snows.

    If you're not getting enough noise to tell the difference then smile and be happy because you have a better cable TV signal than most of the rest of us.

  • quality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:49PM (#20621887) Homepage
    I think the analog vs. digital argument is a bit off-target. The point isn't the type of signal, it's the quality. I've heard people complain about artifacting in their TV shows because cablecasters are using low bitrates or are cutting the S/N ratio too close. I'd much rather have a good analog signal to encode than a crappy digital signal even I could tap it directly.
  • How to know... (Score:5, Informative)

    by evilviper (135110) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:52PM (#20621901) Journal

    But how to know for sure if a channel is digital or analog as received?'"

    Begin unscrewing the coax cable from your cable box. As you very, very slowly pull it away, if the signal starts to fade/shows static/etc., it's certainly analog. If, instead, it suddenly goes from perfect, to black, it's digital. Also, in the latter case, it will probably start to show artifacts, perfectly square 16x16 pixel macroblocks that stand out in sharp contrast to the rest of the picture.

    • Also, in the latter case, it will probably start to show artifacts, perfectly square 16x16 pixel macroblocks that stand out in sharp contrast to the rest of the picture.

      You can't necessarily tell just from that -- I have analog cable (in fact, all my TVs are about 20 years old and I plug the coax directly into them without a cable box), but I still sometimes see digital noise because it was apparently introduced somewhere upstream before it hit the cable company.

  • Comcrap is moving all of the channels to digital in some area and if don't have a box you get the locals only.

    first they started to move some there Local channels on basic to digital forcing to pay for a lot of other digital channels that people may not want just to get what they used to get and now this crap.

    They want you pay per box or per cable card with little to no support for them.

    Just wait for Ipv6 they will likely only give you 1ip and make you pay more too hook up more then 1 system on a per ip fee
    • Use a Clear QAM tuner. You'll be able to get all stations on basic cable in digital, via your own tuner - not some cable box you have to rent.

      It serves well to get local channels in HD even if you don't have good OTA HD reception, and you get a number of other channels as well.

      You'll miss out on some premium content, like Discovery HD and other things. You can find other ways to get at those shows if you need to, from iTunes to torrents.
  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @11:07PM (#20621987) Homepage Journal
    I only wanted analog cable, because I have two Series2 TiVos, but I ended up getting digital cable because it's cheaper and still includes all the analog channels. (It's a promotional price, but I'm still saving $12/mo for N months.)

    When the promotion expires, the price is only $1/mo more than plain analog cable. At that point, I'll give back the cable box -- it isn't even hooked up, but Comcast insisted I take one -- and save a buck a month by going back to analog.

    See, when you sign up for digital cable, you're doing them a favor. They want you to have digital cable so that (1) you'll be tempted to buy On Demand movies, (2) you'll have to pay them to lease that godawful box, (3) you'll be tempted to pay for one of their DVRs because third-party ones don't fully work with the box(*), and (4) once everyone is a digital subscriber, they can switch off the analog feeds to free up bandwidth and sell you more services.

    (* Yes, there are DVRs that accept CableCards, but they're prohibitively expensive, you have to pay for the cards, and we've all heard how much trouble it is to get a CableCard installed correctly.)

    You're sure not helping yourself. Anyone who's ever used a cable box knows how much they blow. Changing channels is slow; and if you use a cable box with your own DVR, you can only record one channel at a time, your recordings will have cable-box banners all over them, and you'll have the ghettoest house on the block with that little infrared "blaster" dangling around.

    And what do you get in exchange for that hassle... marginally better picture quality? Maybe not even that, because you're just trading analog noise for MPEG artifacts and blocking. Even if you do get a better picture overall, how long will that stay exciting? A week? After that, you won't notice the picture quality, but you'll be dealing with the drawbacks of digital cable forever.
  • by BiggerBoat (690886) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @11:08PM (#20622007)
    I get so pissed off at compression artifacts (mosquito noise; banding; blocks in fast-moving, busy shots) that I think I'd *prefer* analog (this is probably a curse of too many years in video post-production where I was paid to notice problems in video). Back when I had analog cable, I almost never had the noise associated with over-the-air analog broadcasts, and of course I didn't have compression artifacts. Alas, that was a long time ago. It really annoys me when cable companies (and others) tout "digital quality!" as if that means anything by itself.

    In fact, this is why I haven't bought into HDTV yet -- if I spend a couple grand on a TV and extra per month for HD channels only to see compression artifacts in high resolution, something's getting sent through the front window.
    • Yes, DVD is convenient/etc. and I buy them aplenty. But the artifacts from the MPEG compression are sometimes simply teeth-gnashingly awful. Compare an S-VHS versus a DVD of movies with lots of water/ocean in them... Waterworld, Titanic, etc. I can nearly guarantee you that you'll prefer the S-VHS in terms of picture quality.. then hug the DVD because you can skip the awful, awful scenes (content-wise) in them.

      That said, I'm sure the content mastering teams are to blame there. There's more than enough bi
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MasterC (70492)

      In fact, this is why I haven't bought into HDTV yet -- if I spend a couple grand on a TV and extra per month for HD channels only to see compression artifacts in high resolution, something's getting sent through the front window.

      I "enjoy" going to Best Buy and the like to look at the TVs and laugh. With those giant screens you can really see the artifacting!

      Back in my Continuous Signals and Systems class, my professor said that a digital channel has less bandwidth than an analog channel. Granted, you can

  • My cable is my MOST expensive bill... and I don't even like TV! But my girl can't live without it so.... but in general I'd sum it up as ... su$$s service and features for MAXIMUM OUTLAY of cash. Hmm..... I wouldn't doubt this at all....
  • DirectTV has much, much higher quality feeds than my local Time Warner affiliate. Or go to a bar that has a DirecTV setup and compare it to your experience with cable -- in my area, the DirecTV signal is always better.
  • Here in DC Comcast doesn't keep any secrets: there's a range of analog channels, a range of digital channels, a range of HD channels, and so on. They're more than happy to let the customer which is which.
  • Antenna HD rocks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SlappyBastard (961143) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @11:41PM (#20622201) Homepage

    My antenna gives me what is really a wireless video stream of 19 Mb/s in MPEG-2.

    It's not like in the age of BitTorrent that you really need to be beholden to the cable companies, unless you have a real need for college football or MLB.

    Don't forget what uncle Milt Friedman taught us: people vote with their feet. If you don't like what the cable company is doing to you, get a dish, an antenna or just download the shit out of everything you want.

    Between my antenna and BT I'm pleased as punch paying practically nothing for the few TV programs I bother to watch. As long as the NFL stays on local TV, I could care less. And MY HD is just gorgeous.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      It's not like in the age of BitTorrent that you really need to be beholden to the cable companies, unless you have a real need for college football or MLB.
      ...because footballs and baseball bats are irregularly shaped, getting stuck in the tubes, clogging them, and so you don't get the internets people sent you for several days.
  • by teebob21 (947095) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @11:49PM (#20622237) Journal

    Disclaimer: As mentioned before, I do work for a cable company.

    Americans can get their traditional TV through a number of different providers, but it boils down to just a few methods of delivery: direct from the broadcasters over the air, from a satellite, via fiber owned by a telephone company, or via a hybrid fiber/coax network owned by a cable company. Of these options, cable providers are caught in the crossfire of regulatory demands and consumers who don't know enough about the technology itself to know what they really want. You never hear these complaints about satellite/FTTH (FiOS), only because the nature of their medium requires all digital transmission. But is 100% digital always "better" for the consumer? The answer is clearly no, not always.

    As I'll explain later, much of the FCC's time is spent regulating the coax providers to help the "smaller players". Really, now...AT&T and Verizon are small players? When will the FCC step in to help the smaller players in the landline voice business, such as Vonage and VOIP? (Hint: they won't.)

    Cable has been the incumbent for so long that they have become the Microsoft of TV. If there is any complaining to be done, lets complain about the cable company. But as I said, most consumers don't know what they are complaining about. Let's look at the ramifications if every cable company switched to 100% digital tomorrow...which seems to be to be what people want. Let's do a step by step breakdown:

    The infrastructure in most cable systems does not need a rebuild for digital, just a little headend work and some maintenence in the field to fix issues that will visibly affect digital but not analog (CPD, microreflections, etc...). So, BAM! Cable is all digital. What happens the next day?

    Firstly, ALL TV's without a digital tuner go dark. Great-aunt Maryrose and Gramma Clara turn on their perfectly good 1988 Zenith, and get static. They now have to go buy new TV's to use cable service, because consumers demanded digital transmission. In fact, this WILL happen when the OTA conversion happens in 2009, but OTA viewers may get subsidized boxes. (It will be interesting to see the FCC enforce the separable security statute with that one.) Cable companies get to eat the cost. In fact, this week the FCC guaranteed that cable companies eat the cost for an additional 3 years. They mandated that all cable providers (coax based only) provide a viewable analog OR digital signal to all subscribers until 2012. Linkage (pdf warning) [fcc.gov] It would be easier to comply by sticking with analog signals for the mandate, but customers (and the FCC) are demanding digital broadcast.

    "But wait," you say, "they can get a digital cable box and keep the older TV!" Well, sure, but then we get to hear about how the cable company is bleeding it's customers dry by charging for equipment. I call horseshit on this one. Cable companies charge an average $7.50 monthly lease fee for the box that costs them $300 upfront, plus maintenance and repair. In "only" 40 months of maintenance free operation of that box, the cable company breaks even. Yeah...that's certainly not what I would call milking the customer.

    "Why can't they use a third-party box, like a TiVO?" you might ask. They certainly can but to access encrypted channels, the box will need CableCards, the abomination of technology that they are. I work in the billing department and since they are authorized through our billing software, I support and troubleshoot CableCARDs on a daily basis. They have potential, and would work SO much better if manufacturers would standardize on a set of firmware...but I'm diverging from the point. Besides, the bigger question is "WHY DOESN'T ANYONE ELSE MAKE A 3RD PARTY BOX?!" Personally, I think there is not currently a market for cable boxes. How much money did TiVO lose last quarter [google.com]? Ah...only $17 million.

    • by jotok (728554)
      That all sounds very reasonable. I have a whole 'nother world of complaints about cable companies, though, so I'm going to continue to dick them over with every opportunity.

      What we need is true subscriber/a-la-carte programming. Can you explain to me why I have to pay $40 a month for cable...which then has advertisements? I'm pretty sure that we have the technology so that, say, if I JUST want to watch Stargate or Rome or South Park then I should be able to pay for specifically what I want. Hell, I woul
      • by teebob21 (947095)
        Fair enough! I agree, a-la-carte would be ideal. The technological implementation isn't too demanding (think Video on Demand). However, the challenge is getting content providers (ESPN/Discovery/Sci-Fi/Viacom) to agree to it at a cost that will not raise the subscriber's bill.
    • by skelly33 (891182) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @01:13AM (#20622699)
      While I can relate to the bulk of your post, I just wanted to touch on one thing you mentioned:

      Cable companies charge an average $7.50 monthly lease fee for the box that costs them $300 upfront

      Maybe I'm crazy, but after several decades and millions upon millions of cable boxes having been manufactured and distributed, they want us to believe that those things cost more than 40 bucks up front? That's hard to swallow. I work in an industry that requires the assembly of customized electronics equipment and while the prototypes might cost $10,000 or more, the mass produced units are ALWAYS less than a hundred bucks. I have a feeling the cable companies are doing just fine for themselves on that equipment lease fee.
      • by teebob21 (947095)
        Hey, I just tell it like it is. You DID make me think, though....Motorola's got to be making money hand over fist with all the kit we buy annually, especially with the 7/1/2007 separable security law in effect now.
    • by romiz (757548)
      "But wait," you say, "they can get a digital cable box and keep the older TV!" Well, sure, but then we get to hear about how the cable company is bleeding it's customers dry by charging for equipment. I call horseshit on this one. Cable companies charge an average $7.50 monthly lease fee for the box that costs them $300 upfront, plus maintenance and repair. In "only" 40 months of maintenance free operation of that box, the cable company breaks even. Yeah...that's certainly not what I would call milking the
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by teebob21 (947095)

        My numbers are certainly NOT wrong, and in fact were slightly low. Our dual-tuner DVRs [wikipedia.org] cost just over $500 per unit, direct from MOTO. The DCT2524 is $300. http://broadband.motorola.com/business/digitalvideo/product_dct2500_settop.asp [motorola.com] We would have liked to move to the DCH-700 which is a slick little digital only box, but they do not comply with the FCC separable security

        Surely, you know these are more than mere "zapper boxes" or frequency remodulators. At the minimum, dual QAM/analog tuners, diplex filte

    • by MojoStan (776183)

      "But wait," you say, "they can get a digital cable box and keep the older TV!" Well, sure, but then we get to hear about how the cable company is bleeding it's customers dry by charging for equipment. I call horseshit on this one. Cable companies charge an average $7.50 monthly lease fee for the box that costs them $300 upfront, plus maintenance and repair. In "only" 40 months of maintenance free operation of that box, the cable company breaks even. Yeah...that's certainly not what I would call milking the customer.

      I've seen simple little Motorola DCT700 [motorola.com] digital cable boxes deployed by Comcast that are smaller than a Mac mini and have just two video outputs (coaxial and composite). Aren't these "barebones" cable boxes more than good enough for old TVs? Will these cost anywhere near $300 in 2009? They look pretty cheap to me and I expect them to be cheaper in two years, but I could be wrong.

      • by teebob21 (947095)
        As I mentioned in another post, DCT700's do not comply with the FCC's separable security mandate. In simple terms, they don't accept CableCards. Just another example of the cable Catch-22.
  • I woulda thunk that everyone on Sloshdat would only watch torrents with their c0mp00ters...
  • If you can't tell the difference by watching it, who cares? Analog vs. digital is an implementation detail. Is the end product good video or not?
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      Misleading advertising is the point. The reality is that all so called "digital" products contain A/D conversation at more then 1 point in the chain. The problem is that cable company's are selling a product at a higher price, claiming it's something it's not.
    • by kimvette (919543)
      In either case, what is fed to my televison (or PC TV tuner card) is NTSC, so either way it is low-def, and high-def doesn't make crappy shows any betters, so analog or digital to the converter box is fine by me. Want to know why I subscribe to digital cable? The guide. The guide is fantastic and I can browse the guide while the show is still displaying in the upper-right corner of the screen. I wouldn't care if the 300 channels or so I get were all analog, as long as I get a usable guide with the system.

      HD
  • by ChangeOnInstall (589099) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @12:00AM (#20622321)
    • RST packets in my Torrents
    • 2gb/month Newsgroup Access Limit
    • $120/month to get an HD DVR, Cartoon Network, SciFi, and Comedy Central

    Currently shopping for alternatives.
    • by teebob21 (947095)
      I agree with you mostly, but it seems to me that 2/3rds of your complaints lies with the ISP. With the current trend of packet-shaping and bandwidth caps from almost all major ISP's, how is that the cable company's fault? They are no more or less guilty of these un-customer-friendly practice than other ISPs.

      On your third point, my employer would charge just $62.50/mo for the options you've described. $42.50 for basic (includes 6 unencrypted HD channels: ABC/NBC/FOX/CBS/ESPN/ESPN2), $19.95 for the DVR. The a
      • My primary complaint is with the cost of the TV service. At minimum I'd pay $51 per month just for 2-73 basic cable. The HD-DVR effectively adds $30/month. It is Comcast, but the rate structure is a bit different than you mention. I'm in Beaverton, OR.

        I think I'm about to set up an old box as a MythTV, switch to $16/month basic cable, and just buy any TV shows I want outside of 2-13 on DVD. If I can manage to get OTA HD, I'll cancel the cable altogether.

        For the internet...DSL, as much as I tend to d
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @12:09AM (#20622361)
    But how to know for sure if a channel is digital or analog as received?

    I feel the cable to see if the signal is rough and bumpy, or smooth and wavy. Why, how do you do it?

  • I lived in Germany the biggest part of my life. Sometimes in 1998 i decided that the quality of the TVC program has dropped so much that it is a waste of time and space in my room. I go to cinemas often and rent DVDs. Overall i would say that in the last 8 years i approximately watched 30 Movies per year in the cinema and maybe added another 20 Movies per year watching on DVD. Since a few years I enjoy to watch some video news on the internet and i can only say that this perfectly fits my needs. I was hop
  • by TheQuantumShift (175338) <monkeyknifefight@internationalwaters.com> on Sunday September 16, 2007 @01:22AM (#20622749) Homepage
    When I had digital cable with comcast, I used hdmi for audio and video. Regular cable channels (2-100) Were 480i mono sound. The "digital" channels (which actually looked worse) were 480i stereo. The only watchable channels were the 10 or so HD channels (5 of which I get free OTA). The absolute worse offender though has to be comedy central. I don't know who exactly to blame, but when I can catch low bitrate degradation on an analog station on an analog TV (It almost gave me motion sickness on the HD) it's really bad. Combined with the fact that I just can't find enough content I actually want to watch to justify the extra $70/month, I recently went cable free and couldn't be happier.
  • My cable company is Time Warner. As far as I can tell, all (or at least most) of the channels that are offered in analog format are also offered in digital format on a separate channel. Some are offered a third time in high definition.

    Example:
    Channel 27 = TNT analog (confirmed using analog-only TV tuner card)
    Channel 401 = TNT digital (has visible artifacts when the signal is weak)
    Channel 1827 = TNTHD

    All three channels have the same programming at the same time.
  • by AikonMGB (1013995)

    I'm not condoning actions such as delivering a channel in Analog that you are paying to receive in Digital, but my question to you as Devil's advocate is this: You ask how you can be sure you are receiving the channel in digital; if you can't tell the difference, can it really bother you that much?

    And I'm not talking digital as in ATSC (HDTV), because there's really no way to fake that; I mean the regular cable channels that get broadcast in "digital" format but really there's not much difference.

    Aikon-

  • re-digitize an analog signal, with inevitable quality loss in the process.

    It's not the loss in quality on the DVR that's the problem. It's the fact that the analog broadcast takes up a whole lot more space on the hard drive afterwards than the digital channels.

"Ahead warp factor 1" - Captain Kirk

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