April 17, 2005
Ah the search for a new subscription television provider. I don’t know about you, but when I get used to a service, especially one I really enjoy, it takes a lot to start searching for another, well that is unless my current provider is going out of business…
This is the exact position I found myself in on the 8th of April when it was announced that Cable Vision’s board members had unanimously agreed to shutdown Voom. After the initial disappointment wore off I came to the stark realization that I had a little over two weeks not only to decide where to take my TV business, but choose between DBS or cable. We couldn’t have the ol’ homestead without our weekly fix of ‘The Shield’. Hmm, what to do?
Honestly, the final decision wasn’t that hard. There was about as much chance of my subscribing to Dish Network as launching my own satellite service, just too many memories of laughable customer service and faulty equipment.
Ok, how about DirecTV? This one was a little harder. They have a HD-DVR, albeit an expensive one, and the promise of more HD in the future. But the first offerings on the new satellites are going to be high-def locals re-broadcast into local markets, something I can get now with an off-air antenna. That combined with the daunting possibility of having to shell out hundreds of dollars for another DVR when DirecTV upgrades to MPEG-4, pretty much solidified my decision.
Could it be that after some 10 odd years I was once again a candidate for cable television? No not cable and its grainy washed out un-reliable picture. Needless to say, much of this fear was old emotional baggage that had since been discarded at the bus station. I realized this as I’ve seen digital cable at client’s homes, and for the most part liked what I saw. Sure the picture breaks up from time to time and it isn’t quite as reliable as DBS, but hey I had to keep the bottom line in mind as much as my desires.
I guess I was a little shocked when I was told my Comcast HD installation could be scheduled just two days after I made the order, hey these guys still move faster than satellite as far as installs go. So Monday rolled around and my friendly Comcast guy was on time, what the heck?
Anyway he came and setup my HD-DVR and cable modem (yeah it felt good giving Bellsouth DSL the boot for internet service) and we fired up the projector, nothing. He checked the wiring, nothing. After a little more head scratching he said “well let me go down to the head-end and make sure you’re connected there.”
A few minutes later he comes back and says “it’s locked”, to which I smugly shoot back “ah well I’ll go down and have the property manager let you in.” “No, no” he says, “it’s the cable tap that’s locked.” With a slightly sarcastic tone I query “you mean the cable guy doesn’t have a key to the cable tap?” Already long story short, he didn’t. It’s kind of funny, but it meant I got to stare at this new equipment for two days while Comcast got their act together.
I have to say, old nightmares about CATV customer service might have grown more ominous with the years that have passed since I last had Cable television. However I’m pleased to report that the two or three issues I’ve had since my signal was connected have been pleasantly address and quickly resolved.
Motorola DCT6412 Settings:
Alright signal was active, box was in place, and it was time to check it out. The first thing I did was go into the display settings (Press the Menu button on either the remote or the DVR box front panel while the box is off) and set the DVI output to 720p (the native rate for my display, 1080i is also an option). In addition, I set 4:3 analog images to ‘stretch’, just a personal preference there; the option to leave 4:3 unaltered is also present.
The set-up was quick n’ painless and in just a minute or so I was on my way. I have to say the menu system took some getting used to. This is one area where Voom definitely excelled. Now I’m looking at sub menus, setting panes and the guide to boot. Nothing unmanageable mind you, but certainly not the clean, all in one interface I was accustomed too. My particular guide is from ‘iGuide’, while I understand DCT6412’s in other parts of the country are supplied with the Microsoft TV software.
Overall I’d have to say the iGuide software, is functional and easy enough to use, although I’m not at all unhappy to hear that Comcast and TiVo have partnered up. If I’m still a Comcast customer by the time the first TiVo powered Comcast box’s are available, I’ll definitely opt for that upgrade.
Ok, so what does hi-def from Comcast look like? First off while digital cable, especially high definition cable in theory shouldn’t differ much from locality to locality, it is possible. So take my observations regarding picture quality as a starting point, not the absolute truth.
I’d have to say that on average, HDTV from Comcast is 85 to 95% as good as Voom. What the difference? Well for one, the image from my DCT6412 is slightly darker than the Voom receiver, which is odd since I used the DVI port from both. Also the image while quite good is prone to a slight matte effect or subtle grain. Now this is nothing that’s distracting or deal breaking in my book, just a slight difference in the video quality.
Last night I was catching a bit of ‘Deadwood’ on HBO-HD. At first everything looked as I’d remembered it with Voom, but as time went on something seemed amiss. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I saw a shot with a little depth to it. It was as if the area between the actor in the forefront and the bar behind him had a slight haze to it. I can only describe this effect as seeing a fine mist or near smoke effect when none is present in the shot, again nothing distracting but present nonetheless.
Available HDTV channels via Comcast:
Again this will vary based on your local head-end, but I would be remiss as a Voom subscriber to not mention Comcast’s channel offerings. Overall I’m pleased with my choice, I have the same premiums I had with Voom (sans TMC-HD) and I’ve heard rumors of Comcast adding TNT-HD soon. Speaking of likely HD candidates for Comcast Digital, PBS will probably make its way to Comcast in the near future.
In addition to these channels Comcast has been in negotiations with HDNet for some time. I will however miss the Cinema 10’s, although if you’re into rumors, the Cinema10 package from Voom is ‘supposedly’ going to be offered to DBS and Cable providers. Time will tell on that one.
There is however one thing I just don’t get. From time to time when friends and clients would find out I had Voom some would invariably ask, “Wow Voom doesn’t have INHD?” Of course I’d reply, “Well that’s two unique channels, I have 21…” but I just didn’t seem to be getting through to them. As far as INHD, I’m a little miffed to be honest. Is this really one of the “must carry” channels so many cable subscribers mentioned as a reason they wouldn’t subscribe to Voom? I have some bad news for you guys; you missed out on a TON of quality HD programming. INHD in my opinion isn’t the shining light of HDTV’dom. They offer a lot of the same tired, old hi-def programming that I’ve seen elsewhere, but hey to each his own.
I’d hate to paint an overly rosy picture of Comcast and their HD-DVR, and as such I should mention some oddities I’ve experienced. One particularly annoying thing I’ve experienced is audio dropouts on recorded programming. It’s pretty constant albeit short bursts, when it occurs but annoying nonetheless. Another somewhat annoying ‘feature’ is the program guide, which is displayed as 4:3 even when overlaid on top of 16:9 programming. This just seems strange to me, but nothing earth shattering.
One other glitch (and one I’ll have to call customer support on), is from time to time my premium HD channels break up. Short random breakups, but hardly anything you’d want to put up with. I’m relatively sure this is a signal strength issue and can be resolved.
Working in Custom A/V, I often run across customers moving into a new home and wanting advice on what type of television provider to go with. If the customer didn’t previously subscribe to DBS I recommended High Definition cable, its quick, doesn’t have a service commitment and HD-DVR’s can be leased. If they subscribed to DirecTV I’d tell them go ahead and install their equipment in the new house. If they were Dish customers, I just smile and nod. They likely wouldn’t appreciate what I would have to say about the latter provider.
I say this to illustrate where I’m coming from, more than anything else. Premium television subscription services are highly personal choices for a lot of folks. For example in the past if I knew my customer was a sports fanatic, Voom wouldn’t have been at the top of my lists for recommendations (I have obviously stopped recommending them altogether, as to do so would be pointless). They just had very little sports programming, aside from off-air networks and ESPN. On the other side of the coin, if they were foreign nationals or just recently re-located to the US, I would often tell them to look into Dish Network as they offered several international channels.
Bottom line, and the thing I want to stress most is this, don’t be swayed by promotions and claims of “insert-channel name here coming soon!” If they don’t have what you like today, just assume they never will, if it pans out then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. These companies are interested in getting you to sign the bottom line, and sadly often not much else. This is why cable was such a clear choice for me this go around.
With Voom gone, DirecTV or Dish Network for that matter can make all the high definition claims they want. But with both carrying just a handful of HD channels, it remains to be seen who will really step-up and fill the HD void Voom’s exit has created, however the smart money would not be on Dish Network, I fully expect DirecTV eventually fill the HD void.
But for now I’m enjoying some decent HD and leasing a HD-DVR, the $30.00 a month I’m saving by dropping Bellsouth and going with Comcast for both television and internet, is just icing on the cake.
Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Reviews