2/28/10
 
Information provided by Linda Nuzum,
CPN resident

Don’t let Comcast channels go dark on you

You may soon lose access to popular channels on some (or all) of your TV’s unless you act now to obtain equipment from Comcast. 

  • On March 22, the Comcast service in our area will switch more than 40 channels from analog to digital, and thus will only be available on TV’s that have a digital cable box. 

  • Some of the channels that will “go dark” on TV’s that do not have the necessary equipment include CNN and Fox news; Disney, Comedy Central, MTV, Lifetime, HGTV, ESPN, and the channels that carry the Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche games. 

The impact depends on which Comcast plan you are on. 

  • Customers on Comcast’s very basic plan that only receive 30 channels (primarily local TV stations and government programming) are not affected.
  • Those who are on the “Expanded Basic” plan will need to get equipment, but may be pleasantly surprised that the new plan is lower cost than the existing plan, and there are more channels. 
  • Customers who already have some sort of Digital plan will need equipment on all of the “secondary TV’s” such as kitchen, bedroom, or basement in order to maintain the programming lineup you’re used to seeing on those sets.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO?

To review your options and order your equipment, go to www.comcast.com/digitalnow, or call 1-877-634-4434. 

You can pick up a self-install kit from their local office, or have it shipped. Or Comcast will come install it for you (for a fee, of course).

Beat the rush and get everything squared away now.   Don’t risk a snag that could leave your favorite channels in the dark on March 22.  Other markets have experienced long waits at the Comcast office, or shipments arriving late.  Also, some customers may find that their cable wiring isn’t up to snuff for the higher demands of digital programming, and may end up needing to schedule a service call to get it working correctly.

HOW HARD IS THIS?

One customer who’s already gone through the transition reported that the equipment is “easy to install, and offers many more channels.”

Once the equipment is installed, you’ll set your TV tuner to Channel 3 and use the cable box to tune all channels. Some customers may shrug and move on without a second thought.  But this has far-reaching implications for many customers’ viewing habits:

  • This impacts your remote controls, picture-in-picture, Media PC’s, and recording shows on VCRs, DVD-Recorders, and TiVo or other third-party DVR’s (the Comcast DVR is not affected). 

  • It presents challenges for seniors, young children, and anyone else who lacks the time or inclination to deal with technical change.

See below for answers to many common questions about this transition.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

The upgrade is not related to last year’s federally mandated “digital TV transition” – that affected only over-the-air broadcasts. But all cable companies around the country are pursuing a similar transition to digital cable, because it allows them to offer more programming. 

Comcast has already completed this type of change in several other markets around the country.  Castle Pines and adjacent areas such as Lone Tree are the first to go in Colorado, and Comcast will complete the rest of Colorado by the end of this year.

Once the transition is complete, Comcast plans to further increase its channel offerings, and will double their High Definition capacity to offer 100 HDTV channels for the customers who subscribe to the HD plan. Each of the 40 analog channels being converted to digital is will free up space to offer approximately three HD channels, or 15 standard-definition digital channels. 

In addition, by putting more cable boxes into homes, Comcast is also extending the reach of its pay-per-view service and program guide.

WHAT CABLE CHANNELS ARE AFFECTED?

Click here for the channel lineup.

https://www.comcast.com/Customers/Clu/ChannelLineup.ashx?print=1&CGID=2753

The “Analog” section of the channel lineup: about 30 channels, including local broadcast stations, QVC, Discovery, Hallmark, and C-SPAN.  This is the service currently available to “limited basic” customers, and these customers will not see a change in their service.  For all other Comcast customers, this will be the lineup available on any TV which is simply connected to a cable wall outlet, and does not have the necessary digital equipment.

The “Digital Starter” section shows the new lineup of channels that will be available to all customers who are currently on “Expanded Basic,” “Digital Starter,” or any other Digital plan.

40 of these channels can currently be viewed on any TV.  As of March 22, Comcast will shut off the Analog option for these 40 channels and these channels will “go dark” on any TV that lacks a digital box.  Affected channels include CNN and Fox news; Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, MTV, Lifetime, HGTV, ESPN; and the channels that carry the Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche games. 

This lineup also includes some new channels, which are currently available on any set which is connected to a Comcast digital box.

The Channel Lineup also includes additional channels that are available, depending on your subscription plan and equipment. 

WHAT CHANGES WILL YOU NEED TO MAKE?

  • There are clear benefits, but here’s the rub:  when cable channels are switched from the “analog” to “digital” service, your TV or recording device must be able to view the digital signal.  
  • TV’s which are already hooked up to a Comcast digital set-top box or DVR, “CableCARD,” or “tru2way®” will not be affected.
  • But all other TV’s (including new “digital TV’s”) will need a Comcast digital box in order to view these channels. 
  • Even if you already have “Digital Cable” on some of your TV’s, you’ll now need to have a Comcast digital box on those secondary TV’s in the kitchen, bedroom, kids’ play room, or basement … anywhere that you want to be able to watch the channels that have been switched to digital. 

With this change, cable TV becomes more like satellite TV (Dish Network or DirecTV), which require a box for each TV.   Comcast will still offer an option for TV’s that do not have this equipment, but with very limited programming.  For most Comcast customers, this is the end of the “simple” days where you could just connect a TV to a cable wall outlet and watch your TV. 

WHAT WILL THIS COST?

There is no additional monthly service charge. 

  • Customers who are currently on the Limited Basic analog plan will remain at that level. 
  • Customers on the Expanded Basic (Analog) plan will be converted to the Digital Starter Plan, and will actually see their monthly fee drop significantly for the first year.
  • Customers currently on a Digital plan will retain the same monthly service fee.

Some of the equipment is free, and additional equipment is available, as outlined below.

WHAT ARE THE CHOICES FOR DIGITAL EQUIPMENT?

Comcast offers 3 types of digital boxes:

Comcast is offering all customers two free digital “adapters.” Other equipment and pricing options also exist. There is some variation depending on your current service plan.

    • Digital Transport Adapter (DTA): a simple, low-cost device that can be used to tune Digital Starter channels.  It does not offer access to additional features of the more expensive devices listed below.

      • Customers will get two of these for free; additional Adapters will cost $1.99 per month.

    • Digital Cable Box: like the Adapter, it lets you watch Digital Starter channels, but this box also enables access to other Digital programming tiers, Premium channels (like HBO), and the Digital Music channels.  It also offers interactive digital features such as Program Guide, On Demand, and Pay-per-View.

      • "Expanded basic" customers, who don't currently have any cable boxes, will get one free Comcast Cable Box for the first year, in addition to the two free adapters (or these customers can instead choose to get a third Adapters instead of the full-function Cable Box).

      • Additional Cable Box units are $7.45 per month.
    • High Definition and DVR – all of the features of the Digital Cable Box, but also enables watching the HD channels listed in the Channel Lineup, and includes Digital Video Recorder. 
      • This one sets you back an additional $15.95 per month.

Can you buy your own digital cable box instead of renting from Comcast?

Apparently not.  You’ll need to activate the digital service for each TV by providing the serial number of the digital device that you have obtained from Comcast.

What if you have a new “Digital TV,” or “HDTV”? 

Nope, these TV’s will still need a Comcast digital device.

  • The newer digital and HD TV’s have “digital tuner” that will work with over-the-air digital broadcasts from local TV stations, but that’s different than digital cable signals.

  • Some of these TV’s also have a “QAM” digital cable tuner, a however these don’t decode the Comcast digital signals (it’s the same situation with most other cable TV companies around the country).

Can’t this be built in to the TV?

There are a few options available on high-end TV’s; it’s not very common, but here are the choices:

  • “tru2way®”  link to http://www.tru2way.com/consumers/  – This is basically a built-in cable box, so you can use your TV’s tuner instead of a set-top box, and get access to interactive features such as program guide and PPV.  In the past few years, this has been an option on some high-end TV’s, but isn’t typically available on the types of TV’s that are used as secondary TV’s.  Check with Comcast to see if there is a monthly outlet charge for hooking a “tru2way®” set to the Comcast service.
  • CableCard link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CableCARD - This is an option on recording units (such as some TiVo models), and it had been an option on some older higher-end TV’s but is no longer readily available on new TV’s.  It only enables tuning of digital channels, not the “interactive” features that most higher-end TV buyers were seeking, and wasn’t typically offered on the smaller TV’s that are used as secondary TV’s.  It is a slot built into in the TV (or recording device) that would allow a Comcast technician to come to your home and install a card that would activate the Cable service to use the TV (or device) tuner instead of an external set-top-box.  There is a Comcast service charge for activating the card; check with Comcast to determine if there is a monthly outlet charge for using the CableCard.

HOW USING A CABLE BOX MAY AFFECT YOUR VIEWING HABITS?

Using the cable box to do all of the channel selection (for any device except those with tru2way® or CableCard) may affect many things that you might be used to doing today.  This is similar to any set top box with other services such as Dish or DirecTV.  Some of the things to know:  

  • Picture-in-picture TV’s will no longer be able to show a program on another channel (however you could get creative with hookups to access the limited number of programs available on the “basic analog” channel lineup).
  • Recording programs:   Those who have a Comcast DVR are not affected, but any customers who use an external recording device take note!  When using your VCR, DVD Recorder, and some TiVo models, you will only be able to record the channel you are watching or have left the cable box set at. You can no longer record two different programs on different channels while you are away. Some options are available – you could get an additional digital box dedicated to recording, or have a unit with CableCard.  Or get creative with hookups and use the recorder to tune the Comcast “basic analog” channels but switch to the digital box for other shows.  For more:
  • TIVO: Some TiVo models can work around this limitation with built-in CableCard slots, but other models will need a cable digital box.  Check the Tivo website for details: http://support.tivo.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1350
  • VCR, DVD-recorder, and other external recorders:  Check with Comcast support, and also search the internet and/or talk with friends for best solutions.

  • Media Center PC’s could be connected to a digital box, however it is possible to install a CableCard tuner.  Search the internet for options and pricing.

OH NO, NOT ANOTHER REMOTE?

Yep.  Both the Digital Box and the Adapter come with a remote.  Here’s what you need to know about them.

The Digital Box’s remote can also be programmed to control your TV and other devices, and most “universal” remotes will work on the Digital box. 

The DTA Adapter’s remote is a different story. It is very simple – it tunes the cable channels, and it can be programmed to control the TV power and volume for many (but not all) TV sets.  However, it cannot perform any other functions found on your TV remote, and it cannot control any other devices.  So for any of these situations, you can just use a Universal remote, right?  Not so fast …

Most “universal” remotes will not work with the DTA Adapter, because the Adapter uses a new remote coding scheme that few pre-programmed universal remotes currently support.  A Comcast rep told me that no other remotes will work – but actually there are some inexpensive universal remotes that will work

1.     If you have an extra Comcast digital box remote: some users report that the silver Comcast remote with a red (not grey) OK/Select button can be programmed to control an Adapter instead of a Comcast digital box – try setup code Cable 1982.

2.     If you currently have another type of universal remote: the Adapter unit is Pace model DC50X.  Try entering codes for Pace, or Motorola codes.  If your remote can “learn” functions from other remotes, try that also.  Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work, but, hey, it’s worth a try.

3.     TiVo customers: try the TiVo channel changing option for "Comcast Digital Adapter," or IR code 10104-B.

4.     For those with expensive “programmable remotes” such as the Harmony, check with your manufacturer, or do an internet search, for programming instructions.

5.     For the rest of us – get a new “universal” or “learning” remote for as little as $15 to $30.  Comcast customers who have already gone through the transition report that the following models will work with the Comcast DTA Adapter.  All can be readily found at internet stores, and some are available at local retailers. Other models may also work, let us know if you have luck with any other models ().

  • Sony Remote Commander RM-VL600 and most likely the newer models of this remote.
  • RCA RCRP05B. The setup code is 21982 (1982 using the cable button on the RCA).
  • Universal Remote Control URC-WR7, or its older siblings, URC R6 and URC R7 and also its' more expensive siblings such as URC MasterControl RF10 or RF20 and higher.
  • OneforAll universal remotes, including models URC-8820N and 10820N (code Cable 1982).

HOW TO MAKE THIS WORK FOR THE TECHNICALLY CHALLENGED?

These changes may be overwhelming for seniors, young children, and anyone else who lacks the time or inclination to deal with technical change.  Here are some tips for making the transition as painless as possible (if no one in your household can do this, ask a friend to help, or consult a local electronics expert).

Figure out the simplest way to set it up in your household, and test it out before it’s time to use it.  THEN train the technically-averse folks in your household.  Some things to consider:

  • The “Adapter” is simpler to operate than the full Digital Cable Box, so that’s a good choice for the TV’s that don’t need all of the extra features that are available with the Digital Cable box.
  • Regardless of which cable box you use, the TV set will need to stay on Channel 3.  Got snow on your TV?  Someone changed the TV channel, put it back on 3. 
  • A good remote control can make all the difference, and perhaps make the change invisible.  Find one that you can set up to have the “TV” button control the TV power and volume, and also the cable channel selection.  This will simplify the process – no switching between “TV” button for some functions and “Cable” button for others -- and it will also eliminate the problem with accidentally changing the TV off of channel 3.  It’s not necessary to get an expensive Harmony type remote – some inexpensive “learning” remotes can also do this.  If you’re trying to control a set with the Comcast DTA Adapter, be sure to use one of the remotes listed above that will work with the DTA Adapter.
  • Consider leaving one or more TV’s just plugged into the cable outlet, with no digital box.  It will just get the limited “Analog” channel lineup but those selections might be sufficient for some TV’s at least some of the time.

WHAT ALTERNATIVES ARE THERE?

The Comcast changes eliminate the “simplicity” advantage which has traditionally appealed to many cable TV customers, and may lead some of them to look at alternatives.

  • Dish Network or DirecTV:  Satellite TV providers require subscribers to install special equipment on every TV set, so Comcast can readily say “All our competitors are already digital.”  But now some Comcast customers may take another look at these options to compare price, channel selection, and other features. NOTE that HOA covenants cannot prohibit installation of satellite dishes.

  • Over-the-air broadcast TV:  Last year’s “digital TV” conversion means that many customers may take another look at the choice of viewing free over-the-air HD programs. In addition to the usual “local channels,” there are also additional channels buried in higher numbers or “sub-channels” which are not available on cable or satellite TV, and may even show some programs that you currently view on a Cable channel.  What you’ll need:  1) a digital TV (which will let you use your own TV’s remote), or an older TV with one of the “over-the-air” digital converter boxes that were available last year with the government coupons, and 2) a good antenna.  How feasible is this in the Castle Pines area, with all of our hills and valleys?  If you have tried it, we’d love to hear from you

  • Whole-house digital cable?  There are starting to be some technical options out there to basically install a special type of digital cable adapter on your home, instead of each TV set.  Anyone with more information about this, we’d love to hear from you
  • In-home network:  Some technically adept folks will set up in-home wired or wireless networks to send signals to multiple TV’s.

  • Switch to the emerging internet viewing. Catch news reports and videos on the news channels’ websites. Watch your favorite Colbert Report episode on their website.  Get a subscription to Netflix.  Watch Joost and Hulu.  Download movies or other content from an ever-increasing online selection.  You’re not limited to viewing on your computer monitor -- there are multiple ways to get an internet signal on your TV.  Many of the new digital TV’s can be hooked directly to a computer to get the internet signal; for those without this option, there are wired and wireless options to send a signal from a computer to the TV screen; some of the programming can be accessed with devices such as a Blu-Ray player or an X-Box; and some high-end TV’s have built-in internet capability.

This report was submitted by Castle Pines North resident Linda Nuzum, who is currently working on setting up her mom’s house for what will hopefully be a relatively painless transition. 

      
 
 
Don’t let Comcast channels go dark on you
© 2008-2014 The Castle Pines Connection | Sitemap | Webmaster