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RCN no longer on my ‘good’ list - Laurion [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Laurion

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RCN no longer on my ‘good’ list [Oct. 13th, 2008|04:38 pm]
Laurion
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As of tomorrow, RCN in my area is shutting off all analog signals, and switching everything to digital.  Not a problem for the average person, who will either use an analog converter box, or who is already using a digital box from RCN.

Big annoyance for me.  I have a home built DVR.  I’ve been using the analog tuner in it, but it has a digital tuner, so I should be all set, right?  Not entirely.  You need something called a CableCard in your DVR or HDTV to get the advanced digital network features, such as premium channels and pay-per-view.  I don’t get nor want any of those, and even if I did, TiVo HD is the only non-cable company DVR that can take a CableCard.  Because the CableCard folks are… hm…. how should I put this…?  Oh yes.  Morons.  So I don’t need CableCard, because I only want basic channels, right?

No.  RCN (and all the other providers are going this way) are now encrypting _all_ their digital channels, and sending none in the clear (Clear QAM vs. Encrypted QAM, vs. ATSC which is what over-the-air broadcast digital is).  So now you *MUST* have a CableCard or a sanctioned set-top converter box.

And if I want the true digital set-top box it is an extra $12 a month.  And if I want multiple boxes for multiple TVs, anything more than the first is at least $3 a month.  Which is one of the drivers behind the change… more rental fees.  Plus, with a set-top box, you must change channels on the set-top box.  Can’t change channels on the TV, or in my case, obnoxiously enough, on the DVR.  So the DVR will have to change channels on the box, using an IR blaster, which is a little like taping the remote control to the computer so it can press the buttons.  It’s unreliable, slow, and there’s no communication from the box to the computer, so there is no error correction capability.

So now I’ve been forced to a digital world, but can’t use my digital tuner.  I’m still getting converted analog, but can no longer use my DVR the way I built it.  I’ll have to splice in a new device, finding another outlet to plug it into (ask me about the wonky electrical wiring in this apartment sometime!), rigging up the IR from the DVR, and hoping that everything works well.  RCN’s excuse for all this mumbo-jumbo is that the upstream providers (the TV stations and networks) require RCN to encrypt the channels.  And that they are going through with this transition so I can get more channels at the same price.  I don’t watch a lot of TV.  I don’t want more channels, especially channels like the Horse Racing Channel, that I’m _never_ going to watch.  I’d rather have the same number of channels I have now at half the price.  Congress and the FCC can’t move fast enough on a-la carte cable for my tastes.

I am *very* tempted to dump the cable TV, keeping just the internet connection.  I’ll get what I can from over-the-air broadcast, and have to get all my sci-fi, usa, and other networks through less than honest means on the internet.  Because television from the internet has no DRM, no commercials, and lets me watch my TV the way I want, when I want, which is why I built the DVR in the first place.  When companies go out of their way to make piracy _easier_ than honesty (and not just more convenient), they really shouldn’t be surprised when piracy increases.

So, now that RCN is persona non grata with me, give me your recommendations for alternate companies, alternate solutions, etc.  Keep in mind that I’m poor and cheap.

Originally published at lebor.net. You can comment here or there.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: zrealm
2008-10-13 08:48 pm (UTC)
If they're encrypting your digital local channels they're violating the law. If they're encrypting almost anything else, that does suck. Are you positive they encrypt all of their digital channels and its not ust an issue of no mappings?
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-14 12:29 am (UTC)
My nderstanding is that they are offering unencrypted Standard definition versions of the big 4 locals. Getting a number of stations I can count on one hand is legal, but I can get those OTA, so not worth the cable fees.
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[User Picture]From: zrealm
2008-10-14 01:44 am (UTC)
That was hardly an argument that they are good people, only a starting point. I'd say drop them - I have cable with Cablecards nd a bunch of stuff, but to be honest so much of what I watch is OTA that i'm tempted to just get an OTA reciever...
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[User Picture]From: valadil
2008-10-13 09:21 pm (UTC)
PyTVShows + bittorrent client of your choice. It's just easier this way.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-14 12:31 am (UTC)
Oh, I already have TVShows on the Mac (Py with a frontend) for some of the british shows not available over here, but generally I prefer to do the right thing, plus the wife likes to be able to watch live tv on occasion.
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[User Picture]From: valadil
2008-10-14 02:52 am (UTC)
I'd rather do the right thing too, but if you've got cable anyway does it really matter whose TV tuner recorded your show?
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[User Picture]From: devoken
2008-10-14 04:16 am (UTC)
heheheh. "The Wife." That just tickles my fancy.
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[User Picture]From: artan_eter
2008-10-13 11:38 pm (UTC)
I expect that it's the way of the future really, increased inconvenience in the name of progress.

I could survive without the cable TV but again don't. In general I've been happier with RCN than most other providers, but that's really because I have ranges of personal to impersonal grudges against others. I expect that if it became at all difficult we'd just drop it.

I have no real alternatives that I can think of.
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[User Picture]From: metahacker
2008-10-13 11:59 pm (UTC)
Ask dsrtao. He just fought this and won. They must provide unencrypted service to you, but won't do so without a fight.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-14 12:38 am (UTC)
Not true. He is paying the extra fee for the HD boxes. He is then using the firewire output from those. He's not getting unencrypted service, he's capturing it after decryption by the box, which is what I'll be doing. He still needs IR blasters to tell the box to change channels. All he won was getting a box with a different output.
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[User Picture]From: metahacker
2008-10-14 12:48 am (UTC)
Sorry, I misunderstood your situation.
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[User Picture]From: benndragon
2008-10-14 12:18 am (UTC)
Hell, now you can get TV perfectly legitimately on the internet. How weird is that?!?
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-14 12:33 am (UTC)
Yeah, but it is hard to watch on the living room TV, doesn't carry all the shows/networks, is still full of the ads I don't want to see, and is bandwidth sensitive...
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From: fendrin_mk2
2008-10-14 05:48 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I recently decided to cancel my cable TV because I haven't watched it (live or DVR'd) in over a month.

As for the IR blaster woes, I've had little to no problems with my Tivo's IR control of my digital box (once I got the settings tweaked, anyhow). It's reasonably fast (faster than if I were punching in the channel manually) and if you set your DVR to record a little early then it balances out. my biggest annoyance with it is that I can't have the Tivo turn the cable box off when not in use.

Something else to check is whether the particular model of set top box accepts serial cable control. Some do, many don't. Whether or not you can integrate that with your DVR is another question altogether.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-14 07:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, when I have a little time I'll probably look to see what I get OTA, and if I can drop the cable. The converter box does not offer serial control. It's coax in, coax out, RCA out.
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[User Picture]From: zemanel
2008-10-14 10:04 pm (UTC)
Do you have different options in your area?

I'm pretty pleased with my Cablevision service, I get a 3 in 1 package - digital phone, cable and internet for $89 a month - I then pay an extra few bucks for the cable DVR and the little cable card, but it's still under $100 even with taxes.

Seems totally worth it to me.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-14 11:33 pm (UTC)
RCN is the best option in the area. Verizon doesn't offer FIOS in my part of town (despite the billboard that was up for almost a year down the road...), and Comcast is the only other provider. Not only is Comcast more expensive, but they also cap the internet connection and recently were in trouble for mucking around with internet traffic.
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[User Picture]From: jducoeur
2008-10-15 09:47 pm (UTC)
It's cold comfort, but this is apparently going to become the rule everywhere. My father (who is a cable-industry consultant) warned me about it a couple of months ago -- essentially, all the ads Comcast is running to the tune of, "Don't worry about the digital transition, Comcast users don't need to change a thing" are outright lies. Pretty much all analog boxes that don't have a cable box in front of them (including most DVRs) are going to be screwed quite soon.

My reaction to this was, "Are they crazy? They're going to piss off half their customers!" Apparently this is true, they're kind of aware of it, but they're going to do it anyway...
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2008-10-15 10:17 pm (UTC)
*sigh* It's a combination of greater control and greater revenues. I can imagine there are households with 3 or 4 TVs, with the digital boxes at $12/month, or even the Digital DVR boxes, which are more. In some cases, that can double their revenues.

It isn't necessary. There's no reason for it. No one is making the able companies turn off the analog signal. No one is making them use encrypted digital for everything. Back in the 80's many cable companies required the use of an addressable cable box, but all through the 90's and most of this decade, people have pushed away from that with cable-ready TVs. I know there are people out there who went with RCN specifically because they didn't need boxes. That was supposed to be the promise of Clear QAM - 'cable ready for the digital world'.

Further, because you need to rent the digital converter box to get the digital signal, but you get a digital to analog converter box free, they are punishing and penalizing the people who adopted the technology they're trying to switch to!

Further evidence (to me anyhow) that the standing duopolies (or, in many cases, regional monopolies) and deregulation (allowing companies like Comcast to own huge swaths of the market, or Verizon to not have to share its DSL lines any more) is fueling the complete disinterest in customer service.
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