Comcast has killed all of the analog channels in my area. My wife enjoys using the tv tuner on the pc while surfing. What other alternatives are currently available?
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Any video capture device with a QAM tuner should work. But they will only work with clear (unencrypted) QAM channels. You'll probably find that's only your local broadcast channels and a few others. They really want to force you into renting their cable box.
If you have a recent TV it may have a clear QAM tuner. To see what channels are available plug the cable from the wall directly into the TV and scan for channels.
You can also try a cablecard tuner based device. Like the ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner. But you may find they charge just as much to rent a cablecard. And you may find their support of cablecard devices very poor. Be prepared for lots of headaches.
Are you sure? By law they have to keep them for quite some time. They might encode them above Ch 34 as they do in my area, but under that works.
Last edited by jagabo; 7th Apr 2010 at 11:56.
In my area, Comcast only provides 17 analog channels, mostly locals. The FCC only requires locals to be available in clear QAM, but cable providers and the locals may have an agreement that determines the details of how they are carried. For that reason, two of my HD locals are only available in clear QAM in an SD version. All my HD cable-only channels are encrypted. I do have many clear QAM SD cable-only channels now, but there is no guarantee that will last. Comcast only promises viewability for the cable-only channels in my plan if I use a cable box. Clear QAM channels can also be moved to different frequencies at the cable comany's discretion. They usually stay put for months at a time, but it's necessary to keep an eye on them.
There are a number of PC tuners that support clear QAM, but tuner sensitivity varies, and may require a stronger signal than your TV's tuner.
The other part of the equation is software. Windows 7's Media Center supports QAM and seems to work reasonably well, though I only tried it briefly for cable. (I bought my tuner mainly for antenna use.) Windows XP MCE doesn't support QAM. Vista only supports it if TV Pack 2008 is installed, and even then it is reportedly hard to get working correctly.
PC tuner manufacturer's software varies in how well it supports QAM. The better third party packages normally will support clear QAM, but that should be verified individually.
It can certainly be done, and it may be worthwhile for plenty of people, but QAM is a lot of work to set up if there are more than a few channels. It is necessary to manually map most channels to the program guide. Clear QAM channels usually lack identifying information that would allow software to perform the task. Multiple scans may be needed to find all channels, and a few may still have to be added manually if not found by the scans. It is very useful to have a TV with a QAM tuner available to help with the set-up process.
Last edited by usually_quiet; 7th Apr 2010 at 12:35. Reason: clarity
When Comcast "kills all the analog cable channels" in a neighborhood, they usually provide a Digital Transport Adapter (DTA) to all analog customers. This converts the unencrypted QAM channels to analog RF. Rental of additional DTA boxes is cheap compared to a norrmal cable box. Too bad they only have RF and/or analog connectors, not USB or Firewire out.
I've read that it's Comcast's intention to offer additional DTA's at about $35/ea. for purchase.
So your choice is
1. Get a digital computer tuner with clearQAM capability (no digital tier unless you go Cablecard)
2. Get a DTA and use it with your old analog computer tuner.
3. Get a conventional cable box and use it with your analog computer tuner.
4. Get an HD cable box and record via IEEE-1394 or analog.
Last edited by edDV; 7th Apr 2010 at 14:00.
Thanks for the discussion guys. It has been helpful. EDTV thanks for listing my choices. I will contact Comcast about teh digital transport adapter.
When they go "all digital" it usually means you are on an older system that isn't economic for them to upgrade yet*. Digital conversion allows them to cram ~10 SD or 3 HD MPeg2 channels into each former 6MHz analog channel slot. They know this will piss of the analog customers but they want to keep the higher paying customers more.
* Full upgrade means replacing everything on the poles or underground plus the head end.
Comcast will finish converting all their service areas nationwide to digital in the next year or two. Some service areas were switched in 2008 or 2009. Normally they still provide basic cable channels in analog form afterwards, though It looks like that is not true everywhere. I'm not sure what will happen after 2012. The last I read anything about it, that is when the current FCC rules covering analog basic cable service expire.
The easiest way to connect a DTA box to the PC tuner is to use coax. The PC tuner would be tuned to channel 3 or 4, and the DTA remote would be used to change channels. It won't give the best picture, but some PVR software won't allow composite to be used as an input unless an IR blaster is in place.
In my area, older Comcast 550MHz systems are going "all digital" in order to add more HD, foreign language and VOD options. The newer 750MHz up areas still have about 70 analog channels that can be directly tuned by an NTSC tuner.
My local system was upgraded to fiber to last mile in 2005 and is using channels up to 800MHz and more keep being added at the top end. Latest upgrade has about 65 HD channels not counting VOD. The SD selection has also been upgraded.
This all started when my leadtek tv tuner would only pick up channel 4. I thought it might be the tuner or a software issue. I tried to fix it to no avail and then a friend of mine said his tv tuner was doing the exact same thing.
Last edited by edDV; 8th Apr 2010 at 17:16.
Comcast markets this effort as the "World of More". I do have a few more channels than I had with analog. I have SyFy back, as well a Bravo, which were moved to digital some time ago. Having some programs available on-demand has saved me the trouble of recording a few things to time-shift. Recording anything but my locals with my analog DVD recorder and VCR is somewhat inconvenient.
My elderly relatives hate digital. After six months, they still can't get the hang of using a converter box. They are baffled by the concept of line inputs and on-screen menus. Even though I set up their TV to tell them what device (VCR, DVD player, STB) is selected, they can't figure out what they have picked. I wrote instructions for them but regularly have to walk them through problems when they make a mistake. I ended up providing them with a list of QAM channels so they can use their TV remote as much as possible.
Per the articles,
When they say two thirds of capacity is devoted to 60-70 analog channels, that would be for an older 650MHz system. For a fully upgraded 1 GHz system this would be about 50% of capacity devoted to analog.
According to the article, "Project Cavalry" still leaves 20-30 basic service analog channels. That covers local broadcasters mandated by the FCC plus a few more. They offer three "free" DTA's if you subscribe to expanded basic (formerly an analog service). This frees up 30-50 analog 6 MHz channels that can be used to add ~400 SD digital or ~120 HD digital channels or some combination of SD and HD.
That is for a 650 MHz system. A more modern 750+ MHz system can add more.
The FCC only allows total removal of analog service before 2012 for hardship appeals. The cable system must show it is uneconomic to upgrade an old lower bandwidth system. They must also agree to provide at least one DTA to former analog only customers. They don't have to offer anything to former digital customers who, by definition already have a cable box.
So, if your local cable system has removed all analog, it is a sign you are on an old system that is uneconomic to upgrade.
The cable company has to make difficult business choices. They need to balance the cost of DTA's and additional customer support for established analog customers vs. see their higher paying SD digital, HD digital and pay per view customers leave for DirectTV, Dish, UVerse or FIOS.
Guess who gets screwed?
The other customer that gets the short end of the stick is the digital customer that runs additional TV sets or VCRs from an analog connection. Now a DTA or QAM tuner needs to be added for each device.
Ultimately, I think they want to do away with clear QAM. The stated reason is to make obtaining cable service without paying for it extremely difficult and to make it easier to curtail service when a customer fails to pay.
I don't get that. Nothing to do with not paying for it. Most paying customers want to hook up additional TV sets without a cable box on each one like they did for analog. That was the reason Michael Powell's FCC required clearQAM for broadcast stations.
On the other side, I understand that the local cable companies need to shift RF subchannels to optimize service. I just want them to post where the channels are.
Q: For the Comcast Digital Migration, will I need equipment if I have a digital TV with a QAM tuner?
A: Yes. At the completion of the Comcast Digital Migration, you will need Digital equipment on all televisions to receive any channels above the Limited Basic level of service, even if you have a QAM tuner on your television. To avoid any service interruptions, we encourage you to install and use the new digital equipment that may be purchased from a local electronics dealer such as a TiVo or CableCard-enabled device.
This tells me that they plan to encrypt everything but locals, or possibly begin using switched video channels as the technology matures. They plainly don't want customers using clear QAM. Their CSRs know clear QAM exists but most refuse to discuss even the availability of locals in that format.
I have read various reasons for this. Mostly the security-related ones that I referred to earlier, but others as well. Such as increasing their opportunity to sell on-demand programming. ...or encouraging customers to move to HD service, since viewing clear QAM HD locals requires customers to set up their equipment differently than shown in the directions Comcast provides for SD boxes.
I have read of instances where cable companies (not Comcast) have asked to encrypt even basic cable channels in areas where too many people are tapping into cable service illegally. Also an instance where one claimed that sending out trucks to disconnect service for non-payment was wasteful when they could accomplish the same thing by disabling the customer's STBs remotely.
The only reason the basic service isn't encrypted is the FCC mandate. The cable companies would like to get a rental cable box on every TV set and cover the complainers by selling a DTA. Until 2012 they must continue analog for basic service unless they can show hardship*. They are also required to provide clearQAM for Must Carry stations and all PBS subchannels.
I'm sure the politicians will be offered lots of contributions to allow all encrypted digital after 2012. The excuse cable companies will offer is all of their competitors (sat, FIOS, UVerse, IP, ...) are fully encrypted now. The cable companies also want to get rid of analog connections on cable boxes. CableCard is something else they don't want to support. Fortunately, many Silicon Valley companies + Microsoft will be lobbying for expansion of Cablecard. This so they can offer cable tuners in competition with the cable company.
* if a cable system can show hardship, they can go all digital now so long as they provide at lest one DTA to basic service analog customers.
Here the SD digital version of the broadcast channels stay put since ten channels share one 6MHz RF channel. The full bandwidth (primary HD) QAM location shifts as they optimize their system. They have the right to do that but a customer can't count on a TV scan to stay put. When you tune the QAM subchannel for say the local NBC affiliate to see 30 Rock at 9PM, sometimes it won't be there. You (the customer) need to rescan the TV which can take several to 15 minutes which means you miss your show.
This doesn't happen with a cable box of course. They reprogram the cable box each night.
Last edited by edDV; 15th Apr 2010 at 00:49.