HD Upgrade 2006 - First Quarter Report : As I wrote a while back the Christmas of 2005 was the year of the large screen TV upgrade. I decided to buy a new 50 inch plasma screen, upgrade to Comcast HD and get into the entire home theater surround sound deal. I thought I would report back on the general state-of-the-state with regards to HD in Colorado….
Two things had kept me from making the leap in previous years. First; the quality of standard definition images on a screen 50” or larger, and Second; the amount of HD programming available. As I would learn there are other lurking problems…
First the Screen.. My Pioneer plasma screen is without a doubt an excellent piece of electronics. My neighbor (who I refer to as the Media Gear Market Mavin) had done a summer-of-research and arrived at the 1130HD as the best screen for the money. After he received it I spent some time watching it with both HD and SD signals and was impressed. After having the thing for 3 months now, I have to say the image quality of HD and SD signals is amazing. This thing has some impressive line doubling technology that at time makes you ask, is this HD or SD? My conclusion is Plasma is ready for primetime.
Second the Network… How about DirectTV ? We have had DirectTV for about 5 years and I have to say we have been completely happy with it. When we decided to go HD I naturally looked into the DirectTV HD Package. As it turns out, in Denver, you can’t get the network feeds(NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX) in HD. Well, that’s not exactly true. You could technically get the HD network feeds from say NY or CA but they won’t let you. You can get the SD network feeds from the local Denver stations. Hmmm… what the hell is going on here? A large portion of the programming of THE MOST WATCHED networks is in HD and DirectTV simply can’t give it to you. Well, you can actually get them to if you have your bills sent to a CA address and lie to them where you live (they have no idea where the equipment is). I haven’t yet gone this route but the year isn’t up yet.
So for those keeping notes, if you live in Denver the DirectTV HD package is like HBO and two other channels you don’t care about.. nice. I kept my DirectTV subscription for now, because Comcast is out of their mind in a different way…
Hmm, How about Comcast… So, with a total DirectTV failure under my belt I went over the Comcast. I have been using Comcast for Internet for about year and it generally works pretty well (except they have 4 DNS servers for all 1 billion subscribers). I quickly find out that to get the 3 local network feeds in HD, you have to buy like $125 worth of other stations I will never watch. Well…I would maybe watch them if the Comcast hardware were not a total train wreck (more about that later). So in the name of trying everything I signed up for crazy cable..
Third the DVR… This is where I began to understand what a total mess this entire deal is. We are a Tivo family. We have at least three Tivo’s in service and a retirement stable of other Tivo’s that are now out to pasture, that we simply have run the wheels off. We don’t watch anything live, nothing….at all…..ever.
So the first thing you have to come to grips with is there is NO Tivo currently that works on Comcast and is HD. Second, The Tivo that does work on DirectTV in HD is like seven revs back in Tivo software and isn’t going to be upgraded. Tivo has a cable HD box, the series 3 that is suppose to be out this year “some time”. But after working with Comcast, it is abundantly clear that Comcast will do everything in its power to not put it on their network.
So… if you live in Denver, and want to record local HD network feeds, you are subscribing to the Comcast DVR. Don’t even get me started on the “Cable Card Standard”, I tongue-in-cheek believe that this standard is simply an illusion created to sell TV’s with more features. Comcast hates Cable Card and wants to kill it.
Now, for those that have not tried the Comcast DVR, it sucks. It has about 10 minutes of storage on it (I think it actually deletes programs as it records them for lack of space). Its other redeeming feature is it runs about the temperature of the sun. If placed in any cabinet less then the size of a room it will overheat and melt into a puddle of goo. This box is a total embarrassment. If I worked at Motorola on the team that gave birth to this abomination I would simple tell people I worked in the cell phone division.. I won’t even get into the freezes, freak-out’s, hosed menu system, constant pixelization, etc..
So.. what we ended up doing, and I can’t believe I’m even saying it.. We kept both the DirectTV with SD Tivo… and… Comcast crazy cable with the Comcast DVR (we only use it for HD programming, and then only when it works).
We are now one quarter into the grand experiment.. I have to say I have not arrived at a final solution. I’m going to keep running in this mode until either Tivo gets their series 3 working with Comcast (good luck), or DirectTV can get me HD locals (or any network feed)… or Denver finally builds their HD antenna array…