Cable vs. Satellite
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
I admit, I'm a televisaholic. I LOVE television, and I have since I witnessed the crazy antics of Big Bird, Tom and Jerry, Gilligan, and all the others. A while back, when my old Zenith finally bit the dust, I bit the bullet and got what I consider to be a really nice television. It's a Sony 34" HDTV, and it truly is a thing of beauty. The only problem is that I had DirecTV service, and at the time, if you had an HDTV, you had to make a choice: HDTV or TiVo service. Having never really witnessed HDTV in action, I decided that I really like my TiVo service better, so it was a no-brainer: I can live without HDTV a little longer.
Well, now DirecTV has an HDTV DirecTV service with TiVo service included. (I call it HD DirecTiVo, for short.) But if you want it, there's a hefty price tag. They don't let you lease the receiver, so you have to pay $1,000 for the box up front, plus an extra $11 a month for the service. For that wad of cash, you get 12 high definition channels. That's right, $1,000 plus $11 a month for TWELVE channels. God, I want HDTV, but there's no way I can even come close to justifying that. (Especially considering that five of those channels--the broadcast networks--are available to me, even without satellite or cable service, via an "over-the-air" antenna, which is how you get those five channels from DirecTV anyway...)
Enter Comcast, our local friendly cable company. Comcast has a comparable service, but they allow you to lease the box, and you don't need an over-the-air antenna. For this, they charge an extra $10 a month to their cable service. So for about the same price as I'm paying DirecTV every month, I can get HDTV channels, too. So far, so good, or so I thought. I called and ordered installation last Friday to check it all out. Yesterday, a technician showed up and installed the cable boxes. The first thing I did, of course, was tune in to some of the HDTV channels. I've got to admit that they're mind-numbingly gorgeous. The picture is better than anything I've seen on a television before. However...
It didn't take me long to figure out why I switched away from cable in the first place. I tuned in to some of the standard definition channels, and the signal is absolute crap. I mean crap to the point of having a rabbit ears antenna would be better. This is the dirty little secret of all those cable companies when they're pitching their "digital" cable service. Only SOME of the channels are digital. All of the standard cable television fare--broadcast networks, CNN, ESPN, Sci-Fi, etc. are analog channels, not digital. This means that's not any better than the cable service you've grown up with and loved for the past thirty years. Only some of the newer channels and the premium movie channels are digital. On satellite television, ALL channels are digital by necessity, so the quality of the picture is much higher than the analog channels offered by the cable companies.
How much better? Well, see for yourself. I took photographs with my digital camera of the satellite picture and the cable picture of a scene. (That's Cleavant Derricks, who plays Rembrandt Brown on Sliders.) Unfortunately, this is no exaggeration, this is what it looks like in honest-to-god real life:
The top picture is satellite, the bottom cable. Which would you prefer? Even at the low resolution I used for this blog, the difference is painfully obvious. The cable technician worked on this problem for around an hour and a half while he was here. He changed the connectors at the street, the connectors on my house, and adjusted a bunch of stuff, all to no avail. Before he left, I was able to show him side-by-side the difference between the Comcast service and DirecTV. He said that yes, the Comcast service was significantly worse, but he had done all he could and that at this point, I need to place a service call. (More on that in a second.)
Another complaint I have is with the Comcast guide. Before I rant, I'll post a couple of more pictures for comparison. Before you read on, look at the pictures and see if you can figure out what I don't like about the bottom one:
Like everyone else, I HATE advertisements. I grudgingly accept them when people are giving me stuff for free or at a lower cost. But I PAY for cable service. They're already making money off of me through my monthly service fee. That's not good enough, though. They want to make even more money from paid sponsors, and to hell with what I--a paying customer--think about it.
And what do I get for these ads? Less than nothing. Notice that on the DirecTV guide, I have a nice little picture-in-guide that allows me to keep watching the channel even when the guide is up, and a VERY nice summary of the show that is selected. Also notice that I get to see what is on over the span of an hour and a half. On the Comcast guide, I get nothing but ads and the ability to see what is on right now. Sure, I can navigate around in the guide, but to see what is coming on in an hour, it takes me a lot more button presses than it does on the DirecTV guide. The reason? Because Comcast is greedy and wants to force ads on customers that are already paying. To me, that's inexcusable.
A few other screwy things have gone wrong, too. Comcast screwed up my order. When I placed the order, I told them I wanted the Digital Gold package, with HBO and Showtime. I didn't get either. And now, the second cable box on the television in my bedroom isn't working. I get nothing but static on it. If I plug the cable directly into the television, I can see the analog channels I receive (in all their crappy quality), which means that the cable connection is fine. When I plug it into the cable box, I can see menus (as evidenced by the picture of the guide above), which means that the connection between the cable box and the telvision is fine. The problem has to be with the cable box itself, which stopped working around three hours or so after it was installed.
So today, I called Comcast with all of these complaints. I told them that they're going to have to fix at least the reception problem and the cable box problem or else I'll cancel my service as fast as I ordered it. (Fortunately, I haven't canceled my DirecTV service yet!) They're sending a technician out this Saturday between 2:00pm and 5:00pm to hopefully fix these problems. While on the phone, they did enable the HBO and Showtime channels. I really don't understand why they didn't have that taken care of before the technician left. Also, I still don't get some of the HD channels I'm supposed to even with what they did over the telephone, so hopefully the technician that comes out will take care of that, too.
I guess we'll see, but right now, I'm really skeptical. I do know that DirecTV announced in September of last year that they will be dramatically improving their service this year with the launch of two new satellites that will pipe out enough HDTV local television to forego the need for an over-the-air antenna. Also, industry insiders are saying that DirecTV is planning on dumping TiVo to make their own personal video recorder box. If they do, maybe they'll come out with new leasing plans that will allow one to get these boxes at an incremental monthly cost instead of paying a massive wad of cash up front. With both of these developments, I will seriously reconsider the HD DirecTV DVR service then.
I'll post an update later on what happens when the Comcast technician comes out.
When I called Comcast to complain about how much my cable service sucks, and after explicitly telling them that I was very tempted to go on and cancel my service after only a single day, the lady asked me with complete sincerety if I was interested in Comcast's high-speed Internet service. I couldn't help but laugh. The nicest reponse I could come up with was, "Let's just see if you can get the cable service working first."