(For my readers outside the United States, a bit of background explanation may be necessary. Americans consider access to television a self-evident and unalienable right.According to a Pew Research report[Luxury or Necessity?] 64 percent of Americansconsider a television set a necessity, and 33 percent consider paid providers, like cable or satellite, a necessity.Even prisoners in U.S. jails are allowed to watch television!)
Taking advantage of the "Y2K crisis" like nature of this 2/17/2009 deadline, paid providers have been advertisingthat this deadline only applies to on-air customers. Those who have cable or satellite can continue to use theiranalog equipment. I have been a subscriber for Cox Cable for some time, and my parents recently made the switchas well. Two weeks ago, however, my parents called me in a panic. Cox Cable chose to move one channel, TurnerClassic Movies (TCM), over from their analog line-up over to their digital line-up. They thought this wasn't goingto happen until 2/17/2009! They asked me to investigate and provide them alternative options.
I spoke to a Cox Cable representative.
- Did Turner force Cox Cable to do this? Did they digitize their entire collection of movies? No, Cox Cable is choosing to send the TCM signal over the digital bandwidth, and they are converted back to analog by their set-top box.
- Do customers who now get one less channel get a discount? No, same price, less service.
- Why move a single channel over? Eventually, everything is going digital, and this is a small "baby step" to getpeople to switch over.
- But TCM is a collection of grainy, black-and-white movies from the 1950s and 1960s, it is probably the channelthat gets the least benefit to convert to digital. Why choose TCM specifically? TCM is "commercial-free" so providesno additional revenue opportunity. Moving this to digital frees up an analog channel to run a new "on demand" servicethat could generate additional revenue for Cox Cable.
- What would it take in terms of additional cost and equipment to watch the TCM in digital?A set-top digital box from Cox Cable, which costs one-time 10 dollars to install by a professional technician, plus 11 dollars per month for the extra "service" provided.
- Do I need a High-Def television set or other equipment? No, the digital signal for TCM is standard format, so no HD equipment required.
- I currently split my cable signal, so that I can watch one channel and record another, or record two separate channels at the same time, using a standard format VCR and Tivo, can I continue to do this with the digital set-top box? Yes, absolutely.
I decided to give it a try, and a technician was scheduled to perform the installation last Sunday, which was Easter holiday for some people. The technician was able to connect the set-top box directly to my television set, but thesignal is converted to a single "Channel 3", forcing the use of a separate Cox Cable remote control unit to set the channel on the set-top box. He set the set-top box to TCM (channel 199) and showed that the TCM channel was now available again.
- How would my VCR or Tivo record anything? You have to set the set-top box manually to the appropriate channel desired, then set the VCR or Tivo to record "Channel 3".
- How would I record one channel while watching another? That does not appear possible with this set-top box. If we split before entering the set-top box, then that equipment would get the analog channels only, not TCM.
- How about recording two different channels concurrently? No way.
I feel bad for the technician. He spent two hours on his Easter Sunday to install service that I was told by theirsales rep would work with my equipment, only to find out it won't and he ended up having to take it all back out andcancel the work order. He doesn't even get paid overtime for this.
So, I am back to where I was before, analog channels minus the TCM channel. However, the lesson is clear, eventuallyeverything is going to digital, and people may not realize what this means to them.