Comcast came out on Friday morning and installed my upgraded cable connection. Strictly speaking, I have no idea which tier I’m actually on right now. I know it’s at least expanded digital cable, and I think I get some HDTV channels. To be honest, I haven’t played with the settop box for more than 5 minutes. The real reason I wanted to get cable was so that I could have the Hallmark Channel again. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s not going to happen. I’ve tried everything, and the only way I can get the channel is by using the settop box. In the meantime, I only added 4 channels that I was interested in watching (Food Network, TLC, HGTV and Animal Planet), and am living with that.
There’s a lot more channels that I like to watch, but I’m taking it slow. Another channel I’m mostly interested in is TNT, since they play Without a Trace and Cold Case regularly. I think. Anyway, I’m actually trying to cut *back* on the number of channels I watch (one of my TVs only has all the PBS channels on it, which is a nice change of pace), but the fact is that some channels on cable have a much better and interesting lineup than the local ones.
Onto the cool stuff though. The settop box is a disaster and a half, or at least the menu is. I’m going to have to take screenshots because it really is unfathomable how much of a UI nightmare this is. Here’s my biggest beef with the whole thing: you can’t setup a custom channel list, or even add / delete channels from your lineup. If you want to go channel surfing, you have to go through *every* *single* *channel*. The only option around that is to add a ‘Favorites’ list, for which the remote has a button that will flip through those, but only going up. It’s incredibly annoying because adding / deleting channels has been a standard option for TVs for decades. Comcast’s settop box does let you setup a list of your favorite channels, but to browse it, you have to go through about 3 or 4 actions on the remote to get there, and even then it only displays the list in a guide. If you go back to hitting channel up or down, it just cycles again through every channel you get. And there are a lot of channels. And of coures it doesn’t ignore the ones that you aren’t signed up for, so you get to muddle through about three dozen that you aren’t authorized for.
I *think* that that the DirecTV and Dish Network boxes let you create lists, and then keep you in those channel lists for when you want to channel surf. I’m not sure, since I’ve never given one a good hard look. I’d switch to one of those just for that, though. In fact, I probably will.
In the meantime, I’m going to screw around with this settop box for a bit more before taking it back to Comcast. From what I’ve been reading, MythTV can add the box as an input device, using a firewire connection to control the channel tuner, and of course record TV. Mine is the HDTV DVR (Motorola DCT3416), and I haven’t yet seen much info about connecting one. The anecdotal evidence so far seems to be along the lines of “plug in the cable, and it works great.” We’ll see. I don’t even have a firewire cable.
So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m not gonna use the settop box unless I can get Myth to play around with it. Even then, I don’t need it, since I can tune into all the channels I wanted anyway with my normal TV tuner cards. I still need to see exactly which channels I get. I actually ripped it out from my HDTV since the picture was so horrible to begin with. Even on component output it looked incredibly crappy, not to mention worse than my original coaxial input connection. I plugged it in briefly using HDMI, but that was just as unimpressive.
I’m toying with the idea of getting a Tivo just to see what my options are (yet another area I don’t know anything about, so who knows), but I’m not too optimistic anything good would come out of it. I’ll probably buy one used somewhere just so I can see if its worth it.
The real good thing is that, despite all these interesting issues, is that I’m perfectly happy with my original cable lineup, so if I rip everything out, I won’t miss it one bit. I’m just curious to see what I can accomplish though. It’s fun.