Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Giving Comcast The New Jersey Salute = Free HD

Last January we finally replaced the old TV set in the living room with a large LED flat screen. Unlike the old set, it was capable of receiving both analog and digital signals. So when I hooked it to our existing cable, it received a lot more channels than our old set. The only problem was it took a long time to find the channel you wanted because there was no on-screen guide.

So my wife called Comcast and they said we needed to add one of their boxes to every set in the house. The first box was included in our current bill, but we'd be billed more each month to rent the additional boxes for the other sets. The next day we picked up 3 boxes and hooked them to each TV. As promised there was an on-screen grid-like guide. It made it easier to find channels, but suddenly many of the digital channels we got without the boxes no longer worked.

Then a few months ago I was hooking up a TV for my mother-in-law. She had just moved to a new apartment and didn't want to pay for cable. So I dug out an old pair of rabbit ears and hooked them to the digital converter box she had gotten with her government issued coupon. The set received 16 channels. The first thing I noticed was how amazingly clear the picture quality was, even on her old set. I also noticed she was getting channels we weren't getting on cable. In fact they were the same digital channels we had gotten before paying extra for the Comcast boxes.

My wife called Comcast again to ask why we weren't receiving the digital channels. They said they were only available with extended digital service. So we check our bill and it turns out we had been paying for the extended digital service. When we told Comcast, instead of fixing the problem, their solution was to refund the amount we had overpaid.

Sometimes you don't get what you pay for...

I started to do some research and found an article title "You don't get what you pay for." The signals in the air are 100% pure HD, signals from cable are compressed and only deliver around 70% of the original clarity. I also discovered that many stations began "multi casting" when everything switch over from analog - meaning that each station broadcast several channels. Then it hit me, if an old set of rabbit ears on top of a set can get 16 crystal clear channels, how many more could a top notch outdoor antenna get?

So I called Comcast and told them to cut off service at the end of the month's billing date, which gave me some time to get everything ordered and installed. After a week of research, I ordered a DB8 outdoor antenna, a Motorola signal amplifier, all the necessary installation hardware and 2 Tivax digital converter boxes using the government issued coupons. The total cost for everything was the less than what we'd pay for 2 months of cable.

It took a few hours to mount the antenna, properly ground it, run the antenna cable through the attic, hook up the signal amp and connect the TVs. Once everything was done, I rescanned for channels on each TV. Ends up we get 36 channels, all free, and the picture quality is flawless. Pure HD. And all completely free. But that's not the best part of the story. The one thing that made me reluctant to drop cable was that the few shows and channels my family likes to watch would be gone. But it turns out some of the shows are on channels we still get, and there's an alternative to almost every show that's not.

It's kind of like drinking Sam's Choice Cola instead of Coke. Not the real thing, but close enough and a lot cheaper.