Sep 10 2011

To expand a bit more on my interaction with TWC staff yesterday:

Late yesterday afternoon, while running errands, I stopped at the Time Warner Cable office in Augusta to inquire and (if they had them) pick up two Digital Cable Adapter boxes. There were some banners on display about the digital conversion and they had a temporary table setup to right hand side as you come in, with two computer stations and two staff members dedicated to customers coming in about the Digital Cable Conversion. Behind the table were a stack of boxes with the adapters.

They asked me how many TVs I had and I said I was just going to pick up two adapters for my analog DVR & DVDR. Both staff members said that everybody needs a Digital Cable Adapter per TV set. I replied asking: Even if I have modern HDTVs with a digital tuner and I already get some digital channels, I will really need on of those boxes? For every TV? They said: Yes, you need an adapter per TV, no matter which tuner it has. They insisted that unless you have one of their big (higher tier) Digital Cable Boxes (pointing to one mounted on the wall behind them) you will no longer get any cable service. Everything that is attached directly to the cable / wall needs an adapter or box. No adapter or box, no cable TV. The guy said Cable TV is going password protected. Etc.

Boxes can already be authorized on the network. I was told to call the number in the box from my home phone and follow the automated prompts.

There was some positive spin of course, that customers have reported they get better service and a clearer picture, etc.

I will try to put that to the test shortly. Stay tuned.

Sep 8 2011

We are one of the ‘lucky’ 90000 people in the central Maine area where Time Warner Cable is launching its pilot program Digital Cable Conversion plan on Oct 18th. It will go statewide and then nationwide later. Through the AVS forum, I learned this is going to be true for Comcast subscribers as well and that apparently they are starting this conversion in Maine as well. I think Brighthouse and other providers probably will follow suit as well. If two major players in the industry do it, more will follow.

I learned about this after catching part of little Time Warner Cable ad Tuesday morning, featuring a small cable box that transformed into a flying bot, etc. The TV was muted, so I didn’t catch the audio and I haven’t seen the ad again, to describe in full details.

Summary

Starting Oct 18th, Cable TV as we know it, is going all-digital, starting with central Maine.

Basically, anything with only an analog tuner – older TV, VCR, DVR, DVDR, computer tuner card … – will no longer receive any stations, unless you get the digital cable converter box (( or upgrade to the higher tier digital cable boxes //// or cut cable and go over the air with an antenna and digital antenna box )) and then you still face the hurdle of controlling the channels and programming the devices for recording. Most existing equipment will not know the remote code to transmit a channel change via an IR blaster, if they have one at all. So it is not good for people with lots of money invested in analog recording equipment. You will set your TV or device to channel 3 or 4 and receive cable via the converter box.

Consumer opinion / consensus *

The consensus so far between a few local affected consumers, based on what we have read & learned, seems to be that:

A) Channels 2-24 considered basic cable will be transmitted digitally clear and unencrypted and be receivable with a modern TV with digital tuner, or other device. No digital cable converter box needed, if you have a recent TV with digital tuner. If on the other hand you have an older analog TV, you will need the digital cable converter box. This box is similar to the OTA / Over The Air digital adapter box we learned about a few years ago, but smaller. It needs to be authorized and activated by the cable company and you have to use its remote for your channel functions. The converter box is offered for free, for us, through 2013. Then they will charge 99c/mo rent thereafter, per converter.

B) Channels 25-70 considered expanded cable are most likely to be transmitted encrypted and will require the converter box, per device that you wish to view those channels on.

So, if you have a QAM HDTV and expanded cable 2-70, you presumably (no confirmation from the cable company here yet) will get basic channels 2-24 unencrypted in SD & HD. Then you tune to channel 3 or 4 to get the cable signal from the digital cable converter box for channels 25-70 in SD. Yes. Standard Definition. One tidbit about the initial converter boxes that will be sent out is that they are only capable of standard definition. See FAQ link further.

” At this time, the Digital Adapter does not support HD signals. Time Warner Cable plans to offer HD Digital Adapters later this year. We will provide you with more information once they become available. ”

Brilliant, convenient, eco-friendly and we have to guess that the stations currently on channel 3 & 4 will move elsewhere.

C) Higher end tiers are not necessarily affected. If you already have a digital cable box (more than 100 channels etc) with every TV, nothing changes. Just keep using the rented equipment which does this digital conversion already.

If you do not have a cable box for all additional TVs, then those additional TVs’ reception will be affected as above for the basic and expanded lineup included with your service.

* Consensus noting that:
a) It is just a few consumers’ input so far
b) There is conflicting and incomplete information out there … thank you TWC
c) The TWC FAQ says that if you don’t have channel 122 or hook cable directly to your TV, you will need a converter … but elsewhere excepts QAM TVs … but then doesn’t cover expanded cable.
d) Two people I was in touch with from TWC fell completely out of the air and had no clue what I was talking about
e) TWC has not sent their customers any information yet. This is supposed to happen in about a month, but we have had no communication via the monthly bill or direct mail.

Local News Coverage

Local TV news from WCSH6 on the subject.

http://www.wcsh6.com/news/article/171959/2/Time-Warner-Cable-launches-digital-conversion-initiative

At least the Bangor newspaper was aware of this in late July apparently:

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/07/28/business/time-warner-cable’s-all-digital-television-campaign-starting-in-mid-maine/

Time Warner Cable put a positive spin on it with a few angles (a few more channels, more capacity, better phone & internet, VOD, …) that this is a good thing for consumers but I can’t really see this as good news for anyone. A ton of analog equipment becomes obsolete with this move. People who have chosen the lower service levels and those with more than one TV may be forced into rental fees to continue watching TV where they please in their home. And, one will have the encumbrance of needing to use their converter box and its remote, in addition to your own.

We just went through the digital over the air transition and heard the ‘promise’ that if you had cable, you wouldn’t need a converter box per TV/device like with an antenna. But fast forward a couple years and now you do.

I think we all know everything is going digital and that analog would be phased out at some time, but I didn’t know the end of analog started next month, in Maine.

We are going to be directly affected by some of this, with some of our electronics, so I will be ordering some digital cable converter boxes, I guess. Maybe just one to try it out, and scrap the rest?

Time Warner Cable Website

Time Warner cable has quite limited info about the “digital cable adapter” and who needs it.

Time Warner Cable Digital Adapter Support Page

On the Time Warner ordering page is the only place it showed that basic cable will be received fine on modern TVs with a digital QAM tuner and then goes on to give a few details about QAM. Note that it It doesn’t say expanded … so anybody with 70 channels and multiple TVs is going to be in for some converter boxes, more than likely.

Time Warner Cable Digital Adapter Ordering Page

Feb 7 2011

Take an example at this AT&T with your one measly bar of service.

Service anywhere we go … YES!!!

Feb 7 2011

The new baby has arrived.
Let’s hope the phone network does better than the website:

Mar 31 2008

Congratulations and welcome to (mt) MediaTemple ’s grid server, icerabbit.

Screen grab.

Mar 22 2008

The first attempt failed two days ago without error messages or explanation. The Windows Vista SP 1 upgrade went fine all the way through Step 3 100%. Then reverted.
Armed with the knowledge that the display driver is incompatible with Vista SP1, I updated the display driver successfully and made another attempt.

Now after Step 3 100% it complains that the “installation was not successful”

“Windows Service Pack 1 was not installed on your computer. Error code 0X800F0826. See http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=101139 for details.

Ok. At least we get an error message this time.

The error box links through to: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/947366 – Error message when you try to install Vista SP1 “Installation was not successful” or “An internal error occurred …” and gives some recommendations:

1. Restart and try again. Really?

2. Check your hard drives for errors.

3. Run system file checker tool.

Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and was unable to repair some of them. Details are included in the CBS.Log – C:\Windows\Logs\CBS\CBS.log

Not bad, if it weren’t that the file is 148626 lines long.

4. Run Vista Memory Diagnostic tool.

Error: “Windows cannot check for memory problems” – ” A Problem is preventing Windows from checking for memory problems during startup. Try to check for problems again by running the tool manually. ”

Isn’t life great. Another useless MS error box.

5. Restart and close any applications that may be running.

Another attempt, despite the corrupt files and memory problems (which never have been diagnosed nor an issue before) did result in the same problem.

Interestingly there is a Windows Update error 800f0826 Windows Help article:

http://windowshelp.microsoft.com/Windows/en-US/Help/2d96561c-0a7a-492a-b48f-8317cf4f1fde1033.mspx

suggesting to look at the update history and trying to resolve the individual update error(s).

Mar 22 2008

The first time I tried the installation, using the standalone downloadable installer, it went all the way through to step 2. Then crashed upon reboot with a blue screen of death (BSOD), was unable to repair the startup problem, but was finally able to do a system restore.

My two conversations with Toshiba Technical Support were of no help in identifying the problem I experienced, other than that in the mean time I figured it out on my own. Or, I should say, at least figured out one part of the equasion, namely that the display driver on this machine is not Windows Vista SP1 compatible.

The Intel 965 Express driver on the Toshiba Satellite U305-S2804 is v 7.14.10.1329.

This versions fits right into the beginning of the range 7.14.10.1322 and 7.14.10.1403 that is incompatible according to Microsoft (http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=948343).

But, there has to be a newer driver out, right?

Using the “Update driver” feature within the device driver window, Vista kindly alerts me that my driver is up to date. Of course this is not surprising me when in the mean time I already looked up that Intel has released several newer versions and is currently at v 7.14.10.1437 (http://www.intel.com/support/graphics/intelgm965/#anchor1)

A quick download later, the Intel driver installation alerts me that this driver is not certified for my machine and that I should download the latest version from the manufacturer. Mmmm.
Back at Toshiba there is nary a download for the U305. Through a chipset search I find that the latest driver predates my machine’s purchase and matches v 7.14.10.1329.

So, no SP1 love right now for this Toshiba notebook.

And, of course I have to be the first and only one at this point in time who can’t install SP1 on this particular machine. What are the odds?

Update: Toshiba is bumping me to level 3 tech support, advanced engineering since it is a driver/firmware issue and their department will be giving me a call back in the beginning of next week.

Mar 22 2008

Microsoft is giving me, and countless other people headaches with the Vista Service Pack 1 update. Luckily I haven’t had an inoperable operating system yet, and right now, my personal install score is: 2 failures – 1 success.

Since I have a near factory fresh Toshiba laptop on my desk which experienced that BSOD, I gave them a call to see what’s up as their site didn’t tell me anything about Vista issues. I received some bad advice and feel sorry for people that may follow it blindly. No surprise really, and many manufacturer’s may unfortunately say the same thing.

Toshiba’s Level 1 advice:

a) a program you installed is incompatible, do a factory restore then try again. Sorry, this machine only has an additional browser or two and a card game.

b) something you installed caused a driver issue, do a factory install and try again. Sorry, I did not update any drivers and the factory restore for that matter would be useless, it would just set the device drivers back to where they are now.

c) call MS. Oh right, who will say call Toshiba.
Toshiba’s level 2 advice

d) download the standalone installer, don’t go through update. Fair. I prefer to work that way anyhow. Unfortunately that was the method I used the other night.

e) there are no known issues between SP1 and Toshiba notebooks. All are Toshiba notebooks are Vista SP 1 compatible. No upgrades or downgrades of drivers are required.

Red alert! While I was on hold, a little light bulb had flipped on in the back of my head. Clearly my BSOD was some driver issue (didn’t catch the name, it rebooted on me the second I noticed it from the corner of my eye) and the reason of my call to Toshiba. Microsoft didn’t give any install notes about hardware incompatibilities, driver issues and I didn’t find it upon a first quick search. Anyhow.
Click here to read more …

Mar 20 2008

One of the two notebooks (dual core, vista home premium pre-installed) I use prompted that Vista SP1 was available as an automatic update. I figured why not, since this is the official release from 2 days ago. Speedy download. Installation goes pretty swiftly. Step 1, step 2 and step 3: 100%. Sweet. Reboot. And then this:

vista service pack did not install

Excuse me? It just did 100% on all three steps, taking its sweet little time overal, and then it says it couldn’t do it? So what exactly happened during all the installation steps? If it checks something that critical at the very end, how about doing that little hardware and software check (or whatever it is) at the very beginning of the update process? And, where can I trace the cause of the problem? I did not see any error information? Nor suggestions?

Fortunately this botched update did not ruin the machine. Everything still looks the same and essential applications work. Small sigh of relief. And, now of course Vista SP1 is ready to be installed again. Funny.

On a second Vista notebook the SP so far refuses to show up. Haven’t tried any other machines yet, but something tells me I will exercise some patience. There are plenty of similar stories on the web already too.

Anyhow, you have to love Microsoft, right?

Update: I am too curious what the failure rate will be so I am already trying it on another machine. This one is a year younger, pretty much ’stock’ (or factory default) and faster. We’ll see.

Update 2: Absolutely fabulous. 25 minutes into the installation. Step 2 is completed. System reboots. A blue screen of death. My system is unable to start. Windows Startup Repair can’t repair the problem. System restore … attempting …

Update 3: Fortunately I landed back on my desktop after some very long 15 minutes.

My conclusion, with two failures and especially after that Blue Screen Of Death, is that this Service Pack 1 for Vista is not ready for prime time. Two solid and fast machines, less than a year old, from mainstream manufacturers and neither can be updated?

I recommend others to just wait. Maybe once you hear on the web from somebody who has the same machine and updated his/her’s fine; you can be confident it will work. To me it is not worth the 40 min hassle nor risking data and possibly having to reinstall the machine. I have read some reports where it took several hours to both install and revert SP1. I can’t imagine sitting through that worrying if the machine will boot.

Jan 11 2008

The National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) video spot about the switch to DTV on February 19, 2009 is big on scare “Your TVs may go dark” & “You may need an upgrade” but short on info.It certainly made me pause. We don’t have digital cable and have several TVs that predate the mandated digital tuner generation (which started less than a year ago). So, that could mean increasing our cable subscription services and adding extra boxes ($$$). Or digital-to-analog converter boxes ($$) with the added box & controller inconvenience. Or going satellite, which also has its boxes.What service(s) does DTV affect?The little known detail among consumers is that the DTV switch ONLY affects Over The Air television reception a.k.a. OTA.http://dtvanswers.com/dtv_what.html — ” Digital television (DTV) is an innovative new type of over-the-air broadcasting technology http://dtv.gov/whatisdtv.html — Analog TVs ” will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services “Why couldn’t the NAB ad just point that out the antenna part?If you have rabbit ears ;) or antenna, please pay attention. All others, relax. The analog cable signal is not changing.Don’t paint a broad picture about “digital tv” that confuses people with “digital tv subscriptions” and scares a whole generation of older people that they’re going to have to shell out a lot of money for new televisions and subscribe to cable or satellite. Maybe that is actually the hidden plot behind the scene? Scare people into a paid service, sell bunches of new gear and sell the analog spectrum. Win-win-win.A call to our local cable provider (Time Warner, formerly Adelphia) confirmed that there will no change in analog cable service due to the DTV switch.Converter box coupon. If your TV does not have a digital tuner and you have any type of analog antenna on your roof or TV set, you can convert the analog signal to digital and the government is subsidizing the converters.There is an application form at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ to subsidize up to two analog to digital cable converter boxes per family.Note that the coupons have an expiration date. They are only valid for three months, so you may want to wait a little bit.They have a pretty detailed FAQ at https://www.dtv2009.gov/FAQ.aspxI will personally wait till more products with more features are on the market and they start to compete price-wise and feature wise. ( I will get one converter for emergency broadcast reception when cable and power is out. )Which DTV / HDTV antenna can I use? What signal can I get over the air?You may only need a very compact indoor antenna to receive a couple signal in an urban setting. But if rabbit ears don’t work now, I doubt a digital capable equivalent will yield any results. How can you know what is out there before buying an antenna?Should you or a family member use some type of antenna now or maybe consider it for the future instead of paying for cable, there is a great online resource to check what signals are available in your area and what antenna you should use: antennaweb.org from the Consumer Electronics Organization.I have used antennaweb.org to check signal availability in a few areas and determined an antenna is simply not going to work (or worth the investment I should say) for two remote areas due to distance from towers & hills; but that with a dozen stations in two urban areas, an antenna is certainly a viable option.Antennaweb homepageOn their homepage, click on the choose an antenna button. No need to fill out all your personal information. You can just fill out your ZIP code, confirm your housing type and if there are any tall obstacles. It will then show you a map of your area. Use the controls and click to put the star roughly where your house is.Antennaweb sample mapClick continue and it will show you a list of stations in your area and make recommendations on what antenna type you could use to receive them.Antennaweb sample resultsAs you can see there is not much out there for people in the 04330 area. Add big obstacles, hills and the metropolitan areas being in two different directions and it would not be easy to get a good result. Even satellite is very low on the horizon here.Clicking through on the antenna color will give you some guidelines about the antenna type to use * and armed with that information you can go shopping.* Note that some stations will switch bands from VHF to UHFOnline shopping for a DTV HDTV antennaI have done a little bit of comparison shopping in the past and have been impressed with the guys behind solidsignal.com – no affiliation.I contacted them last year about a difficult location (which turned out to be unsuitable for antenna reception) and they were accurate with their evaluation and quick to respond. I am in touch with them now to order an antenna for a family member.They have a red antennahelp link in the upper right.Solid signal siteYou fill out a form and they respond with a recommendation in a few hours, after evaluating your location and answers you filled out.Their prices seem reasonable and I would not hesitate to order from them, but of course you can use their recommendations & pricing to shop around, as any smart web shopper would do.Other thoughts on the DTV switch I really do not think that the DTV switch is a good thing.I fear tons of electronic waste will go to the landfill.Handheld emergency TVs are now obsolete. Our little handheld Casio running on 4 AA batteries has been great during hurricane outages to tune into continuous hurricane coverage and stay informed about local weather conditions. Maybe one could rig an antenna to a converter box and then wire to the antenna? Still, you will need power for that converter box and the thing won’t be very portable.I am taking the DTV quality claims with a grain of salt. They’re supposed to be free of ghosts and snow. But DTV does not equal HD and it probably will suffer the same issues. Digital TV channels on cable and HDTV should be the nec plus ultra. Except that they suffer from pixelization due to upscaling / upsampling and / or over compression. HDTV channels are only broadcast at half the recommended bandwith at to ensure a continuous crisp picture that doesn’t take
a few seconds to catch up to scene change. It is especially bad through transitions, high detail scenes, fast action, … The only exception I have seen has been hdnet.Update February 11: I have installed one DTV set at a family member’s place and hooked it up to the existing and slightly ‘antique’ long directional antenna. I am not easily impressed but I am honestly very impressed with the image quality of DTV. So much so that I found myself watching TV I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, just to check their clarity. At certain times there were a few stations that we experienced digital artifacts (blocks of static / noise) in the signal, but I think that was due to the range and maybe inclement weather 60+ miles away. All in all, I give the DTV signal two thumbs up. It is way better than what we had less than two years ago on HD Cable with Time Warner / Comcast; and not to mention free.The additional weather channels on local stations are a real plus as well. Just tune to channel 8-2 or so to get the plus channel of your local station and get real time radar images and weather updates. When severe weather is in the area you can now track it live on tv, without needing the weather channel on cable. Update March 15: I noticed the NAB has started to air a new clip which specifically mentions that it is TV antenna users who may need to upgrade.I don’t know if my letter to them had anything to do with it (did not get a response) but at least they are no longer making it sound as if everybody might lose their signal and need to run out to buy new TVs or converter boxes.