While most have little choice when it comes to cable providers, there are clear winners and losers when it comes to TiVo.
Years ago, the FCC, cable industry, and consumer electronics contingent, agreed upon the CableCARD as a means of of providing separable security to open the set-top box market for retail devices. Yet, there’s far more to the story as it’s been a rocky road… requiring additional government guidance for cable companies and due to the adoption of switched digital video (SDV) in many markets. We may find ourselves in the golden age of CableCARD, but not all providers are created equal. And what prompted this post was the discovery that Bright House brazenly charges for SDV Tuning Adapter rentals.
Look, we recognize that CableCARDs have been a burden for the MSOs. In fact, less than 550,000 TiVo DVRs are active on digital cable – after nearly 5 1/2 years on the market. So the cablecos have incurred all sorts of expense from required integration of CableCARDS into their own set-top boxes to training and support for what amounts to a small minority of customers who possess retail CableCARD devices like TiVo or the HDHomeRun Prime. Further, it’s not exactly a level playing field as IPTV (AT&T U-verse) and satellite companies (DISH, DirecTV) aren’t held to the same standard – even though they provide essentially the same consumer service, they’re regulated differently given their delivery mechanisms. And perhaps this explains why a cable company like Bright House appears to be throwing up roadblocks for retail CableCARD device owners… and why they bring up the bottom of our list as the absolute worst cable television provider for TiVo owners.
Not only has Bright House possibly misled customers on the potential impact of SDV programming, they charge customers $3.80 a month to rent SDV Tuning Adapters. Now I do hear this fee is typically waived the first year and/or if you complain enough. And while it’s within Bright House’s rights to levy this fee, this isn’t exactly how the cable industry originally pitched the tuning adapter. Basically, a TiVo owner must rent this second set-top box from Bright House in order to enable their actual DVR to tune the channels they’re paying for. The need for tuning adapters is bad enough under the best of conditions, but the gall to charge for this hack! In fact, I’d go so far as to say it negates the cable industry’s progress in enabling third party receiving devices like the Xbox or iPad and reinforces the need for some sort of regulated AllVid or IP back channel method of two-way communication — as renting two devices (CableCARD, TA) to enable a single retail CableCARD device seems to run counter to FCC guidance. Another strike against Bright House Networks is their voluntary, overzealous application of the copy once CCI Byte flag which effectively kills TiVo multi-room viewing and TiVoToGo for all channels but the locals.
Honors for the second worst cable company for TiVo owners goes to Cox Communications, who I had the misfortune of living with about a year and a half. My problems with Cox were related to switched channels sporadicly vanishing for hours or days at a time and continual tuning adapter reboots. In both scenarios, I was unable to view or reliably record content I’d been paying for. How bad was it? TiVo, Inc took a look at my logs:
There are many occurrences of the TA disconnecting and reconnecting throughout the logs. All of them are of approximately 4-5 minute duration, which is consistent with the TA rebooting. There is no pattern as to when the reboots occur, but they are occurring at a frequency of about twice a day. For the time period between 10/22/10 00:00 GMT and the latest 11/02/10 10:00 GMT there are 22 occurrences.
During my tenure, Cox never satsfactorily resolved these issues… yet during the same time period reported zero CableCARD issues within their footprint to the FCC. Never let reality get in the way of government accounting? I guess it’s somewhat ironic because Cox actually has the friendliest and most concerned support personel I’ve dealt with. They just didn’t seem to have a good handle on their technology. And, like Bright House, Cox over zealously applies the copy once restriction in most markets – which disabled TiVo multi-room viewing for me. That perhaps indiscriminate application of the copy once CCI Byte flag also lands Time Warner in the “worst” category.
On the other end of the spectrum, Verizon’s FiOS TV is absolutely the best home for TiVo owners. No switched digital silliness, no intentional CCI Byte copy restrictions. Further, I’ve found their staff and network highly CableCARD-aware – acquiring and activating their hardware is ridiculously pain free (compared to the competition). Even better? Their footprint overlaps with that of Bright House and Cox Communications in some regions… giving a subset of TiVo owners the opportunity to go from worst to first, should they so choose.
Comcast also gets a nod for upping their CableCARD game. Early on, I found myself displeased with their CableCARD support (which required a call to the local franchising authority). But over time, they seem to have become more adept at supporting CableCARDs and haven’t “upgraded” their network to SDV. However, I still have to knock them for what has been inconsistant CableCARD pricing across the country.
Of course, experiences will vary — and this summary is based largely on my first hand exposure, FCC reports, and TiVo Community discussion. Have a CableCARD horror story or notably positive experience to contradict our findings?