27 June

What your cable provider won't tell you!

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably heard something about the government mandated switch to all digital for over the air broadcasting. At first I didn't care that much about the switch until I saw two things, the incredible clarity of a digital channel versus a standard analog signal, and the new channel that became available (Columbia, MO area) via the new digital signal, Universal Sports channel which carries quite a few triathlons, bike races, and other sports I enjoy seeing.

I subscribe to basic cable through MediaCom, not a ton of channels, but I'm not willing to pay any more to get more channels that are just going to waste more of my time. But, if I'm going to take the time to watch TV, I want to see the best picture I can which means I really want to get HDTV! After deciding I was willing to pay a little more per month to get basic cable in HD, I found the following on MediaCom's website: "Mediacom customers who have an HDTV with a digital tuner can receive their local broadcasters* in HD at no additional charge." Hmm, no additional charge sounds great to me! However, after plugging the coaxial cable into my HDTV input on my TV and rescanning the channels, I still had no HD channels! Granted, I get a few channels occasionally by using amplified rabbit ears, but it's spotty at best and Universal seldom works.

I decided to give MediaCom a call, surprisingly getting someone on the phone within several minutes! Five minutes later I was hanging up frustrated after being told that no, I would need to pay $9.99 a month for the digital cable package and that would included local broadcasters for free. Not exactly what the website said, but arguing with someone who's probably reading a script doesn't get you very far...

After doing some searching on the internet, I noticed several diferent references to QAM tuners. I had assumed that since I had a digital tuner built into my TV, I had what I needed to receive digital signals via cable. It turns out that most Digital Converter Boxes and some TVs like mine use ATSC tuners to receive over the air digital signals, these will work when using an antenna to pick up the new digital signals being broadcast over the air. However, cable providers use a diferent signal to send the digital signals over cable and a QAM tuner is what will receive these.

Unfortunately my television doesn't have a QAM tuner built in, but I just happen to have an HDTV tuner card in my computer with a QAM tuner in it. So, as I'm sitting here typing this I've got NBC's local news in HD playing in the upper corner of my screen. I get the four main network broadcasts (NBC, FOX, CBS, & ABC) along with Universal and multiple other channels.

Here's what I found on Wikipedia regarding QAM tuners: "QAM-based HD programming of local stations is sometimes available to analog cable subscribers, without paying the additional fees for a digital cable box. The availability of QAM HD programming is rarely described or publicized in cable company product literature. Cable providers must provide rebroadcasts of locally aired programming in analog (if their plant is an analog/digital mix), but they may also carry rebroadcasts of high-definition digital locally aired programming, in an unencrypted form, that does not require the customer to use leased equipment, per FCC Sec. 76.630 and CFR Title 47, 76.901(a). These usually include the local affiliates for CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and FOX, and the cable providers comply by rebroadcasting them over QAM channels. The law does not require the cable provider to advertise their availability, and the cable customer service representatives are known to unequivocally (and incorrectly) insist to customers that a converter box is mandatory to view any HD channels."

Glad I didn't believe her when she said I needed to pay $9.99 a month!
posted at 20:44:40 on 06/27/09 by Tony Rigdon - Category: General


Tim Chancellor wrote:

So are you saying that most of the converter boxes that the public purchased to prepare for the change do not work because they are not QAM? I share your frustration with the spotty pick up of local channels- I don't have cable and the converter box doesn't seem to help- Thanks for your research!
06/29/09 10:21:42

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