Dishing Out About Cable

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 8:32 PM

The other day, it dawned on me. My telephone is digital service provided by the cableco, as is my internet access. Yet, I have a satellite dish. Surely, the cableco could offer something to make it worth my time to switch to cable tv, too, right?

Now, Dish Network has been good to work with. They have good technical support and they were offering a “free” DVR before anyone else. On the other hand, the Weather Channel lacks local forecasts, I can't get any of the local public service channels (occasionally, for instance, the City of St. Peters might have something interesting on, as does Lindenwood U.), and the DVR is not a dual tuner, so if it is recording, you can only watch what you are recording (that doesn't make much sense, now does it?). Dish, these days, gives you a dual-tuner recorder, but they want fifty bucks to replace the old one that I now own, since I was under contract. The one $50 will get me will be a no-charge leased unit instead of one that is mine to keep (although what you do with a satellite tuner/DVR if you cancel service is beyond me anyway…).

So, I called the cable company, Charter Communications. After talking to several people and getting multiple different answers, I finally got the bottom line: they offer about $13 in discounts for getting the “triple play” package (phone, internet and TV), but they are more expensive than Dish, so I'll end up at the same price point as before. Their DVR is also only a 40 hour one versus the 100 hour one that Dish gives out. On the other hand, they offer the aforementioned channels and some others, a GNU/Linux based DVR (a Moxi box) that can be expanded with an external hard disk, photo card readers, etc., and you can even transfer non-flagged material over Firewire to a computer or burner. Moreover, it consolidates all communication and media services onto one bill.

The question is whether it is a wise choice. Charter is ranked lowest for technical support of major providers. In my experience with their internet service, it is pretty good actually, although presently I need to get a technician out because I cannot download anything of substantial size (100 MB or more) without losing the connection). On the bright side, they have a new CEO who is promising to focus the company's resources on improving support and since I live in Charter's home city, we'll probably see any improvements first…


Re: Dishing Out About Cable
There's another benefit to digital cable. No more lost satelite signal. :) I've had comcast digital cable and DISH network. After experiencing both, I'll stick with digital cable if I'm in an area where it is offered. Similar service with fewer problems and no contract. If I find myself living in an area that isn't served by digital cable, I'll go back to DISH, though. I had no complaints against them.
Posted by kevin - Feb 27, 2005 | 9:24 PM

Re: Dishing Out About Cable
True, I have lost it a few times in the rain -- so much for watching the Weather Channel when the weather gets bad, eh? Thanks for the comparison between Comcast and DISH. I think giving it a try might be good. They have a 30-day money back guarantee, and they are out of DVR's at the moment, so by the time they get one in, I'll probably be in the middle of the DISH billing cycle. That'll give me a few weeks to see if it really works out well or not before the dish is turned off.
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Feb 27, 2005 | 10:29 PM

Re: Dishing Out About Cable
Speaking of owning the dish: In the front yard of my rented home is a 50-foot tower once used to catch TV signals over the trees. It's not working and the tower isn't sturdy enough for me to climb and fix it. There's a also one of those old 10-foot satellite dishes pointing uselessly at the equitorial satellite belt.
Posted by Ed Hurst - Feb 28, 2005 | 3:41 PM

Re: Dishing Out About Cable
Now that's a _real_ dish, Ed. :-) Sounds like you need to get a lift to work on it. Perhaps you could make a homemade WiFi antenna for the top, and if you could figure out a way to get high speed internet to your home, you could resell it to those in the area... fixed wireless is just begging to be setup on that tower.
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Feb 28, 2005 | 5:26 PM

Re: Dishing Out About Cable
"and you can even transfer non-flagged material over Firewire to a computer or burner." IMHO, once July rolls around there won't be anything left without a broadcast flag set to ON. Heck even CNN is reported to be ready and willing to throw the switch to avoid another John Stewart incident. BTW, you talk about DISH, what about DirectTV? If not for the trees in our back area of our condo, we'd have Sat TV in a heart beat. In my area they wanted to charge us well over $50 for about 50 channels in analog. For the same number of channels, DirectTV would give you an all digital signal, for about $20 bucks less.
Posted by Mark - Mar 01, 2005 | 12:03 AM

Re: Dishing Out About Cable
Good point, Mark, although I believe broadcast flags only work on HD material, if I'm not mistaken. If that's the case, it should be OK. As far as DirecTV, thanks for the suggestion. In most comparisons of possible configurations I've done, DirecTV is more expensive than Dish. For a DVR, they are even more expensive than Charter (by $3), making them a whopping $8 more than Dish's DVR. Since Charter seems to be offering a deal comparable in price to Dish, that would mean DirecTV would cost more for me. And, I'm not unhappy with Dish. Satellites in general just have certain limitations -- the weather issues Kevin mentioned, lack of local weather on the Weather Channel, lack of local public service stations (city, county, university, etc.), lack of more obscure local channels (sometimes), etc. To the best of my knowledge many channels aren't digital anyway, so essentially the all digital part just means the channels are converted from analog to digital and then back to analog on the receiver end. Plus, of course, with cable, you can have all the analog-only TV's you want for free. But, if you're interested in a dish, you should checkout both DirecTV and DISH. They use different azimuths, so one may work despite your trees. In fact, they both may work. I've seen some pretty challenging installations; you just need a good installer to do the work. I'd give DISH a call. Better yet, if you'd be so kind, get a referral number from me and then I can get fifty bucks if you sign up. :)
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Mar 01, 2005 | 1:08 AM

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