Monday, July 30, 2007

In search of the perfect television viewing system

We've been steadily upgrading our television and related accessories for the last few years, but we've never gotten ideal results. Even after upgrading the cabling throughout the house and getting rid of the crazy multiple splitters the previous owner had installed in the attic, we still get signal dropouts on our main set. The cable company has thrown up its hands and said that if we insist on splitting the signal (one goes to the digital HD cable box/DVR, the other to our TiVo which is incompatible with HD), we'll never get rid of the pixelation and freezing up that we experience periodically on the digital channels.

So we're looking at several options. Here's what I'd like to do, ideally, and why:

1. Keep the TiVo. I've discovered that I like dealing with interfaces that are well-designed and a joy to use. I'll pay a premium for an item that is pleasant to work with and reveals a user-centered design mentality. So I don't want to ditch my beloved TiVo for the utterly craptastic interface of our cable system's HD DVR, which frequently causes uncontrolled swearing on the part of the operator. And I don't want to be forced into a satellite system's DVR. I want my friendly, happy TiVo, and I'm willing to put up with extra expense or even a less-than-optimal package of channels in order to be able to use it.

TiVo just announced an affordable HD dual-tuner box, and we're strongly considering upgrading from our Series 2. Two downsides: (1) We'll have to pay monthly for the TiVo service, which we avoided last time by getting a "lifetime" subscription for a single fee. That option isn't available for the new box. (2) The new box isn't compatible with the satellite services we've considered switching to.

2. Keep the cable modem. I'm concerned that if we pull the plug on our cable TV service, we won't be able to keep getting cable internet. And I like our cable internet very much. I don't see any reason to bother with the hassle of getting a new ISP. Maybe I'm wrong, but my hunch is that a satellite system would use our existing cabling to deliver its signal to our outlets, and doesn't that mean that the cable system would no longer be sending the internet through that particular tube?

3. Get local broadcast network affiliates. Most of the HD we watch is on the broadcast networks. So I don't want to get any satellite package that doesn't include those channels.

I have some hope that the solution lies in the TiVo HD's support for the CableCard. If we can ditch our cable box/HD DVR combo and get the cable directly into the TiVo (with the digital tuning accomplished by the CableCard), then we keep our cable service and don't have to split the signal to use the TiVo. No more frustrating non-TiVo interface to deal with. Full-strength signal coming directly into the tuner.

The only question is whether our cable company, a charming local corporation that also provides water, electricity, garbage pickup, and recycling, is up-to-date enough (and compliant with the law enough) to support the CableCard. If not, then my greatest fear is that the welcoming pip-pop of the TiVo will no longer be heard in our living room, and that a lot more obscenities will.

1 comment:

the secret knitter said...

The larger problem you might face if you switch to satellite and want to keep your cable company modem is that the latter will charge a king's ransom. Perhaps it isn't the same everywhere, but as I understand it, if you're getting broadband internet service from the cable company, at least the basic tier of cable channels tag along too. They're not part of the package you subscribe to; the company just can't shut off access and so charge an extra fee.