Now you have to pay to record a show? Huh?

Let’s get a few things out of the way, so that in case you don’t read to the end of this blathersnape you won’t make these rather obvious comments:

• Yes, I am cheap.
• Yes, I am old and crotchety when it comes to gouging the customer.
• No, I haven’t done enough research to find ways around this situation.
• No, I am not a big fan of “change.”
• Yes, this is a giant “First World Problem” rant.

All good? Let’s get into it

Back in 2006, the Evil Queen and I droped some bucks on our first flat-panel TV, a 42″ LG plasma with a built-in DVR. We thought we were pretty fancy. We’re big movie fans and we love watching football (obviously), so we thought it was worth the expense to have something we really liked. Also, FIFA ’06 looked pretty kick-ass on it, so there’s that.

The TV also had a built-in cable-card reader, which will prove to be significant later in this rambling post. What’s more, it had built-in a TV Guide service — we had show schedules, one-touch DVR recording scheduling, a 200gb hard drive to save shows … it was pretty pimp. These were all features LG was touting at the time.

So from 2006-2011, we were pretty tickled with this gadget. Then, it started acting up. Say I was up until 3am working on a deadline so I slept on the couch: sometimes, the TV would just turn on for no reason. When you write horror for a living, a full-volume infomercial bringing you out of a dead sleep can make a body wonder if ghosts are real (they are not, btw, but that doesn’t change the face that I might have piddled myself a little at the time).

Skinned alive!The TV also started missing recordings, or would stop recording with five minutes left in the show (when that happens for WALKING DEAD? Yeah, it’s way up there in the Righteous Rage of First World Problems ranking). Then we started to lose channel and program information. Turn the channel to something that looks cool, hit “get info,” and it would most often say “no information available.” Again, a minor thing, and we rolled with it.

Keep in mind, we’re paying a premium price for that information. We pay Comcast, Comcast has that info, therefore that info should appear.

I’m ordering replacement parts for the sucker and still trying to fix it. Taking it to a TV repair shop would cost more than the price of buying a brand-new TV. That’s my TV at right, skinned alive!

So we had a TV that would randomly turn on and off, couldn’t record for shit, couldn’t show us program information, and would sometimes just ignore the power button (you’d turn it on, the TV would give you the finger and say “I’m on a break, buddy, come back in five minutes”). All annoying things, but even in total it wasn’t worth spending four figures to replace it.

Finally, the TV started freezing the picture while the sound kept playing. That also deactivated the remote control. You had to unplug it and plug it back in to get it to work. To get through a football game, we have to turn it off and on four or five times. When that happens in the last five minutes of BREAKING BAD, and you miss the good parts (because your TV won’t record it, ’cause it’s broke), that’s a little frustrating. So, when you take all of these minor issues and then realize we got six solid years out of it, we replaced it.

GEDDOFF MY LAWN!
And here comes the part where I get crotchity. We wanted something similar to our LG. Come to find out that while Rumple Stiltstech slept, the world changed around him, and no one seems to mind paying out the ass for services that you used to have the option of getting for free — like recording a freaking TV show.

The cable card converts the Comcast signal into a form your TV can use to show you the channels (or, it’s got some fancy code so Comcast can make sure they gettin’ paid for their product). Cable cards are cheap to rent, at like $2.50 a month, and we actually got a discount for ours. Know what TVs don’t have anymore? Cable card slots. They don’t make TVs that have them, or if they do, those TVs aren’t at BestBuy.

I shake my cane!Why? Because Comcast wants to rent you a cable box for $8.50 a month. They don’t want you to own a cable card that fits into the TV, because that $8.50 a month leveraged over 22 million customers really adds up. But most people are paying more than $8.50, something which I shake my cane at in the next segment.

Important to note: Comcast has a desk right in the BestBuy TV department. Is it any surprsoe there aren’t options that help you spend less money with Comcast? This is a conspiracy that puts JFK’s death to shame, I tell you.

Yes, I can buy a flat-panel TV over the internet, sight-unseen. Or maybe you can. That’s too much money to drop for us without getting hands-on and getting the name of the guy selling it to me.

I HAVE TO PAY TO RECORD?
Remember when I told you that with my LG, I could just hit “record” and it would record the show to my built-in hard drive? Guess what TVs don’t come with anymore. Just one guess. Okay, I’ll tell you — they don’t come with built-in DVRs.

Why? Because Comcast wants to rent you a DRV for $15 a month (but if you have that, you don’t have to pay the $8.50, as the DVR is also a cable box). Let’s see … $15 a month, times 22 million customers, that’s potential $330,000,000 in monthly rental revenue, revenue above and beyond the cable service that they sell.

I’m probably grumpy because I got to do this for free, but I’m amazed that the consumer marketplace let this happen over the past ten years. You have to pay for the right to record, something that’s alien for an 80s kid who grew up with VCRs.

Here’s the thing: I asked for a stand-alone DVR, and BestBuy didn’t have one. Not one. What did they have? TiVo.

TivoWTF WITH THE TIVO THING?
Are you kidding me? I get to pay $150 for a TiVo DVR, and then pay at least $15 a month to record on it? I am shaking my cane at all of you. I tweeted about this and got responses that most people love their TiVo. That’s great. More power to you, if you’re paying for a service and you’re happy with that service, awesome. But I don’t want foreign chanels, I don’t want Netflix streamed, I don’t need all the bells and whistles — I just want to hit record and store my basic cable for later, basci cable that I’m already paying for.

Keep in mind here, the problem isn’t that it’s illegal to record. This isn’t a copyright or intellectual property situation. Comcast is happy to let you record, if you pay for the right to do so. Comcast also allows another company (TiVo) to record the shows for you, so it’s supposedly open to the free market. Again, there’s no legality issue, it’s just a matter of Comcast buddying up with TiVo to remove the ability for you to record without using one or both of them.

Why does this piss me off? I should have the choice to pay for renting Comcast’s recording gear (which is probably excellent), or go buy my own. That choice seems to be gone. Comcast will not sell you a DVR (please refer to the $330 million in potential monthly revenue, above). If it costs me more to buy my own, that’s my business and I should be able to make that choice for myself. It looks like I can buy a Moxi for $500, but reviews say this thing is a piece of crap.

TiVo looks like a fantastic service. It really does. I just want the choice to use it or to not use it.

I DON’T LAY THAT PIPE
Comcast puts down the cable that brings the signals, I get that. It’s a huge company with a lot of overhead. I get that, too. No, I can’t magically conjure up stuff to watch on the TV. Should they get paid for what they do? Absolutely. However, I do pay that, to the tune of $85 a freakin’ month. I’m already paying for the programming, they just want to gouge me for the right to time-delay the content I’m already paying for.

I DON’T WANT TO HOOK UP A COMPUTER, DAMMIT!
You all know I’m a TechTard™. I hear there are ways around this if I want to hook a PC to my TV. I don’t want to screw with this forever, I just want to record the freakin’ WALKING DEAD.

Cut the cord?TIME TO CUT THE CORD?
Bah, these bastards have me. I want to watch the amazing TV shows that are out these days, and I love me my sports. They control the market. So I’ll keep paying for cable (for now), but I’ve got to find a way around paying $180 a year to Comcast to record a signal I’m already paying for.

For now, we’re old-school: we watch the show when it comes out live. In a way it’s like being back in the 80s again, even before VCRs. Or, we wait until long after the show is over and get the DVDs. Seeing as we’re too cheap to pay for premium channels, we haven’t even seen DEXTER yet.

WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
Hey, you Techies: is there a DVR with a cable-card slot I can snag that solves this problem? Have any of you had similar problems, either with tech or being a stompy old man about paying money you didn’t have to pay before?

Love,

Crotchety Old Man Scott

PS: Do not spoil DEXTER. Don’t you do it.

Comments

  1. scottsigler

    @Old Man Parker: Weird, that makes two Junkies with buddies who work on the DEXTER show. I would say, however, that the series is totally worth the price of buying the DVDs. Try at least Season 1 if you can find the DVDs used on eBay.

  2. Old Man Parker

    Gosh dang right you are Old Man Sigler! My FREAKIN’ BEST FRIEND works on DEXTER, and I still have not seen it- exept for the episodes I caught in hotel rooms here and there  and I love that show! BUT I have not seen it Because I refuse to pay for, and learn one more gosh darned new techy thingie that will be replaced in 6 months with somke other new fangled techno thingie! 

    Aloha, 

    Old Man Parker

    “Hey you kids, get outta’ my pumpkin patch!”

  3. scottsigler

    I appreciate all the cable company employees who weighed in here and gave us some facts. That helps with my perspective.

    However, I feel I have DEFEATED THE EVIL!

    I bought a Samsung SmartTV. We still get cable through our CableCARD on the original LG, and it still freezes up from time to time. I now believe the problem is in the CableCARD itself, as I’ve replaced the other two main components and seen the same issues. We also don’t have freezing when I use HDMI input directly from a computer.

    The Samsung SmartTV is connected to the internet, so I get NetFlix and Amazon Direct, which is the majority of my viewing. It also has the XBox360, so I’m good with DVDs. The thing that finished it off, however, was adding a terrestrial antenna. I now get CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and several other local channels. If there is something I want to watch on network, the antenna brings it in in HD. Very cool.

    We’ll still watch cable on the LG, though.

  4. tijames

    Collusion or Competition? You have to choose between the lesser of evils. IMHO competition is a much better solution to this problem. Although I personally would prefer equal distribution of every broadcast, but that’s just me.

  5. thejaxx

    Hey Scott,

    I’m a tech for Comcast myself up here in Seattle. 

    I’ve seen a few of those tv’s in my time, mostly on Mercer Island, and it was usually when the customer had called in about issue’s with their service. And they would describe exactly what you were talking about, but they would contribute it to the companies service. But yes, those cable cards have been the bane of many a tech. They are extremely finicky and time consuming to set up, and if anything ever upset them, it was like pulling teeth to get them to work again.

    While they were a good idea, the industry has been moving away from them due to a newer model that should be coming out soon. Tru2way (still being tested by CableLabs). These will allow two way communication for video on demand, on screen program guide, etc. 

    So in the mean time, your options are renting one, using a hardware device in a PC that uses the cablecards, or waiting and using Hulu and other services. But I will tell you the anyroom dvr system is pretty slick and X2 (Comcast’s cloud DVR) should be rolling out soonish.

    p.s.

    The reason that the days of the free cable boxes are long gone are thanks to the directtv/dish folks. When they were babies (this is what I have heard), they sued the cable industry and the FCC forced the companies to charge a fee for boxes since the satallite systems were not in a position to give “free” equipment.

  6. scottsigler

    @FuglyToes-ButStillaJunkie: The replacement tech is a point @ARealGirl brought up when I was bitching to her about it. She also echoed your sentiment that it’s hard for the vendor to provide support for so many different products. However, if I buy a box on my own, that’s the same as any computer periphrial — if my Lacie hard drive isn’t working with my Mac, Apple doesn’t have to fix that, Lacie does. The onus is on the manufacturer, the same as it is for any kind of tech. The difference is Comcast has removed the option of buying products from other vendors: the company has locked out competition (except for TiVo, of course, which isn’t really competition because they are in bed with Comcast).

  7. Amiko

    ^^^^^^^^ What they said.

    Just route the signal through the computer and record everything you want on the hard disc.

    I’m sure someone here can help you to set it up.

  8. FuglyToes-ButStillaJunkie

    Hey FDO, I am a Cable Guy for Charter… CableCARDs plain suck, imho.. I have spent hours upon hours troubleshooting unfamiliar DVR’s and Televisions, and been back for repeted calls for the damned things. It’s a great IDEA, but getting one thing to work with hundreds of manufacturers and dozens of service providers is just downright hard. On that note – there are advantages to having a cable box from your cable company.. Replace if broken for no charge, upgrades over time to newer and better boxes, on demand services (which you probably havn’t experienced with your current setup, thousands of free programs to watch whenever you want to)… And if you buy the ultra fancy new Tivo for 500 bucks, you would have paid for your DVR for 2 and a half years… With the way tech goes now, I wouldn’t be surprized if that TiVo is broken or obsolete in that time. Anyways, food for thought.

     

  9. videomaji

    im new to scott sig’s books after stubbling  onto 1 i  was hooked , line, sinker,  i work half my time as outside detail at the local mall cleaning so his awsome storys make my life  great while at the craphole, other half the time i work repairing computers other digital stuff i can get my hands on,learning from one’s i don’t have exprience with, spare time  digital media junkie video,audio,txt name it  if it’s out there i can get it hey scott out side blowing wads for a dvr why not make your computer into a DVR ! cheapest way to go. hell i got more capture cards i know what to do with slap one in your system route connection through your computer before your tv bam-o  you got dvr for the cheap i got HD capture card that can work like a dvr for  pci-e slot and i think pci too in your computer  if it help your welcome to them   — steve

  10. GreyFox

    Just drop comcast completely,inless you use them for your internet. If you like netflix get a Ruku box for around 49 bucks. Oooooor use your pc or mac to watch all the tv you want! If you would still like to watch it on the tv all you need to do is connect your computer to your HD tv using an HDMI cord asumming you don’t have one they go for about 7-10$.
    Here are some websites I use to watch all the cool new shows that are out.
    http://www.free-tv-video-online.me/
    http://www.1channel.ch/
    p.s you can even find live football games on the web fairly easy.
    p.s.s Have you read the Dexter books?

     

  11. Harry_Shaft

    Here is what I am looking at to purchase after the holidays.

    1TB HDD&DVD Recorder with Digital Tuner

    MDR537H

    http://www.magnavox.com/product/feature.php?id=117

    Read some of the reviews on Amazon but this box works just like the old VCRs. 

    The down side…you have to manually set the time(s) to record shows. 

    Upside…you can burn the saved shows onto DVD +/- R. (But with 1TB of space, do you really need to?)

    OJ.  Lathering up in that Sigler Stank, getting it all over me.

     

     

  12. Sardonic

    I have a stand alone Sony DVR.  500 GB and is HD that comes with a cable card slot.  It worked great without the cable card and had the TV guide info that came from the analog PBS channel.  But when the US switched to digital I couldn’t use it without the cable card (there was no way to set the time manually) and I’ve been too lazy to go get one.  I’d be willing to make a deal.  A DVR for some future books.

  13. scottsigler

    @Troy Larimer: I already replaced the power supply board ($80) and it made no change. After replacing it, I got a real good look at the original and saw that none of the caps were bubbling. I’m moving on to the PCB board, because when it hangs I’ve identified a change in the little flashing lights on that board (no idea what the lights speficy, but one pair stops blinking green, and another one higher up turns red). Since that correllates to the problems, I’m giving that a shot (another $70). If it doesn’t work, I’ll re-sell the power supply and PCB board on eBay, get some of that money back, and call it quits.

  14. pattyochair

     

    OK Crotchety Old Man Scott I may have a way to get back at all the rat bastards. I may be able to help you fix your TV yourself. I am a TV tech and have repaired a few of this model with the same issues you have . From the picture of the back it looks like you have a LG model 42LB1DR. The issue with this model is the power supply PC board ( the board on the left hand side ) . You have two options to repair it 1- replace the board ($50.00-$100 bucks) or 2- repair it with a cap kit $20.00 and some soldering if you have the skills. If you opt to replace the board search ebay for part number 6709900017A . changing it is as simple as a taking out a few screws and disconnecting and reconnecting the new board. If you go with option 2 you will have to have some soldering skills or know someone that has soldering skills and some basic electronic knowledge. In short for 20-100 bucks you can give it to the MAN.

     

     

    Troy

     

    P.S. If olive oil is made from olives what is baby oil made from

  15. Rocko_The_Knuckle_Crusher

    I am curently on DishNetwork with their DVR and HD.  I have to run my sound through the surround system because my LG picked up a wierd hiss in the speakers and had to crack that bad boy open and disconnect all the speakers.  My DishNetwork is decient but like you I am paying $85+ a month for this an have to use their ‘rented’ DVR (which has crashed and had to be replaced twice).

    We are considering going to broadcast HD local channels and NetFlix on demand and something like Hulu for more recent shows.  It would save us a good bit of money but would there is probably programming we will no longer receive. 

    Good luck in your endevors and let us know if you find a way to cut out “The Man”!

  16. wyrdwyrd

    “And the boys upstairs wanna see / how much you’ll pay for what ya used to get for free.” — Tom Petty, The Last DJ

     

    Scott I don’t have any good short term solutions for solutions for you. But see below the dashes for a long term customer-oriented cause to support that might eventually make this TV recording issue suck less.

    I know of the existence of thingies that might let you record TV shows, but I haven’t actually tried to build any myself.  Yeah, I wrote “build”.  These are all deeply hackish solutions.  If you’re lucky, it might work very well.  If you’re unlucky it might be about as reliable as your old TV was.

    I’m with you on the general downward spiral of awfulness that’s happened in the past several years regarding TV.  I’ve been largely immune because I take a stand against cable.  I.e.:  we don’t have cable in my house.  It’s one of the few issues where my wife and I strongly disagreed and I managed to win.  (For now that is–there’s always the chance I might lose again in the future.)

    We have Netflix streaming.  We have terrestrial digital TV on a good day.  We have a DVD player and an ancient VCR–well we did, until the autistic 3 year old trashed them–never-mind. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s time to try to build a Linux based media center…

     

    ————— LONG TERM AGENDA/GOAL THINGIE ———

    If you were thinking of moving, the best place in the U.S. would be downtown Kansas City, MO or Kansas City, KS.  They will have Google Fiber there soon.  (Gigabit Internet!  You can download a full length movie in HD in less time than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn.  The future is now.  Unlimited rice pudding, etc. etc.)

    https://fiber.google.com/about/

    Now, at this time, they probably don’t have all the shows you’re looking for.  But the point is, if G Fiber can get enough support, then it will, by competition, slowly force the conglomerations of ugly corporateness that is the cable-co / telco market to unglom.  Of course, by that time, Google Fiber will be lookin’ pretty scary in it’s own right, but I’m willing to risk it.

    Please support Google (for now) in it’s attempt to become the Master of all that is the “Last Mile”. Because doing so will get some real competition in the market.  And that’s the only thing that’s gonna make those ludicrous fees you’re paying now go away.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

     

  17. Scaleslea

    The only alternative I know of is a product called EyeTV which hooks your computer up to cable and lets you program it to record TV to your computer’s hard drive. The advantage is the costs are all up front. The disadvantage is knowing if you’ve got the right model to support your cable service. I’ve looked at it, but never bought. I’ve ended up going for Comcast’s DVR because it is more convenient.

    Doc

  18. Indie_slayer

    Wow I am glad i live in the UK. You can have about 40 quality channels for FREE over tersetrial tv signal, 4 of them without advets. If you do want to have the equivalant of cable, Sky TV they give u a free HD DVR when u join these days as they strugling to keep customers on high priced packages.

  19. MuchAdo

    That is the exact same gripe I have with DirecTV.  Damn it, I pay for the DirecTV service and I don’t want to have to buy their combination receiver/DVR AND then pay an additional $20 bucks a month to record something I’ve already PAID for.  Where were you when I was bitching on FB and Twitter – oh, right, writing some SIgler goodness. Forgiven.  :-)

  20. Octopon

    This have been my beef for years. I actually argued with a service tech about it. “Why am I paying money each month for you to do nothing? Is there a magic switch pulled on your end, or is it just my box being able to record?”

     

    There are ways around this, but they can be expensive, and aren’t as simple as just scheduling a recording in your channel guide, but all I know is high end video and audio editing stuff. I don’t know if there is a ghetto way around this.