Category: The Front Line
How Sharp Makes Its “Free-form” Displays
- Published on Wednesday, 22 July 2015 16:50
- Ken Werner
- 0 Comments
For some time Sharp has been showing examples of its “free-form” displays, which do both the “row” and “column” driving through the same edge of the display, leaving the rest of the display to be cut in curves or other unusual shapes. But Sharp had not been willing to describe in detail how it distributed the gate drivers throughout the display so that no conventional row drivers mounted on a vertical display edge are necessary.
At the most recent SID Display Week held in San Jose in early June, that changed. In the Sharp booth, Automotive Marketing Director for Display Products Thomas Spears did his best to explain the innovation, but it was hard for him to do so in any detail amidst the cut and thrust on the show floor. More detail was available from the invited paper by Hidefumi Yoshida and 13 colleagues from Sharp in Nara, Japan. The paper, “flexible Flat-Panel Display Designs with Gate Driver Circuits Integrated within the Pixel Area,” described Sharp’s truly clever approach.
Yoshida and friends began with a well-known technology, gate driver monolithic circuitry (GDM). With GDM, the shift registers and output transistors of the gate drivers are deposited on the vertical edge of the display at the same time as the switching transistors are fabricated. This is an alternative to the more conventional approach of using ICs for the gate driver circuitry. Since GDM circuitry can occupy significant real estate on the vertical edge of the display, especially when implemented in amorphous silicon, it requires a wide bezel, which is not compatible with current display preferences or with gracefully curved display contours.
Here’s where Sharp’s cleverness comes into play.
First, instead of putting the GDM circuitry on the vertical edge(s) of the display, Sharp locates it in one or more vertical “bands” within the display area. I’ve put “bands” in quotes because Sharp has done far more than simply shifting the left-edge circuitry into the image area as a block (which would create dead areas within the display). Sharp also disperses the transistors of the GDM circuitry so individual transistors are located at iseparate pixel locations and interconnected via additional surface connections and a large number of through holes. Thus, the gate driver control signals enter through the bottom edge of the display, which is also where the source drive ICs are located. The gate signals travel from the dispersed GDM circuits horizontally to pixels, but entirely within the image area. This allows the left, right, and top edges of the display to have very thin bezels, which can be shaped with great freedom. Sharp has shown a triple-curve display that is appropriate for the tachometer, speedometer, and combined temperature/gas gauge in a primary automotive instrument display.
This is a significant innovation in display architecture that is, as Yoshida et al. carefully note, just as applicable to OLED displays as to LCDs. Sharp’s Thomas Spears said there was very significant interest in the displays from automobile manufacturers, and that Sharp was seriously engaged with all of them. We will see these displays in (or as) auto instrument clusters but, given automobile design cycles, probably not until 2017.
The Wires Remain The Same. Only the Format Has Been Changed (to Confuse the Innocent)
- Published on Thursday, 16 July 2015 17:18
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
For the longest time, the pro AV industry was characterized by proprietary cabling formats: One piece of coax with BNCs (or yellow RCA plugs) for composite video. A 15-pin DB9 connector for VGA. DIN connectors for S-video. And RJ-45 plugs for twisted-pair analog signal extenders.
With the advent of digital signal interfacing, we’ve got a slew of new connectors that look nothing like their predecessors: The 19-pin HDMI plug. The 20-pin DisplayPort plug. Micro USB. Type-C USB. DVI. And RJ-45 plugs for twisted-pair digital signal extenders.
Wait – what? We’re still using RJ-45 plugs, and category wire? Apparently, and we’ve now migrated to the more robust category 6 wire (rated for 1GigE connections); more often than not equipped with shielding to minimize crosstalk and ground wires for longer signal transmission distances.
The thing is; we’re now facing a new set of challenges in the way we multiplex and transport video, audio, RS232, IR, USB, metadata, and even power. One camp advocates for using a proprietary system (HDBaseT) that currently has a practical limit of about 330 feet and is still limited to supporting the older HDMI 1.4 standard. But it transports uncompressed signals and is very popular in the InfoComm world.
The other camp is advocating that we compress and convert all video/audio/data to packets and transmit them with IP headers through conventional networks. This method increases transmission distance considerably and can run over copper or optical fiber (or even coax, for that matter), through conventional, open-system network switches. This approach is favored by telecom companies, along with broadcast networks, IPTV services, and other multichannel video system operators.
Now, another camp says that they’ve developed a “better mousetrap” for doing AV-over-IP, using a low-latency protocol known as BlueRiver NT that uses light compression on video and audio.
So which is the way to go? That’s not an easy question to answer, but the most common approach to transmitting digital video and audio over long distances is solution #2, using MPEG compression and standard IP protocols to transport video and audio through everyday networks and switches.
What’s more; it’s likely to stay that way. While the HDBaseT format works very well, it is based on a proprietary pulse-amplitude modulation (PAM) scheme that requires chipsets manufactured by Valens Semiconductor. And there is that distance limitation, although support for optical fiber is now in the standard. But you can’t run HDBaseT signals through conventional network switches.
The BlueRiver NT approach (designed by AptoVision) claims to improve on conventional AV-over-IP transmission while retaining low latency with Adaptive Clock Re-synchronization. This technique interleaves audio, video, 1GB Ethernet and other signals with an embedded clocking mechanism.
According to AptoVision, this approach recovers the clocks for both audio and video at the decoder end with only a few lines of latency while remaining fully synched to the source clock across the entire network; even through switches. The light compression cranks down data rates by 50% with a “lossless” two-step codec.
While you can run BlueRiver NT-coded video and audio through conventional IP networks and switches, you must use their proprietary codec in transmitters and receivers. So it’s not a true “open” system, although it is more flexible than HDBaseT for installation in a network environment.
So, back to conventional AV-over-IP, which (come to think of it) isn’t really that “conventional” nowadays. Thanks to the new HEVC H.265 codec and a series of real-time protocols, it’s now possible to stream 1080p content with conventional IP headers through any network and switch and decode it with any H.265-compatible device, like a set-top box or media player, or even a new Ultra HDTV.
And your 1080p content can travel through networks at speeds as slow as 1 to 2 megabits per second, yet still yield good image quality when decoded. Compare that to the current 6 – 10 Mb/s requirement for 1080p/60 using H.264 AVC coding, and you’re seeing quite an improvement.
H.265 decoder chips are now widely available from Broadcom, which means that a whole host of displays and media players can be used to decode AV-over-IP signals – you aren’t stuck with a proprietary system. What’s more, AV-over-IP systems aren’t restricted by bandwidth in their transmitters and receivers. If the network can handle 1 Gb/s of data, so be it. And if you are fortunate enough to tie into a 10GigE network with optical fiber, the sky’s the limit!
Now, none of what I just wrote says these systems can’t co-exist. It may make sense to use HDBaseT extenders (or BlueRiver NT versions) to connect from a decoder to distant displays. Or, the input of an encoder could be fed by an HDBaseT / BlueRiver receiver.
The advantage of a 100% AV-over-IP system is that it nicely sidesteps the current speed limit problems we’re experiencing with HDMI, and to a lesser extent, DisplayPort. We’ve reduced the video and audio signals to a baseband format and compressed them into packets, which can travel through ANY manufacturer’s IP switching and routing gear.
Best of all, the addressing is done in software with IP addresses, which helps manage the size of the switch and ensures it is always easily scalable. If you didn’t specify enough inputs and outputs on a matrix switch for HDMI, you’ve got a problem! But if you need to connect more displays through an AV-over-IP system, you just need more IP addresses.
In the near future, you can count on hearing plenty of debates about which of these formats is “the way to go” for digital signal distribution. HDBaseT is widely entrenched in the commercial AV world (and to some extent, in home theater). But it’s not popular with IT-savvy users, where conventional MPEG/AES and IP headers rule the day.
And it remains to be seen how much traction BlueRiver NT can gain in the pro AV space. Some manufacturers are already supporting this format as a better way to do AV-over-IP than H.265. Latency issues with any video codec are largely a result of both compression and forward error correction, and we’re still in the early stages of H.265 adoption. So it’s a little too early to pick winners and losers here.
Frankly; if I was designing a high-performance video network, I’d use 100% optical fiber cabling and H.265/IP to get the job done, running everything through 1GigE or (if the budget permitted) 10GigE switches and using fiber-to-“whatever” receivers/converters at all terminations.
That would essentially guarantee future-proofing of the installation, as all I’d need to do to connect an upgraded interface would be to swap out a plug-in card or install a low-cost black box as needed.
But that’s just me…
The Dog Days of Summer…and UHDTV
- Published on Thursday, 16 July 2015 16:01
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
Ahhh, summertime: When everyone’s thoughts turn to cookouts, the beach, ice cream, baseball games, driving with the top down (or moon roof open), miniature golf – I could go on, but you get the idea.
One of the things most people are NOT thinking about is buying a new TV. Sure, there’s plenty to watch, but most of us would rather be outside in the nice weather. (Kayaking is my thing this time of year).
Even so, prices continue to drop across the board on all screen sizes, even on UHDTVs. Consider HH Gregg’s flier from last Sunday, where Sharp is now advertising its new line-up of discounted Ultra HDTVs for some eye-popping prices. How about $600 for the 43-inch LC43UB30 “smart” TV? Or $800 for the 50-inch LC50UB30? Both of those prices represent $200 discounts off full retail, which was already low.
There’s even a 55-inch model, the LC50UB30, for a grand. That’s Vizio territory when it comes to pricing and shows you how determined Sharp is to get back in the TV game and recapture some of the old magic from a decade ago.
Even the newest technologies are being discounted. Samsung’s HDR-ready S-series of UHDTVs are seeing substantial price cuts, with the 55-inch UN55JS8500 trimmed by $1,000 to $1998 and the 65-inch UH65JS8500 marked down to $2998. Curved models have seen an even bigger cut of $1500 off full book (UN55JS9000 is $2498 and UN65JS9000 is $3498).
Even LG’s new OLED TVs aren’t immune. The company ran a week-long promotion earlier this month with substantial discounts. The 55EG9600 was dropped to $5,500 from $6,000, while the 65EG9600 saw its price cut by a whopping $2,000 from $9,000 to $7,000.
And back around the 4th of July, their older 55EC9300 1080p OLED TV saw a price drop to $2,300. That price has since risen back to $2,500, which is quite a discount from when it first came out two years ago and was tagged at $15,000!
Don’t need a UHD set yet? Haier would be happy if you bought one of their new 50E3500 50-inch 1080p LCD TVs, and it will only set you back $370.00 – which works out to an amazing $7.40 per diagonal inch, a new low for LCD TVs. If 50 inches isn’t big enough, Haier’s got a 55-inch model (55E3500) for $400, which is almost as good a deal.
Given the number of UHDTVs that are now priced at or below $1,000, you can expect the shift from 1080p to 4K in larger TV screen sizes to accelerate. I had figured we’d see the majority of TVs 50 inches and larger move to 2160p resolution by the end of 2017. Now, I’m beginning to think it will happen even faster – maybe by the 4th quarter of next year.
Either way, there’s no question that your next TV purchase will bring you a lot more bang for the buck. With 43 inches now the most popular screen size, you’ll be able to buy two 1080p models at a time for what one cost a year ago. And the way things are trending, you may want to consider making the move to 4K if you are upgrading over the holidays.
For now, you can just enjoy swinging in your hammock with a nice cool glass of lemonade while the birds chirp, the bees buzz, and July turns into August. There will be plenty of time to ruminate on the features sets of new TVs this fall…
Sharp Makes a Big Play for Ultra HDTV
- Published on Friday, 12 June 2015 17:50
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
Last Wednesday, Sharp held a TV showcase in Lower Manhattan and showed that they’re still committed to the North American television market. Said commitment came in the form of nine models of Ultra HD (3840×2160) sets, ranging in size from 43 inches to a wall-sized 80-inch model.
Some background is useful before I proceed. Nine years ago, Sharp was the #1 retailer of LCD TVs in the world, commanding a 21% market share and leaving Korean competitors LG and Samsung eating their dust.
But time changes everything. Since then, Sharp’s WW market share has steadily declined to the point that the brand is usually classified with “other” when analysts release their quarterly and annual rankings for shipments and revenue share. Part of that is due to the guerilla marketing and sales strategies employed by both Samsung and LG: The first company remains comfortably in 1st place with a 27% market share, while LG is a distant 2nd with 15%.
Many of the once-famous Japanese brands have fallen by the wayside since then. Hitachi abandoned the U.S. TV market several years ago, and Mitsubishi had no choice but to get out as its rear-projection designs fell out of favor. Toshiba announced last year it would retreat to Japan, and Panasonic seems to have shifted its corporate focus to more profitable commercial products and solutions. (How many Panasonic TVs have you seen in stores lately?)
That leaves Sony and Sharp, and I’ve documented in great detail the former’s legendary missteps with consumer products and televisions. Indeed; Sony still has an 8 % WW revenue share in TV, but that number has been in slow decline for some time and the red ink continues to pile up in Sony’s TV (and mobile phone) business units.
So, back to Sharp. Unlike other Japanese brands, Sharp stands alone in having a completely vertically-integrated TV business: They manufacture the LCD panels at their world’s-largest Gen 10 facility in Sakai, Japan. They were the first company to master high yields on the all-important faster and energy-efficient IGZO TFT technology, which is used widely on their TVs. And they can still make larger cuts of LCD glass cheaper than anyone else – for now.
But Sharp has had a bad stretch of fiscal years, losing over a billion dollars just a few years ago and almost going bankrupt. Their lender banks are getting weary of issuing IOUs and even the assistance of both Qualcomm and Samsung were needed a couple of years ago to keep the doors open. (Both companies are now minority owners.)
The Gen 10 Sakai fab itself is nearly half-owned by Hon Hai Precision Industries, owners of Foxcon and manufacturers of Apple’s iStuff. And the chairman of Hon Hai, Terry Gou, wants to put more of his money into Sharp, but wants a seat on the board – something that is being met with less than enthusiasm in Osaka.
The company really is at a crossroads with respect to their consumer TV business. Sharp has been around for so long in the U.S. that some readers may remember owning a Sharp LCD calculator, or fax machine. And the brand has a perception of being “old school” and stodgy. (Witness their use of Baby Boomer idol George Takei, famous for his role in the 1960s TV series Star Trek, to promote the company’s Quattron technology a few years back.)
Unlike Samsung and LG, Sharp doesn’t have a presence in tablets, and is a very minor player in smartphones. Sharp also sold lots of appliances back in the day, but not that long ago a sales associate for a major brick-and-mortar chain located near me said, “No one comes in asking for Sharp products anymore.”
Nevertheless, the company continues to push forward. They made a bold but perhaps wise move in bringing back industry veteran Peter Weedfald to try and shake things up. Weedfald is now senior VP for sales, and he’s got quite an obstacle course in front of him to return the company to a competitive position.
The new Ultra HDTVs may help, if Weedfald is successful in generating “buzz” about them. There are three series: The Aquos UB30 sets are value-priced Ultra HD models, and include 43” (42.5” diagonal), 50” (49.6” diagonal), 55” (54.6” diagonal) and 65” (64.5” diagonal) Class screen sizes, with the 43” and 50” offerings priced at $799.99 and $999.99, respectively. The 55” model will retail for $1,299.99 and the 65-inch version will be ticketed at $2,399.99.
All four models support 4K streaming and have built-in HEVC H.265 and VP9 codecs and Sharp’s Revelation 4K upscaling engine. HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 are also standard, although I couldn’t tell how many. Stepping up one level finds the UH30 series of Ultra HDTVs. The UE30 series includes models in 60” (diagonal.), 70” (69.5” diagonal) and 80” diagonal screen sizes. MSRPs are $2,099.99, $2,899.99, and $5,599.99, respectively.
These models also come with HEVC / VP9 streaming support and Revelation upscaling, and the press release states that “…Easy connectivity is at your fingertips in both the UH30 and UE30 series with four HDMI® inputs equipped with the latest 4K specs.” That would seem to indicate four HDMI 2.0 input ports, which may be more than any other manufacturer at present.
The top-line models (UH series) are the 70-inch LC-70UH30U ($3,299.99) and 80-inch LC-80UH30U ($6,299.99) and include all the bells and whistles of the UB and UE series TVs, plus something Sharp calls SPECTROS Rich Color Display. This is a color-enhanced image that also shows some signs of supporting high dynamic range (HDR) content, but it’s not using quantum dots. Nor is it firing additional adjacent sets of color pixels to improve saturation, something Sharp called “3K” at CES 2013.
There is a marked improvement in color quality from a conventional TV to one equipped with SPECTROS. And with Samsung, LG, Sony, and others showing quantum dot-equipped Ultra HDTVs, Sharp had to offer something to keep up with the Joneses.
All of the UE and UH-series TVs also support Android TV, unlike Samsung’s Tizen and LG’s Web OS. That means you have a search engine that is similar to Google on your smartphone or tablet in operation. We tried it out to locate programs as well as the score of the Yankees afternoon game, but weren’t as successful with other searches through the voice-activated remote.
There you have it. Sharp certainly has the know-how and supply chain to build and market the latest in TV technology, and their build quality has always stood up well to any other manufacturer. Given the rapid fall in TV prices, it might even be prudent for Sharp to abandon the 1080p TV market and toss all of their eggs into Ultra HD going forward, where I think they’d have a much easier time carving out a niche.
After all, it’s not like the company doesn’t have any experience with ultra-high resolution imaging. They’ve shown an 85-inch 8K TV for several years now at CES, and the NHK 8K broadcasts in Japan make extensive use of Sharp displays – all the way down to a 13-inch 8K OLED TV, shown at the NAB expo back in April.
Now, they just need to get some “buzz” going….
Xfinity: The Future Of Confusion (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Tried To get Along With Comcast)
- Published on Monday, 08 June 2015 17:27
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
It all started innocently enough a couple of weeks ago, when I started experiencing issues with Internet connectivity. And it turned into a circus of confusion.
First, some background: I’ve had Comcast service at my home address for close to 18 years now, and there have definitely been some ups and downs in my relationship with the company over the years.
At one time, I taught some classes on HDTV to installers and even salespeople at Comcast University. That was back in the day when HDTV was still largely a black art to everyone, and I had a good relationship with a lot of the technical people and even some engineers at “the Big C.” Those were the halcyon days of plasma TVs, big set-top boxes, rear-projection TVs with CableCARDs, and rudimentary Internet service. (Sorry, no voice over IP back then!)
Today, aside from an annual presentation to the local chapter of the Society of Cable and Telecommunication Engineers (SCTE), I don’t have any real contact with Comcast anymore. So if I am experiencing some strange service issues, there aren’t any shortcuts I can take to get to a knowledgeable technical support person.
HOW THE TROUBLE STARTED
Back to my problem: After trying to figure out why my modem seemed to be dropping connections, I placed a call to Comcast customer service. And got caught in automated voice hell. It took some time, but I finally got through to a live agent who informed me that my modem was “outdated” and that I should upgrade to a newer DOCSIS 3.0 model. Fair enough. She also said that an installer could come by and check everything (neglecting to tell me that there would be a $40 service charge for doing so). So I agreed to that, too.
The next day, said installer showed up with a new modem and went about getting it wired into place. He also took it upon himself to replace a two-way splitter I had installed near where the drop comes into my house (one leg goes to the modem, and the other to a 15 dB inline amplifier for driving multiple cable outlets). And then he proceeded to replace all of the associated connectors, saying that the splitter and connectors I had used were inadequate.
Now, I’m not a dummy, and I’m one of a handful of Comcast customers who has and knows how to use a spectrum analyzer. So, I connected said analyzer to one of the cable feeds from my amplifier and saw a nice, flat response for all QAM signals up to 800 MHz – above which no signals were present, even though the tech told me that Comcast uses that spectrum, too.
I showed this to the tech and assured him that all cable boxes would get plenty of signal (at least 40 dB S/N at each input) and that there was no noise in my system. Off he went on his merry way, and our Internet connection was one again perking along nicely.
INTO THE ABYSS
So here’s where it starts to get weird. The next day, another brand-new modem shows up from UPS with a self-install kit. On top of that, I get several emails saying that I had updated my account and that I was also eligible for a “free” Xfinity upgrade. And of course, I clicked “yes.” Hey, it was free, right?
My current cable setup in my family room consisted of a vintage-2006 TiVo HD with a dual M CableCARD. Yes, it was a bit of a fossil, but it still worked like a champ. And for my upstairs bedroom, I had a Motorola RNG-110 set-top box. Simple, but effective.
When the Xfinity “free” upgrade kit showed up a couple of days later, I opened it to find two identical Samsung RNG150 Xfinity set-top boxes, along with self-install instructions. Okay, I can do this. So I took the boxes to my basement lab, where all of my test equipment resides. I pulled out my old Panasonic 42-inch plasma TV, hooked up a couple of HDMI cables, and attached a feed to the cable system.
The first box booted up, went through some machinations, and then displayed an error message. I was advised to pull the power plug, wait 10 seconds, and reconnect and try to initialize again. Sure enough; about 3 minutes later, I got the same message. And rebooted. And got the same message. And rebooted again.
After four tries, I put the first box aside and repeated the exercise with the second box. Same results! So I installed a two-way splitter on the line and hooked up my older RNG110 box to see if it was also having problems. Nope! Worked like a champ at the same time the Samsung boxes were failing.
In the meantime, my TiVo HD stopped working and brought up a message saying that it could no longer recognize the Western Digital expansion HDD I had connected to store more programs. And that it would not work at all unless that drive (which was still connected and powered up) was reconnected. Yikes! (And my wife says that at the same time, the TiVo master remote stopped working and she couldn’t turn the TV off.)
So I disconnected TiVo and rebooted it. That took some time, but eventually it did come back online. And I went back to my self-install exercise in my basement lab.
After trying a third time to get one of the two Samsung boxes to initialize, I gave up and went back upstairs to find that the TiVo HD had crashed again, displaying the same error message. Time to call tech support! (And get caught in automated voice response hell again.)
“IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PRESS TWO NOW, PRESS TWO”
After being punted around to various departments the next day, I found someone who advised me to remove completely the TiVo system and my older RNG110 set-top box before attempting to initialize. Hey, why not – I’d already wasted several hours and an evening trying to get all of this stuff to work, right?
Finally, the two Samsung boxes initialized. Except that they were not receiving all of the channels for the package I subscribe to: Only free, off-air channels were coming through, along with those home shopping channel abominations. One again; back to the phone.
This round of calls put me through six different agents (including dedicated Xfinity tech support) and no one had a real answer as to why I wasn’t getting the channels I paid for, even though I could stream all of those same channels to my Samsung Galaxy tablet. A real head-scratcher!
Finally, the sixth agent told me that he would reload the required channels, one by one, into each box, and he advised me in the interests of my mental health to take some time off and get away from the TV and phone for the next half-hour while he was doing so. I decided to stop by the nearest Comcast Xfinity “store” to return my old box and M card, as it was a nice day for a drive.
The “store” turned out to be a rather dingy-looking local office and dispatch center, with a tiny waiting room, a counter, and three customer service agents. After dropping off the old equipment, I discovered that neither of the Samsung Xfinity cable boxes I had received had DVRs in them. Whoops! I had already disconnected my old TiVo DVR.
So one of the agents promptly brought out a brand-new “All Room DVR” to take care of that situation. More importantly, he apparently noticed something on my account that was the culprit behind my inability to watch channels I had paid for, and fixed it just like that. Hooray!
But that wasn’t the end of my problems. I logged into my online Xfinity account to check my statement, where I was notified that I had yet to activate my Internet service. (Some irony in that, eh?) Not only that, I now had a $40 charge for installation of the new modem – something I could have done myself, if I had been informed that (a) it would cost $40 and (b) that a new modem had been shipped to me for self-install anyway.
Finally, I received an email update today that my current charges had increased by a hundred dollars! Apparently, about the time the new Xfinity boxes showed up, the “special” deal on my cable bundle (which I had long forgotten about) had run out and that my monthly charge would increase by $30. (You’d think that with the blizzard of emails I was getting from Comcast that they’d have sent one alerting me to the expiration date. It would have been nice…)
So, it was back to the local Comcast Xfinity office to return an extra cable box. According to the email I received this morning, I now had five cable boxes activated. I also asked why my bill had gone up so much. One of the line items in the online statement read (and I kid you not), “Customer Discount, $30.92.” So I got charged more as a discount?
Apparently that’s how Comcast tells you your promotional price ran out. They hit you with a $30 charge and call it “customer discount.” Nice, guys. Even better: I logged into my online Comcast account and my Internet service is still “awaiting activation.” (I’m not sure how that logical paradox plays out…) And, the $40 charge for the service call, which the CSR at the Comcast Xfinity store assured me was reversed, is still on my statement…for now.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
So now, seven days later, I do have a working DOCSIS 3.0 modem with (supposedly) 25 Mb/s download speeds. I have a new splitter and shiny new connectors in my basement, none of which were necessary. I have a new Xfinity DVR that works (and streams HD video), and a satellite box in my bedroom. I am getting all of the channels I’m supposed to get, and my statement now shows that I have only two boxes – not five. (And I finally returned that superfluous modem.)
To get here, I’ve gone through almost a dozen different customer service reps on the phone and in person over a four-day period, including two tech support specialists – neither of whom could really help me much. As a result, I would advise Comcast customers to go to one of the Xfinity stores or service centers like I did, and deal with an “in the flesh” CSR – it’s a lot faster, and these folks were by far the most helpful of anyone I talked to. (Plus, and I hate to say it, they speak better English and were a lot sharper.)
In contrast, some of the phone CSRs seemed to stumble with relatively easy technical questions, and they wanted to spend more time reading from “the script” than letting me cut to the chase and try and solve the problem. It is amazing how much time you waste on the phone just navigating menus and trying to get past the automated “let me help you” voice. (Hint: Repeat the word “agent” several times to skip all of that nonsense!)
Aside from the cost of cable service today, I can understand why so many cord-cutters just reach their breaking point with cable companies and opt to stream 100% of their TV shows. Just connect a fast Internet port, fire up your Apple TV, Roku, or smart TV, and away you go. Even the new crop of off-air DTV receivers like Channel Master’s DVR+ and Mohu’s Channels is a lot easier to get up and running.
So we’ll stick with Xfinity for now as it does give us four DVRs instead of two, and is a definite improvement over the nearly 10-year-old TiVo HD in many ways. One catch, though: You can’t stream Netflix through any Comcast box, the reason for which I suppose should be obvious. So we’ll get our fix of “House of Cards” through either our Samsung smart TV, Samsung connected Blu-ray player, or stream directly to our tablets.
Isn’t television fun?