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13 March 2008 @ 11:38 am
Sucks to be a RCN customer (soon)  
It seems like it's the beginning of the end for RCN transmitting in-the-clear digital channels. Starting last month in Chicago, they have turned off all their analog channels (fine with me), and started encrypting all their digital QAM channels (not fine with me). Apparently this wonderful future will be "coming soon" to their other markets as well.

What this means for normal customers: You need to rent a cable box for every TV you own, whether or not it already has a QAM tuner in it.

What it means for me: I will no longer be able to record TV on my custom built Digital Video Recorder (a HDHomeRun attached to a linux box running MythTV) anymore.

(For reference: currently, their entire basic lineup is broadcast in the clear in analog (SD) and digital (HD and SD))

If this change happens in Boston, I'm not sure what I'll do: encrypted QAM is almost totally useless to me. The approved way of decrypting the signal is by putting a CableCard in your tuner. However, not only do I not have any tuners with a CableCard slot, it's literally impossible to buy a tuner with a CableCard slot which will interface with a computer. I don't understand this: in Europe, the equivalent devices are quite readily available (search for a "DVB card with CAM support"). But not so for a CableCard.

That's not to say such a device doesn't exist. ATI makes a USB tuner with a cable card. It's just that you can only use it if you buy a brand new computer with it. And the brand new computer comes with Windows Vista, and (I guess, not really sure here) some mutant extra-DRMy firmware for the motherboard in the computer to make extra sure you can't do anything with the shows you've recorded. Apparently not even Vista's regular DRM is good enough for protecting cable TV. So, that's right out.

I guess I'll do one of the following:

a) I'm led to understand that it may be possible to get a set-top-box with a Firewire output, and that under some circumstances, the encrypted channels might not be encrypted on the Firewire output. If that's the case, that'd work, although not as nicely as just recording directly off the cable.
b) I could just use an antenna for broadcast channels, and cancel my cable subscription. (and download cable-only programs from the internet. TV shows on the internet often don't have any DRM at all, strangely enough.)
c) Or maybe figure out if it's possible to subscribe to a satellite service in the USA which works with a DVB card. (I think the answer is no.)
d) Or...give up and use the crappy cable box the cable company provides, like everyone else.

PS: I'm quite surprised there's no unofficial decryption software for digital cable streams yet. Or for firewire video streams. But as far as I can tell, there is not. I guess the DMCA is working!
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I tried firewire with their HD channels back when I had RCN cable, several of them were working. Hopefully that bodes well for the normal channels. Kind of a pain, though...
sherryryceq on July 11th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
We were left watching local channels only - thanks to a HD antenna on the roof. Little did I know that this would lead to something that, if I'm mentally cataloging correctly, would involve roughly 14 hours of my time - not counting the technicians visits (some to come yet).
300baud300baud on March 17th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
"B"! How much good TV is there in a week? Maybe two or three hours? Unless you're a developer of cable ripping software it's hard to imagine what you get out of TV worth the trouble. The detox period can be a bit rough on those around you, as they have to listen to constant realizations about the unexpectedly profound place in your life TV and advertising used to occupy, and how much better off you are now, but it calms down after a couple of years.
fuhm on March 25th, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
Who watches ads? That's the whole point of a DVR.
(Anonymous) on March 25th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
well done
thanks much, guy
cheesycheesyhill on April 1st, 2008 01:02 am (UTC)
Ars seems to think that CableCos must continue to provide analogue OTA stuff, or give STBs to all their customers for free: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070912-fcc-to-cable-you-must-support-analog-tvs-until-2012.html

Do you know if they were giving away STBs to the Chicago residents?

(Anonymous) on April 1st, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
I'd not heard of that requirement before, but, from RCN's website:

"If you do not have at least one cable box, you will receive your first box (DCT 700) at a special promotional rate, with the monthly fee waived as long as you maintain your RCN service in good standing. HD boxes are $9.95/month, while HD boxes with DVR are $14.95/month."

Note that the DCT 700 only two outputs: an RF modulator (that only supports mono sound, for extra awesomeness), and (ooh) a composite video and stereo audio out.
(Anonymous) on April 21st, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
Hauppauge PVR
You'll have to shell out for one of these:

cheesycheesyhill on April 21st, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Hauppauge PVR
I wish they wouldn't market that thing as a PVR; It's really just a hardware h.264 encoder with a USB interface. There's not even a tuner in it.

To actually get PVR functionality you run PVR software on your host PC that drives an STB via an IR blaster, using the Hauppauge to digitize the input. IR blasters are unreliable enough, then who knows how bad the actual 'PVR' box/driver combination will be. The only advantage I can see over the HDHomeRun is that you probably won't need to transcode after capture.

All someone needs to do is add a couple of cablecard slots to the HDHomeRun. How hard can that be? ;) [And yes, I know CableLabs would obliterate anyone that tried that]

(Anonymous) on April 5th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)
Nice post..
nice work, dude
(Anonymous) on September 23rd, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
RCN sucks so bad
I'm glad I found your post. I have been trying to figure out if there is any possible way to still use my Windows Media Center computer with RCN's new digital cable conversion. As far as I've been able to figure out, the answer is no. Even though I have a digital tuner, I have to use their completely lame set top box to get any channels at all and then pay them to rent their stupid box which is ugly and slow. Plus now I can't enjoy the DVR capabilities anymore and am forced to use two remotes. On top of that, calling RCN is completely useless, I'm pretty sure I know more then they do. Maybe I'll see if I can try this firewire thing you've figured out. Thanks for the post.
(Anonymous) on September 3rd, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
Can't you just buy a DCT700 from somewhere - like ebay and hook it up to your analog TV? That is, if RCN is going to force me to rent the box from them. If they're giving it for free, then that's not a problem.