Goodbye DirecTV, hello Comcast.

The first bitter disappointment associated with moving into my new home and reconfiguring my AV system came to fruition earlier this week when it was discovered that I can no longer use DirecTV as my source of TV and HDTV programming. While the southern exposure at my new place is good, a beautiful little patch of fir trees across the street blocks one of the satellites critical for HD programming. Looks like Comcast is the only game in town for me now. Ugh. Can't say I'm looking forward to it. Let me tell you why.

My experiences with cable companies have been varying shades of bad. While I can't remember which cable company I had at the time, in the early-to-mid 90's my company raised our rates and then shut off Comedy Central during a big chunk of the day to put in more home shopping channels. Not being a big fan of cheap jewelry I switched to DirecTV over ten years ago and haven't looked back.

With DirecTV I've enjoyed great service, reasonable and stable pricing, and a terrific expansion of HD channels. The quality always looks better than what I see at houses of friends, and I'd never have thought of switching had this not happened. I'm glad I didn't find out sooner either; it might have unduly affected my choice of house, and other than this snafu the new house is the proverbial bomb.

The worst HD image quality I've seen in recent years has been from Comcast installs at friends and relatives. I hope and pray that what I've been seeing has been due to fixable configuration issues, but even that is daunting. Comcast locks up its set-top boxes up tight so no one can mess with their configurations. This makes any attempt at adjusting the image frustrating.

This is an especially upsetting propsect as I've just spent weeks with DirecTV's HR20 HD DVR, and it's superb in every aspect of operation. It has HDMI out, it's simple to configure, it has wonderful image quality and teriffic aspect ratio controls, and it even has a "native rate" mode that outputs every signal at its native resolution. On top of that it has a serial ATA input, ostensibly so you can hang a big ass hard drive off the thing to expand your DVR capacity exponentially without going inside the box and shooting your warranty to hell. Here's to hoping Comcast's current HD DVRs are a lot more open to adjustment than the predecessors I've seen.

This is also a blow from a reference standpoint. I've been watching DirecTV's channels, HD and otherwise, for a long time. They're a very known quanitty that is invaluable in reviews. It's going to take a while for me to adjust to the quallity level of the new programming, whatever it is.

And according to the Comcast rep I spoke with on the phone, I'm losing two of my very favorite HD channels- HDNet and HDNet Movies aren't available. Comcast offers 19 HD stations in my area and he promised me that all the channels available to other satellite and cable providers is available to Comcast and they typically compete with the others. There was a moment of hesitation when I asked him if they had plans to match the 150+ HD channels DirecTV is slated to have up and running by the first part of 2008.

Anyway, as of next Tuesday, I have Comcast, and I'll let ya know what I see and how it compares to what I saw back in the day, when I got my TV and HD from DirecTV. Sniff, boo-hoo.

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Fred Manteghian's picture

Shane, it only takes a quarter stick of dynamite to bring a fir tree to its knees. Certainly one the Environmentalists in Washington could spare you some from their next trip to the Hummer dealership.

Peter Headland's picture

When I did a direct comparison of SD material between DTV and Comcast cable in our neighbourhood (San Mateo, CA), it was painfully obvious that DTV was far more compressed than Comcast (and then softened to mask the MPEG artefacts). DTV has a very ugly reputation for compressing the life out of HD as well (no way can it be called true HD, and there's at least one legal action going on based on that). I would drop Comcast in a heartbeat if DTV's picture quality wasn't so poor in comparison.

Shane Buettner's picture

I sincerely hope that my experiences here mirror Peter's. I'll find out Tuesday. Are you sure you were looking at DirecTV and not DISH? While HBO HD and some of the network affiliates run HD that clearly looks soft and compressed on DirecTV, there are many channels that look crisp and sharp and clear. Among them are Showtime HD, Discovery HD, both HDNet channels and Universal HD. And as i said, my experiences around the bay area with Comcast didn't leave me with much hope. I'll report later this week. Fred, if I can get permission to drop those trees I will. And I'll use afull stick of dynamite just to be sure.

Shane's picture

Peter- was the Comcast you compared to DirecTV via CableCARD or set-top box?

Scott Soloway's picture

You can find out how to get into Comcast's Motorola DVR tech menu here: If you don't need video-on-demand or pay-per-view you can get the superior Tivo Series 3- but with a high up front cost, higher monthly fees and probably some initial problems getting the cablecards to work. I have found Comcast HD to generally look better than DirecTV. Comcast's biggest problem for me is an inconsistency in black, white and color levels from station to station.

Paul Monticciolo's picture

Shane,as a few other have stated, my Comcast looks very good on my 46in Sony RPTV. The reason that I am commenting is about the Direct TV claim of that many HDTV channels. There just is not enough sources for that many channels. If it is all upconverted material, then it is just a quantity versus quality situation.

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