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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

August 15, 2012 at 3:34 PM

Comcast: All customers will need adapters soon

The next phase of Comcast’s digital switch is about to happen in the Puget Sound region.

The last few analog stations will be transmitted digitally when the switch is complete early next year.

That means that all subscribers – even those with the barebones “limited basic” service – are going to need digital tuners on their TVs.

adapter_nextto_tv.jpg

Comcast customers with higher tiers of service have needed digital tuners since Comcast began shifting channels from analog to digital in 2009.

Now the company’s extending the requirement to limited basic customers. The switch is happening in South King and Snohomish counties this fall and Tacoma and Burien later in the year. It’s coming to Seattle, Bremerton, Spokane and Bellevue early next year.

Coincidentally, Comcast is simultaneously seeking to renew its cable franchise in King County.

To continue receiving Comcast channels, all customers will need some sort of digital tuner or set-top box.

Many modern TVs have a built-in digital “QAM” tuner. Those tuners function as the adapter to receive digital cable.

Older TVs will require adapters, which are small, hand-sized boxes that plug into the set. Up to three adapters per household will be provided for free. Additional adapters cost 50 cents per month.

Some TVs and set-top boxes also use a different type of adapter, called a CableCard, that’s also available from Comcast. One is provided free and additional cards are $1.10 per month.

Channels affected by the latest switch – or “digital upgrade” as Comcast calls it – are 2-30, 72-79 and 95-99.

Comcast is doing this to free up bandwidth on its network – digital channels use less bandwidth than analog ones. The switch also nudges customers toward renting full blown cable boxes and additional services.

To soften the blow a bit, Comcast is saying that Limited Basic customers will also be getting up to 10 additional channels after the switch happens.

Don’t get too excited about the new lineup. Most of the “new” channels are second-tier stations that are already being broadcast locally, though you may not be getting them all if you’ve got an older TV.

Two standouts among the “new” channels are Jewelry TV and the always scintillating “Leased Access” channel, which will carry advertising.

Here are the other “new” channels coming to Limited Basic customers in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties who don’t yet have digital tuners: ME-TV KVOS; KFFV; KWDK; KBTC; Azteca America; AAT TV; KVOS CoolTV; C-SPAN2 and KCPQ Accuweather. Pierce and Snohomish customers will also get KCTS Plus.

Comcast is notifying customers by mail and will call customers to remind them, closer to the transition.

For more information on the digital transition, here are some frequently asked questions from the initial switch. Here’s Comcast’s latest FAQ list.

UPDATE: A few people have asked about the resolution output of the “DTA” adapters. They are standard-definition.

If you have a high-def TV with a digital tuner and you’re now getting high-def channels, you’re set. Don’t bother with a DTA because it will degrade your signal.

Also, customers with higher tiers of service may pay more for a DTA. Comcast provided them for free to Digital Cable customers from 2009 until July 1. Since then, it has begun charging $1.99 per month for the adapters.

Comments | Topics: cable, Comcast, Digital TV

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