HDTV: Made The Jump, Mixed Results

A year ago I said that HDTV didn't make sense for me. But with the arrival of Tivo HD, the dollar weakening and making dramatic price drops less likely, and the Red Sox making the playoffs, I decided to make the jump and bought a Philips 42".

The biggest problem is that once you see high-definition channels in your own home side-by-side with standard definition, the standard definition channels look horrible. We actually had the TV for a couple days before I got the HD cable package and we were like "OK, definitely more noticeable compression and blurriness on the bigger screen, but that's fine." And then I got the set-top box and saw how much better the pictures look.

Then, all the trouble started. I chose to stick with Oceanic Time-Warner Cable rather than satellites because to receive HD satellite programming in Hawaii, you have to place two 2.5m dishes in your yard! Our neighbors have them and they're huge and ugly -- a non-starter for us. Plus, my Tivo HD was winging its way island-ward. All I would do is order some CableCards and life would be good.


Oceanic TWC no longer provides CableCards for HD. You can get a CableCard for SD channels, but if you want HD, you have to use one of their set-top boxes or DVRs. I was a little stunned, but I figured "OK, Tivo had this figured out from the start. So I'll take the set-top box, hook it into Tivo, and use Tivo's magic IR blasters to control the set-top box."


Turns out that Tivo HD has no facility for inputting HD other than CableCards. (And, just to make it complicated, some people are saying that Oceanic TWC can not legally convert-to-incompatible-form the HD streams of the networks, which provide the majority of the HD content I'd be looking to Tivo (at least until Battlestar Galactica restarts).) (If you thought that forbidding just this kind of practice was the whole point of CableCards, join the crowd.)

So I left my Tivo HD in the box and set up my old Tivo to control the set-top box with IR blasters. "If I need to watch HD, I'll watch it live." Which ticked me off no end. Not only is watching live TV unthinkable after you've gotten used to a DVR, watching live sports in Hawai'i is difficult due to the 3 hour time shift.

Even worse, the picture quality on shows recorded via the set-top box is noticeably worse than shows from the previous week, when they were recorded straight off our previous non-digital cable service. I suspect this has to do with double-compression: we had been recording analog and applying Tivo's compression to it; now we have a digitally-compressed stream decoded by the set-top box, sent to the Tivo and recompressed, naturally resulting in many more artifacts and general degradation of quality.

So to summarize:

  • HD picture quality is mind-blowing, but we only get about a dozen channels in HD (networks, TBS and TNT, Discovery, and National Geographic, and then two showcase/movie channels).
  • If I want to time-shift HD, I have to use Oceanic's DVR, which if it's anything like their set-top box interface, will be hideous
  • I can use Tivo, but only on SD channels.
  • I can use Tivo HD, which will probably record SD channels better, but I'll still have to keep the set-top box near the TV in case I want to watch HD. Plus, Tivo HD has a monthly fee.
  • I can use my old Tivo, in which case
  • Picture quality via the set-top box is hideous, or
  • I can go back to basic cable and never be able to see HD broadcasting

Oh, and then when I went to watch a rented HD DVD movie last night, I ran afoul of what \<a href="http://www.knowing.net/PermaLink%2cguid%2ccb2e395b-32b7-4f2e-a9bb-13eb602e1d4d.aspx"" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smells tremendously like some form of DRM .

I'm definitely going to live with the status quo through the playoffs (or at least through the Red Sox run). Manny Ramirez' homerun last night looked awesome in HD.

But after that, I have no idea what I'm going to do.