Comcast and the state of television providers

Two days ago I received a letter in the mail from Comcast stating that they were changing the plan that I was on. Currently I had the “Total Premium” plan, which basically meant I receive every single channel along with all the premium channels (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc.) For what ever reason Comcast has decided to remove Cinemax from that plan, claiming that it only shows the same stuff as HBO does. They then stated that they were replacing it with “Hitz” which is an On-demand movie service.

So they are removing 5 Cinemax channels from my bill, and replacing it with an On-Demand service, that I can’t use. See last month they decided to drop the “aging server” that was used by TiVo to provide On-Demand service to TiVo customers who only rent cable cards from Comcast. Wow I thought, not only am I losing 5 Cinemax channels, I am also not going to see a decrease in my bill, and I won’t be able to use the new On-Demand service because they removed that as well.

Now I was pretty pissed, and started thinking about dropping Comcast and going with something else for TV. My first thought was Dish Network. That stopped pretty quickly when I found out that Dish Network doesn’t have HBO on it (nor Cinemax), as they appear to be in a fight with AT&T (HBO’s new owner).

I then thought about just cutting the TV side and doing a streaming only. I started looking at PlayStation Vue, which had HBO and Showtime and what I thought was every channel I wanted, in addition it was the only one with a DVR service. So I signed up for a free trail. Once I started playing with it, I then noticed that they don’t have any Viacom channels (Comedy Central, MTV, etc). Which was bad, as I love Comedy Central, which meant I would have to go buy a separate subscription for something to just get that channel. Well that thoughts didn’t last long.

As I started flipping around Vue, I found that the picture quality just wasn’t up to my standards. While it was watchable, it was definitely noticeable that it was a streaming vs a linear channel. While watching “The Neighborhood” on CBS whenever there was a darker scene, the compression stood out. This was really bad on my 4K TV, which made it look like a really over compressed station. I often complain about how Comcast keeps compressing stuff down and making pictures pixelate, but this was so much worse.

It also had no difference between running Vue on the AppleTV 4K or the Playstation 4 Pro. I also tried it on a Roku 4k on a different lower end TV that only supports 1080 and lower. It was still very noticeable with the picture being washed out and not as crisp as a linear channel. So I canceled the free trial not even 24 hours later.

Tonight I thought about looking at DirectTV, but then got in to the 2year deal vs final price issues. I have been a Comcast customer for over 16 years, and the price has keep going up and up and up. In fact in the 16 years, my bill has went from $100 a month to $249 with no change in any service, other than Comcast removing channels and occasionally increasing Internet speeds. So looking at switching to another provider and then doing the whole 2 year agreement thing sucks. Especially when usually on the start of year 3 your bill doubles.

Then I thought about maybe downsizing my Comcast TV package to just the basics and signing up for just HBO Go and Showtime Now, well, Comcast fucks you over there too. For one you can’t see what is available in your area until you log in. If you try to do it as not logged in it will tell you that there is service already at your address or give you the option for “new” account as you were moving there. So I logged in and I shit you not, it only gave me 2 options, and both of them was to add their Phone to make a “Triple Play” but I don’t want their phone. So I unchecked the phone option and there was NO way to downsize your plan through their site. By now I am frustrated to hell.

I then decided to complain to Comcast about the issue on Twitter, and as usual they just regurgitate the same thing that was in the letter about how the “Hitz” was going to be so much better. When I told them that I wouldn’t be able to use it because I don’t have their X1 crap box. Their response was: I understand where you are coming from. We made the decision to remove the Xfinity On Demand app from TiVo devices because the platform uses outdated technology that can no longer be updated and is therefore susceptible to security breaches. The decision to remove the feature was made in close consultation with TiVo. In order to continue watching this content, you will need an Xfinity TV Box or a device that can access the Xfinity Stream App (Roku, certain Smart TVs, smartphone, tablet or computer). I will forward your feedback.

That sort of pissed me off, in that it there is no way for me to get a lower bill, and the only way to even use the new service was to increase my bill. (Ironically their Roku app is only free while in beta, they will start charging for every Roku you have the app on once it goes out of beta and they will treat them just like cable boxes, which is pure shit.) In addition I am not one who stream movies on a smartphone, tablet or computer. So it is just the latest FU from Comcast this year.

This just makes me miss the days of Over the air TV (yes I realize it is still out there, but where I live, I can’t receive anything from Over the Air except for 1 local PBS station) and being able to pick what I want to buy and not having all these different vendors pissing on each other over carry rights for the channels.

I also understand now why people cut their cable subscription and go pirate the TV shows off of the Internet. Then there is all the different streaming services, and if you go subscribe to the individual ones, you would end up paying even more. And don’t even get me started on NetFlix and their fucked up pricing scheme….

Hey Comcast thanks for nothing

Recently I found out that Comcast has decided to drop all 1080i content and scale all HD content to 720p. Why on earth would you do this? Only thing I can think of is to compress more channels / internet bandwidth in to the same space that is currently being used.

What makes me mad the most is that even the premium channels, such as HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, those were all scaled down to 720p. So now the only channels that are “still” in 1080i format is the local CBS and NBC stations.

I believe this happened sometime late last year, as I started noticing some of the channels were not looking at “good” as they used to be, but never looked to see that they were switched from 720p from 1080i. What this means is that Comcast has basically said you don’t need any HD TV above a 720p model as anything else is just going to have to be up-converted.

What is even more funny, is that I started twitting @Comcast on Twitter to ask them, they didn’t know and would only offer help if I gave them my name and phone number. But since they have done it to everyone, it was pointless to keep the conversation going on.¬† I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future, they come out with a new price tear that was for “Full HD”.

Needless to say if I could get the same thing with Dish Network, I would go, but then Comcast being the ass they are would increase my internet by $20 a month because I dropped the cable side.

So you want to be an IT Superstar?

Today is one of those days that I have to wonder why I took a career in Information Technology (IT)… You see, I have been doing IT for almost 20 years now and it is not like how the commercials on ITT Tech, or any of those other “tech” trade schools. The commercials make it look like it is just a easy 9 to 5 job, where everything is so cool and collect.

What I am going to tell you is it is the exact opposite. You will work all types of hours, some times days on end with out sleep when something dies. You will have unrealistic expectations assigned to your projects by people who more than likely have never even touched a computer or know how anything works on it, other than to send an email or do an Excel spread sheet. You will also probably give up one weekend a month for the famous “patching day” which can be at any time your management decides they want to be. And because they love to do it, it is usually at like 1AM on a sunday morning, which means you lose the entire weekend because you are trying to get sleep and rested up to work that one 8 hour shift that is not your normal work time.

Once you get past all that stuff, unless you are eager to learn on your own time, you can probably kiss any further training to the sky. In the days now of tight budgets and very high work loads, your best bet at training is some computer based training of “what’s new in Windows 7”, or something totally unrelated to your actual job.

So now that we have talked about that, what provoked me to say this stuff? Well one company, Microsoft. Today was one of those days where I needed to patch some Windows 2008 Servers because of the monthly release of “security” patches because Microsoft and other vendors are in this mode of getting shit out as fast as possible and not checking the code. So as normal, I approved the 7 or 8 patches for the July cycle in WSUS, so far so good. The part that blows is that the patches applied and the servers said, hey I need to reboot. This was no big surprise because how often have you applied a Windows patch and not had to reboot? So off to reboot the servers, and this is where this shit hit the fan. All of the sudden the server went in to a boot loop. In the off chance that you can catch the blue screen of death in the fraction of a second that it was on the screen, you would see that it mentioned something about an error 0x000007b and that you may have a virus.

Well, I can guarantee you that the machines don’t have virus’ on them. So investigating the error further it appears that the 0x7b is an error that says that the OS can’t find the hard drive. Which is ironic because it has booted off of it to get that far. This then starts the oh-shit moment. Luckily this was only 1 of 2 Active Directory servers. I spent a while trying to get it to boot buy following all these different articles. To no avail I could not get it to boot up.

The biggest thing that pissed me off was Microsoft used to have a boot mode where you could step through each driver as it was loading and say whether to load it or not. Unfortunately, I can’t find that any where in the F8 menu or any of the other google foo searches. So I tried each of the safe mode options, which each BSoD. I tried Debug Mode, BSoD. I tried to have it log the startup to the ntbtlog.txt, nope, doesn’t even write to it. So now I am extremely pissed, to the point where I just said F@#K it, and started a reinstall of Windows 2008R2 (the environment this was in I could do it). But before I did it I tested the other AD server, yup, it bit the dust too.

Luckily reinstalling W2K8 doesn’t take terribly long. †However it is a pain in the ass getting an entire environment set back up because one patch blew up your servers. So while I was reinstalling these two servers, I decided to test another less critical server on a different network. Guess what it died too with the same error. So now I am thinking about how bad this could have been if I were doing some heavily used servers. †(Once again this stuff isn’t shown in the “tech school” commercials.)

So how do you go forward from this, well there are 2 different type of “tech” people. Those who go home, and start testing every single possibility in their own private lab. Then there are those who don’t give a F and wait for other people to fix their problems as they don’t have the first clue how to fix stuff if a reboot doesn’t fix it.

Can you guess which type of a tech person I am? If you guessed the former, you are correct. First thing I did when I got home from work is created a new W2K8R2 VM and started the OS installing and trying to get it up to the patch level I had the machines at work. But because this is windows that takes FOREVER with all the reboots and waiting for it to “see” the patches offered to it.

The group in the later (those who don’t care and wait for others to fix it) really start to make me mad now days. Now I can say that I spend a lot of my own free time doing a lot of stuff to teach my self practically everything I know about IT, as when I went through school, none of this stuff was taught (Shit, I am a UNIX person, but bought a Microsoft TechNet subscription just to learn as much as I can about Windows Server, etc). But some “IT” people seem to get pissed when I make the notion that they need to learn this stuff on their own at home. It is almost the “how dare you ask me to do something on my free time to better my self when I can sit here and do nothing.” Well that is the only way you are going to better your self, and learn from your mistakes with out affecting something at your work that may affect something with your pay …

 

As I said at the beginning I have been doing IT for close to 20 years now. In that time I have had my hands on the following:

  • Every version of SunOS/Solaris from 4.1.1 up to the current (11)
  • Every version of Microsoft Windows from 3.11 through Server 2012
  • IBM AIX 3.1.2 through 6
  • VM/ESA
  • OpenVMS
  • SGI IRIX
  • Various distributions of Linux (and this is one of my huge pet peeves, but that is for another post)
  • Every version of MacOS from 7 through the current 10.9
  • Practically every version of VMware from the original VMware workstation 1.0 on Linux, to vSphere 5.1 to VMware fusion 6.
  • BeOS
  • OS2/Warp
  • Novell Netware

And that is just Operating systems, some of which don’t even exist any more. The hardware side is so numerous that is hard to even keep track of, but lets just say I got in to computers when an 80286 8MHz was considered fast and bleeding edge, not to mention a Commodore 64, and Atari 800.

 

So what is the moral of this post? Really think if you want to get in to IT, and do you have the thirst for learning and teaching yourself. If you don’t have that and don’t want to spend some times hours a night learning how stuff works, or if spending an entire weekend at work on a nice summer day doing patches is not your thing, please don’t take that type of job. IT is almost like a dedication and devotion, if you don’t have the time to do it, you probably shouldn’t start it.

Comcast vs TiVO Roamio

As most of the world knows TiVO released their new DVR called the Roamio. Which in all shapes and forms appears to be the most awesome DVR yet. With the ability to do 6 tuners and stream live TV to the TiVO Mini, it alone will save me hundreds of thousands of dollars in stupid hardware rental fees from Comcast. So before I put down nearly $1000 for the new Roamio and a lifetime subscription I decided to ask Comcast if their Morgantown, WV system would support it. (I had seen some people on the interwebs saying there were issues with some cable systems not supporting all 6 tuners yet.)

So the first place I went was to twitter to ask them (@comcastcares) if they supported it and if there were any hoops I had to jump through to switch it from my Premiere to the Roamio. Well they wrote back and said to contact comcastcares_support@comcast.com. So I sent them an email asking about the support for the Roamio and whether it was required for a tech to come out to do the install.

So I got the typical boiler plate email back saying they would review my concerns.. Pretty typical.

Today I got a call from their Executive relations group while I was at work. So I called them when I got home and here is roughly how the conversation went:

ER: Hello, I was calling to address the email you sent us.

ME: Ok, well I am looking at getting a Roamio and was wanting to make sure it was supported before buying it.

ER: Well does it support 3 cable cards? We only have cable cards that support 2 tuners, so if it doesn’t have 3 cable card slots then it probably won’t work.

ME: No it only has one slot for a M-CARD. (Thinking to my self, yeah if I had to get 3 cards that is extra money to you.)

ER: Oh, ok. well we didn’t even know that TiVO had a DVR that did 6 tuners. (Thinking well, they have had a 4 tuner one for a couple of years now.) I have some calls in to our warehouses to verify if we have a cable card that supports that many tuners, but right now the only thing we support is 2 tuners.

ME: Ok, well from what I was reading it is just a firmware issue.

ER: Hmm, hmm, hmm, ok, ok, ok (don’t have a clue what he was doing) {he then repeats about checking with the warehouse people}

 

He then addressed my issue with doing a self install and said yes you can do it, but you have to call them to activate it. (Which I knew but was confirming it again.)

I then brought up the issue where the website says that for each customer owned piece of equipment you should get a $2.50 credit to your bill. I told him I had 2 TiVO’s and therefore I should see a $5.00 credit on it. To which he explained that I do get the credit but it isn’t reflected on the bill. He then told me that the cable card fee is actually the same as the other box fees ($9.95), but they subtract the $2.50 from it (which is the “cost of the box”)† to make it $7.45 (which is the cost of the “service”).† I told him that the Comcast website doesn’t say that and even the paper that comes with the bill doesn’t show that the Cable cards are $9.95..

The funny thing was that I told him that my friend sees the $2.50 credit on his bill. He immediately said “well different parts of the country does billing a different way.” I sort of laughed and said “well, he lives 2 miles away from me. So your hypothesis doesn’t work.” He couldn’t figure out why mine didn’t show it but others did.

He ended the call with saying he would call me back once he hears back from the warehouse and whether they would or ever support a TiVO with 6 tuners. I said “well I sure hope you do as it is going to save me hundreds of dollars a year in rental fees.” He didn’t really say anything after I said that.

 

So long story short, TiVO has released something that is far superior to anything Comcast could ever offer their own customers. So now they are going to probably give out false information to make sure that customers don’t purchase the new Roamio. Just another reason why Comcast is evil, and making billions a year from people from hardware rental fees. Shit I have had 2 Scientific Atlanta 3100 standard def boxes since 2001. The interface is slow, they put ads on the guide screen, and I have paid probably close to $1,500 in rental fees on them since then.

So ends another tech item

This may come as a surprise, but my “alter personality” does some Microsoft Windows server and workstation management. As such, years ago, I got a TechNet subscription so I could learn how it all worked. See coming from a UNIX side, even though Windows as point and clicky, there is still some technique to managing a windows environment. I also used it to learn Exchange and some SQL server as well. So over the years it has helped me a lot (not to mention the ability to test different versions of the OS and applications to see how they react to different systems.) So I was surprised to find out on Monday that Microsoft is canceling TechNet. While I can understand some of the reasons for it, it does leave us who like to learn at home a little in the dust.

While we can still download a “trial” version of some of the software, the time it would take to install, patch and get it up to “testing” status every time I wanted to test something is going to be a little much. So I wonder how soon it is before Microsoft possibly reverses this decision, just like the Xbox One issue.

There is the option of going to MSDN subscription, but when I am paying for this out of my own pocket, the $699 + $499 / year after that is a little much for me to pay for my self.