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What can I replace my VCR with other than what the cable company provides?

By JohnMcGrew ·
Here's the scenario: I am super cheap. I'm on basic cable, which I also use for my broadband Internet. If I want to see a movie, I usually rent a DVD at the MovieCube or the Redbox at for $1. For the last year or so, we've had a digital converter in the family room which gets all the basic channels plus a few extra as well as the "on-demand" service, which we rarely use. On that TV, we also have a DVD player and a 2 old-fashioned VHS VCRs which we record programs to watch later. (Poor-mans time-shifting) Most television we watch is recorded on the VCRs to be watched at our convenience. In my office, it's all analog, with another VCR, on which I usually record programs that I want to watch, but my wife will have no interest in. In the bedroom, we have just a TV, but we don't watch recorded material there.

Yeah, this is all primitive, but it worked well.

I do have a box to get over-the-air HDTV, but haven't bothered to mess with it. Where I live, it's mostly shallow rolling hills just high enough to render the higher frequencies useless unless you've got a 100-foot mast.

After years of telling everyone that nothing will change for their customers after the big analog-to-digital conversion, our wonderful cable provider, Comcast, will soon be discontinuing almost all analog transmission on the cable. Of course, this is with the stated (and somewhat true) purpose of feeing up bandwidth for additional digital services. But the real agenda is all about eventually extracting an additional "entertainment tithe" out of us. They have been gracious enough to provide, for free, additional digital converters for my office and bedroom TVs. These converters are bare-boned; they don't even have the "guide" that the other one has, and they only have RF output to channel 3 or 4.

The problem is that this will cripple my ability to record with the VCRs. The only way to do so will be to wire in the VCRs behind the converter boxes, and then manually set the correct channel on the converter for the next program to be recorded. Of course, this will preclude the ability to be able to record one channel and watch another, and will also make it impossible to record programs on different channels over time without manual attention. In other words, the VCRs have been rendered nearly useless.

Of course, our wonderful cable provider, Comcast, will be happy to provide a solution to this problem by renting me their DVRs for all my TVs for additional fees. And of course, I resist this because I resent the idea of having to pay more to replace something that worked just fine before they decided to "upgrade" the system, supposedly for my benefit.

For years, I'd been planning on building a "Freebo" DVR out of spare parts, but have never gotten around to it. The problem is now that I don't see any hardware that is capable of decoding the digital content off the cable, so that project now appears dead. (Guess it's just as well I never got around to that) a "Freebo" would have the advantage of being able to download an stream Internet content, which I do believe is the future to some degree. (and really pisses off Comcast)

Satellite service in the long run doesn't seem any cheaper, and they don?t provide the broadband so that's not a solution. AT&T offers a competing service, but the Internet will not be as fast and in the long run I doubt the cost would be any better.

I am cheap, but not unrealistic: I am usually willing to spend money on hardware to solve the problem, assuming that it is economical compared to the "tithe" that I expect the cable company is going to make me pay over the long run. And I don't want to pay for a solution I'm likely to have to replace next year. My philosophy is that I'd always much rather pay a higher cost up-front cost than a never-ending fee over the long term.

So I throw the question to you. Are there any solutions that I am not aware of that can address this situation in an economical manner, or do I just have to accept that I too have become a slave to the cable company? I think it's absurd to be paying over a thousand dollars a year to have access to mostly crap, and not even be able to record as I used to.

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Rock and a hard place

by mjd420nova In reply to What can I replace my VCR ...

No, John there is no cheap way to either retain your present hardware or purchase a digital VCR. Once you get your signal from cable, you have to have a converter box for each unit you wish to use and this applies to satelite too. For cable you need to have a box provided by them as they have encrypted their signal so even a digital set can't recieve the signals. The only partial cure is with satelite and their free DVR with the service, it has a dual tuner so you can watch one channel and record another or record two different shows at the same time if you're not watching any. The cable companies switch to digital format makes sense, why recieve a digital signal from the source network and convert it to analog to put on the cable when you can just put it directly on the cable without converting it. In the old analog format, they just took the signal and placed it on an open part of the spectrum the normal TV couldn't tune to and you had to rent/lease their box to get the signals. Unless you used a "block converter" that took all the signals and placed them up in the UHF range so you could tune them directly. Those days are gone, no more free service.

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There was nothing "free" about it.

by JohnMcGrew In reply to Rock and a hard place

Each year, the bill would go up, and every so often they'd pull another channel.

I just resent the idea of now having to pay even more, just to do what I could do before it was "improved".

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Free upgrade?

by CharlieSpencer In reply to What can I replace my VCR ...

"For the last year or so, we've had a digital converter in the family room which gets all the basic channels plus a few extra as well as the "on-demand" service, which we rarely use."

Check with your cable company. Mine, Time Warner, offers a digital converter with a built-in DVR for the same monthly fee as a plain converter without a DVR.

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No free upgrade for me.

by JohnMcGrew In reply to Free upgrade?

I already got the "free upgrade". That was the 3 digital boxes. I think I can get a "free" DVR if I upgrade to a higher level programming package or service bundle, which would cost much more than just the DVR alone, which would be $16/mo.

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What is this VCR technology you speak of?

by Forum Surfer In reply to What can I replace my VCR ...

Ha! Just kidding. I didn't think anyone or anything outside of cheap, leftover security systems were still utilizing that stuff?

Stay away from satellite if you can. It is my only option. I can tell you first hand that just before a heavy thunderstorm hits, I have warning because I'll lose signal seconds before the bottom falls out. I tuned my dish myself and I know it's getting the best possible signal given its location.

Seriously, give in and get the DVR from the cable company. Slave or not, the simplicity and handiness of it will win you over. It will definitely score you major points with the significant other. Not only that, your friends won't suspect you of being involved in the porn industry due to all those old VCR tapes lying around.

But don't take my opinion too seriously. You're one of the few people I've met cheaper than me. I remember being willing to pay anything to get away from those awful VCR tapes. That was a long, long time ago. The "tithe" doesn't bother me. That "tithe" costs me less than a dedicated box that I have to replace every couple of years. Of course, since you still use VCRs, you're not on a 2 year replacement cycle that enables you to get better quality viewing.

I'm not knocking you though dude! To each his own. I'm just saying, I'm cheap as well. Even being frugal, I've found that basic cable and life without DVR is just missing something. I don't watch much tv, nor do I have time to watch the shows I'm actually interested in so DVR is a must for me.


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Satellite is a non-starter for me

by JohnMcGrew In reply to What is this VCR technolo ...

Our frequent cumulonimbus here would make watching satellite painful, plus I'm tied to the cable for Internet anyway. So until we get final-mile FiOS, I'm pretty captive.

I've always been sold on the superior nature of DVRs; I'm the only one I know that doesn't have one. I just never felt compelled to proceed with it since I didn't want to spend the money for the few hours of TV I watch, and I knew there was a technology shift coming. The only upside to renting from the cable company is that I'll have no investment to hold me back from dumping their hardware the second that something better comes along.

As for quality: IMHO, the ridiculous level of compression that is being applied almost completely negates the benefits of the newer hardware. Even on analog, the compression artifacts I see are amazingly annoying.

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Thanks for your input. In all likelyhood, what I'll do is...

by JohnMcGrew In reply to What can I replace my VCR ...

...wait a while. The wife doesn't yet see the necessity of any of this, so I'll just wait until there's something on the Food Network that happens to be on when I want to watch something on Discovery or History. She'll probably change her mind at that point.

AT&T offers a setup that I like architecturally, with a single DVR that acts as a master to any number of slave units at remote TVs. Each remote TV can access the DVR independantly. The DVR can record up to 4 programs at once. (Comcast's can only do 2) Overall, this service would cost about the same as Comcast's. So what I may do is play Comcast against AT&T, and try to get Comcast to give me the DVRs for free.

If Comcast won't go for that, I'll just dump them for TV (retaining the Internet) and try out AT&T, which doesn't even require a contract.

Thanks again for the comments.

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