Sunday, March 11, 2007

Comcastic

I never thought I'd be in a position to say this. The words simply feel wrong, like there should never be a situation bad enough to make me say them, but here we are. Ready for it?

Damn, I miss Time-Warner.

I'm one of the thousands of people in the greater Memphis area to own an HDTV. For those who do not have them yet, please allow me to tell you--- It spoils you very quickly. Watch a couple of hours of widescreen HDTV content, with its vibrant colors and vivid detail, and you're spoiled for all other content.

As you look through the program guide for things to watch, you'll find yourself focusing almost exclusively on channels in the 800-channel-number range, for that is where all the HDTV content is found. Were it not for BBC America, I would be watching almost nothing but high definition content these days (And there's a bit of irony there--- The BBC has been shooting almost everything in widescreen high definition for years, but their American counterpart hasn't gone high def yet). I can only imagine that it's similar to what the early adopters of color television went through.

Comcast, despite the clear advantage of broadcasting all of our local channels in high definition, lags far behind both major satellite companies in the acquisition of high definition channels, particularly Dish Network. I was at the house of someone that had Dish Net service, looked through his channel guide, and turned to him in shock. "A&E is broadcasting in hi def??? The Food Channel??? National Geographic???"

I almost phoned Dish Network the next day, but I was told by someone at Comcast when I called for one of the ten or so service-related problems I've had since they took over that there were indeed new high definition stations on the way.

I turned on my TV Friday night and found out they were indeed telling the truth--- Or as Stephen Colbert might call it, "truthiness". Right there on the welcome screen, it said they would be adding A&E HD, National Geographic HD, and Starz HD to the channel lineup on April 1.

Read down, and you find the catch--- They'll be dropping HDNet, HDNet Movies, and Showtime's West Coast feed.

HDNet is an excellent channel. In addition to bringing us shows like "Smallville", the late, lamented "Arrested Development", and the critically loved but cancelled "Joan of Arcadia" in full high definition, they run a great deal of excellent original content including "Dan Rather Reports" (Their recent episode where they sent a combat videographer to Iraq with an HD cam is essential viewing) and "HDNet World Report", a news program with such staggering depth that you'll forever change the way you look at the Anna Nicole Smith-fest known as the national news. They also carry live NHL games several nights a week, and excellent concerts. It's the only channel I know of where you can watch a Breaking Benjamin concert and stay tuned to watch an HD presentation of a concert from U2's Elevation tour.

HDNet Movies started off as a pretty lousy movie channel, but has really stepped up its game in the last few months. With titles such as "Apocalypse Now Redux", "Empire of the Sun", and "The Killing Fields", they present a worthy challenge to any premium movie channel out there.

Of course, both channels are being pushed aside so we can have "Dog the Bounty Hunter" in HD on the grossly misnamed "Arts & Entertainment" station and the same three programs repeated over and over for an entire programming day on National Geographic (Note--- What is on the regular A&E, National Geographic, Discovery, and even PBS HD feeds are not what is on the standard TV feeds).

And perhaps the most transparent part of their strategy is pushing Showtime HD West aside for Starz HD--- Right now, viewers can watch four premium movie channels in HD--- HBO East & West, and Showtime East & West. If those same viewers wish to continue to be able to see four premium movie channels in HD, they now have to subscribe to another premium movie package--- At an additional fee, of course. And the Starz programming model involves showing the same movies at the same time every day for a week, then picking another handful of movies to do the same with next week.

And that doesn't even address the ridiculous number of service problems we've had out of them. They routinely mess up my subscriptions--- Three times in the last month and a half, I've come home to find out that channels I subscribe to were showing up as unavailable, with a message saying that I could subscribe to them by calling Comcast. Oh, and good luck with that--- Between a billing error so severe that not a single bill went out of their office that was correct, and the complete absence of HD DVR boxes (A particular worry to me, as the hard drive on mine is starting to make sounds not unlike a leaky faucet), people are calling so often that it's nearly impossible to get through.

So I went to their Midtown office to get my service straightened out. As I stood in line for forty minutes, they found a new way to add insult to injury.

I kept looking at the almost life-sized cutout of Chewbacca (Theirs is roughly six and a half feet tall, a good foot shorter than Peter Mayhew) telling me that I could watch the entire Star Wars saga in high definition---

On Cinemax HD. A channel we don't even get here.

No comments: