The Passion of the Comcast: Cutting the Cord

This is an ongoing story.

In late 2014, my wife — the primary person on our Comcast account — got a call that we could get new cable boxes, more channels, faster internet, and phone service, all for less than what we were paying at the time. A technician came to our house and hooked up a primary X1 box in our living room, a smaller X1 box in our bedroom, and a new combination modem/router. The X1 interface is a vast improvement over what came before it. Our internet speed went from 25 mbps to 100 mbps. Things were good. We even added two digital adapters.

Fast forward two years, and I watched as our monthly Comcast bill got larger and larger. It got as high as $236.43 on May 1, 2017. Our two year contract had ended and the steep discount with it.

In that two year span, Google Fiber had announced plans to bring its service to Atlanta, and more specifically, Brookhaven. It’s not available at our home as I write this, but I operate under the assumption that it could become available at any moment.

So I don’t want to sign any contracts. But that’s the only way to get a discount with Comcast.

So I started looking at streaming tv providers. I went in thinking I might go with DirecTV Now — I already have AT&T cell service. But Sling had the features and channels we wanted. I tried it out, bought a couple Apple TVs (and an antenna and a Tablo) and turned in our cable boxes at the local Xfinity office.

Of course, to stream anything, you need internet. I didn’t cancel our Xfinity internet service, but I did drop the speed from 100 to 25 mbps. That alone cost $65/month.

Everything was going fine. Between Sling and the antenna, we got every channel we cared about except two: Ion, a channel that shows Law & Order reruns that broadcasts over the air out of Atlanta but not with a strong enough signal for us to pick up; and HBO. I was leaning toward HBO Now because getting HBO on Sling was the same price — $15 — but lower video quality.

But I noticed some weirdness when I logged into my Comcast account. It showed that we had made an automatic payment on May 21, 2017 and that our next automatic payment was scheduled for May 22, 2017 — which was in the past.

I talked to Xfinity support via browser-based chat. The rep told me not to worry about the bill – we would be charged the correct amount — but that hey, we could get faster internet — 75 instead of 25 mbps — for less money — $40 instead of $65. And oh by the way, we’d also get Stream TV — including HBO. Great!

So of course the first thing I tried to do was log into HBO Go. Couldn’t do it. The next day I talked to support chat again. No HBO Go.

A day or two later I did some research and found this Xfinity support article. Among other things, it say that Stream TV customers get HBO Go.

A few days later I called Xfinity support. I spoke to four different people. Each of the last two told me I couldn’t get HBO Go, gave me the link to the Stream FAQs article, and then was surprised when I pointed out that the FAQ article says I should get HBO Go. The last person said the article was in error and would be updated.

About two weeks after that I looked at the Stream FAQ article again. Some text and formatting had changed, but it still said that Stream TV customers get HBO Go. So I tried to log in … and it worked.

HBO was the final piece of the puzzle. By eliminating (mostly) my Xfinity TV service, I had saved around $135 per month.

The Passion of the Comcast: Cutting the Cord

Star Trek Into Darkness and Physical Media

I really liked Star Trek Into Darkness.

For some reason I had middling expectations going in. It didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, 2009’s Star Trek, in North America. This informed my opinion. I really liked the 2009 film, and had expected a Pirates of the Caribbean style “box office take of each movie reflects audience appreciation of previous film in franchise” explosion. It didn’t happen. I concluded that Into Darkness must have had something wrong with it.

I saw the previews. It looked like the USS Enterprise got destroyed. My brain replayed a remembered or imagined fanboy’s voice: “How many times can you destroy the Enterprise?” Another question, too dark even for my inner dialogue to whisper: “Is this the film that ends the new Star Trek franchise?”

No, it’s not. Into Darkness is really good. I don’t know why more people didn’t go to see it. I need to watch it a couple more times, but currently I believe I like it better than the previous film. And I really liked the previous film!

Okay, time for side note/personal trivia/minutia that no one except me cares about. The previous film — 2009’s Star Trek — was the first movie I bought on Blu-ray. For years I had held out. I had decided that it wasn’t a big enough jump from DVD, and the next format I was going to adopt was digital download. I had already gone digital with music; I hadn’t bought a CD in years.

Then I bought a PS3. In 2009, when Sony released the Slim model. Suddenly I had a Blu-ray player. Then I saw Star Trek for sale at Walmart … and the Blu-ray was less expensive than the DVD.

My theory is that the some industry was trying to push consumers toward the bright Blu-ray future. Maybe it was the Blu-ray consortium. Maybe it was retailers. Maybe it was both. I went for it hook, line, and sinker.

Somehow I had never redeemed a digital copy of a movie. Today, I can’t remember what my reasoning for this was. After Christmas of 2012, sitting in my basement, I decided to redeem all of the digital copies I had previously ignored. Some had expired. Some I was able to redeem despite their expiration date having passed.

Several weeks later, my wife and I were going to watch The Bourne Legacy. I took the Blu-ray disc out of its case and pushed it into our Blu-ray player. No dice. It wouldn’t play. I took the disc out and looked at it, then put it away. I took the HDMI cable out of our Blu-ray player and put it into our Apple TV. We then watched the film with no issue. That was the moment I decided I don’t need media anymore.

Steam. Digital PC games. It’s great. There are no boxes to take up space. There are no discs to take up space. I rearranged the media center in our basement about a month ago, and now I have all these DVDs and Blu-rays with no place to put them. I already sold the majority of my Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii games — but I still own the games I purchased digitally. I’ll probably hold onto my 360 and PS3 because I have digital libraries. I can store those systems with very little footprint, and bring them out if I feel nostalgic. (This is a hypothetical future. I own several 360 and PS3 games that I haven’t finished yet.)

So I had made the decision to go digital only. Then Star Trek Into Darkness came out on iTunes before DVD and Blu-ray. And I missed this film — the first film I was really looking forward to that I missed because my wife was very pregnant and didn’t want to do much of anything (I still love you Julie). So I bought it. On iTunes.

So 2009’s Star Trek was the first film I purchased on Blu-ray, and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness was the first film I purchased digitally, on iTunes. They’re sci-fi movies set in the future.

Now I plan on buying or receiving as gifts two more Apple TVs — one for each remaining TV in our home. I wouldn’t mind if Apple announces a new model next month. I’ve got to sell off these DVDs, Blu-rays … and CDs? Digital — I’m in!

Star Trek Into Darkness and Physical Media

My PS4 Logo

Sony’s PS4 Logo (top) and My PS4 Logo (bottom)

Last night Sony announced the Playstation 4. At the event, the new controller was shown, a new Kinect-like camera peripheral was shown, games were shown. And the system’s logo was shown. And I don’t like it.

The “PS” part of the logo is identical to the same part of the PS3’s logo. This is fine. But when I look at the new PS4 logo, I honestly think that Sony had someone design the (current) PS3 logo three years ago, then had someone else design the “4” for the new system’s logo. It doesn’t fit.

The 4 doesn’t look futuristic the way the P, the S, and the 3 do. In fact, when I stare at it, I think of a wooden fence on a farm. The two lines crossing each other are inconsistent with the P in the logo, where no line intersects or meets another line.

So I fired up and came up with something I like better. I’ll admit that I got some inspiration from the 1980s-era WIVB logo.

My PS4 Logo

November 2012 Humor

Harry Truman holds newspaper with headline "Teh Haloz Pwns Noobs"
Harry did his fair share of teabagging

Maybe I’m the only person who finds this funny. In high school and college I used to do stuff like this all the time — edit text in photographs and advertisements.

Halo 4 releases on the same day as the 2012 US Presidential Election. Both big events for me.

I preordered Halo 4, but honestly I haven’t had time to be excited about it because I’m too excited about the Presidental race. Hopefully after Obama wins tomorrow I’ll be able to commit ten or fifteen days to Halo 4. I’m sure Julie will be thrilled.

November 2012 Humor

Comcast Offers Upgraded Service to Customers, Anticipates Loss of NFL Network

Today I received an envelope in the mail from Comcast.  It was addressed to “Comcast Customer” and through the window in the envelope I could see the words “Important update re: your programming.”

I expected it to be a procedural letter of minimal importance, but I opened it anyway.  At the top of the letter there was some more text: “POSSIBLE NFL NETWORK CHANGES.”  If you haven’t read about it in the news, Comcast (abd I believe all of the cable companies) are in disagreement with the NFL over whether NFL Network is a premium channel or a basic channel, how much the NFL should charge the cable operators, and how much the operators should charge customers for the channel.

Also from the letter: “The NFL Network may stop providing its programming to Comcast on May 1, 2009.”

Because of this, the letter offers me Starz free for 12 months, or an Internet speed upgrade free for 12 months.  Starz isn’t bad, but it only offers one HD channel, so I went with the speed upgrade.

When the NFL Network started showing live NFL games, I added a package to my Comcast service so that I could see it.  I wonder if this offer has been extended to all Comcast customers, or only those who currently pay to have the NFL Network as part of their service.

Comcast Offers Upgraded Service to Customers, Anticipates Loss of NFL Network

Nuke the Fridge … to the Future?

If you haven’t seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you may not be familiar with the phrase “nuke the fridge.”  In the film, Indy finds himself on a nuclear test site in Nevada and climbs into a lead-lined refrigerator to survive the blast.  The phrase has been adopted by popular culture and has a meaning similar to “jump the shark.”

I recently read the Wikipedia article on Back to the Future.  From the section on the film’s development:

Originally, Marty was a video pirate, the time machine was a refrigerator, and he needed to use the power of an atomic explosion at the Nevada Test Site to return home.  Zemeckis was “concerned that kids would accidentally lock themselves in refrigerators”, and the original climax was deemed too expensive.

The footnotes seem to indicate that this information comes from Empire magazine, but I couldn’t find the article.

Steven Spielberg produced the three BTTF films.  He also directed the four Indiana Jones movies.  Did he pluck this (previously) impractical scene from an old project?  Who knows.

Nuke the Fridge … to the Future?

DVD Playback on Wii: Neat

This is neat: DVD playback on the Nintendo Wii.  Of course, it comes by means of homebrew, which in the case of the Wii, is much easier than it should be.

One thing I’ve noticed in the case of both setting up the Wii Homebrew channel and, now, DVD playback: Available instructions suck.

What I never found anywhere regarding the Homebrew Channel is that if the first Zelda save game freezes your console, reboot, launch the game, and try the second savegame.

Instructions for DVD playback are even more nebulous.  The MPlayer provided alongside the DVD playback installer is very similar but not identical to the MPlayer provided in the Wii Pack Generator.  I assume that the DVD playback installer works only in conjunction with this particular version of the MPlayer.  In any event, both versions of the MPlayer are installed in my Homebrew Channel.

For that matter, why did I have to download two files, then execute one before executing the other?  How about one file, one program?

The DVD player functionality, while certainly interesting, froze while I was watching Braveheart.  The amount of polish on some of the Wii Homebrew software tells me there’s enthusiasm here, and that leaves me optimistic that the DVD player will receive bugfixes over time.  Still, the Wii hardware is capable of only 480p output.  It won’t be taking over DVD duties from my 1080p-capable Xbox 360.  Ever.

DVD Playback on Wii: Neat