But don’t call me Larry (the cable guy)

Update Dec 6, 2013 – Metrocast is changing their channels around as they transition to all digital for basic+.  They have moved TBS (Ch 14) to 34-5 (Digidal SD).  I’ll provide an updated post soon with a link here. Here’s the link.

We’ve never been real big on TV technology, what with there being so little available in terms of content.  So  for years we have gotten by with a 21″ TV and Basic Plus cable.  Lately, we are doing more streaming internet content from sites like Netflix, Hulu, and VUDU.  So I decided to upgrade to a small HDTV with an internet server.

Over the holidays, I took a look at the latest offerings in HDTVs and decided to spring for a 32″ LED HDTV.  Not exactly a home theater, but a significant upgrade for us.  Along with an internet streaming device (brand withheld), we can now stream movies and TV episodes in HD.  Nice!

As a bonus, virtually all of the TV programming available to us via our Basic Plus package is available in HD as well, but getting it without adding monthly fees for a cable box turned out to be a hurdle.  I’ve managed to sort it out and decided to blog it so others might benefit from the experience.

First let me say that I give Metrocast credit.  Unlike Comcast who have forced all of their customers to go digital and get converter boxes, Metrocast has kept the Basic and Plus stations available in both standard and high-def format.  Most users lease cable boxes, digital converters, or DVRs to access HD and top tier programming, but you can avoid it.  Many subscribers may prefer to rent the box on their primary TV, but the monthly fees can run up fast if you have several TVs.

All of the Basic and Plus channels that Metrocast broadcasts can be received with a standard ATSC/QAM tuner.  Virtually any new HDTV, of any size or price, will have one.  The difference is that the HD channel numbers are more complicated and are subject to change.  The cable box usually takes care of that.  If you have a TV that can accept a Cable Card, Metrocast will give you up to two cards for free and your TV will use the standard published channel numbers.

But I don’t have a cable card capable TV, so I had to figure out the QAM channel numbers.  Realizing that this is the biggest hurdle, I decided to publish the map so others can do the same. You’ll find it here:

Metrocast QAM TV Channels

It is a little cumbersome to look up the HD channel number and punch it in, but I came up with a good workaround.  The TV allows me to enter a name for each channel – like WGBH, Comedy Central, etc.  So for each of the standard def channels, I simply named them with the HD  channel number.  So if I tune Comedy Central on 52, the TV briefly displays the name as 75-5, which is the clear QAM HD channel for Comedy Central.  The HD channel for most of the basic stations is the next consecutive QAM channel, so I just tune the standard def and press “channel +”.

The other problem that I encountered was that the high def channels require a much better signal than my home cable wiring was providing.  Because I have VIP (Video, Internet, and Phone) there is a splitter in my cable feed for the phone/internet box.  I also have a splitter in the basement, and another in a closet.  The net result is that by the time the signal gets to the TV, it’s been “attenuated” or weakened considerably.  The solution was to add an amplifier to the feed to boost the signal.  They cost $20-$40 and improved the picture on two other standard def TVs in the house.  One caution:  You should get quality splitters and an amplifier that is “bi directional” or has a “return path” so that any intelligent cable box or DVR you may have will be able to communicate back and work properly.

None of this will get you digital programs, pay-per-view, or premium channels.  Those are scrambled and still require a subscription from Metrocast and a cable box or DVR.  This is not cable theft, it is just describing how to access the signal that you are paying for without renting a cable box or upgrading to digital TV.

Now I’m waiting to see if the Red Sox can do any better in HD.

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