On Monday, Colorado cable customers transitioned into a new digital world. Comcast switched off analog access to all but its most basic channels, i.e. the ones that they are still required to carry by law, and killed the clear-QAM signal that has made it possible for my EyeTV tuner to schedule and record TV for the last few years. Instead, Comcast has introduced digital transport adapters, and this small box has wrecked my TV-watching, time-shifting, Mac-recording happiness.
The problem is this. The new Comcast box will transmit video over a coax cable on channel 3 or 4. You set this via a toggle switch on the back of the box. All channel switching must be done via the box. That means if you bought a fancy new TV with a built-in clear-QAM tuner (without CableCARD) or are using a computer-based tuner like the EyeTV that doesn't have an IR blaster to change cable channels, you're in a bind.
You need to send channel requests somehow to the box rather than allowing your equipment to function the way it always has. Unfortunately, EyeTV can't work that way. Elgato suggested that it isn't possible to use the channel 3-4 type connection when controlling a set top box. Argh! For EyeTV users, you can either pay to upgrade both to a new Comcast HD tuner and an Elgato EyeTV HD system, which TUAW is going to review soon, or you can try to cobble together your own solution, a la the discussion at this online Elgato forum thread.
I did the latter. In the end, it cost about a hundred dollars in parts and degraded my video quality to "barely watchable", plus it took up several ports (both on my computer and on the EyeTV unit) that I normal use for work. But I can now automatically record TV shows, so it's going to keep me going for the moment, however badly. Read on to learn how I put my solution together, and why you'll probably want to consider opting for a net-enabled TiVo instead.
Update: Working with Elgato over e-mail this afternoon to try to bypass the "need a VCR to transform coax signal into composite signal", will update when I have made some progress. The rest of the exercise, from the IR blaster, to the missed channel signals, and so forth stands. Do consider going for Elgato's premium EyeTV HD product rather than trying to back-engineer with older equipment and a DTA.
Update 2: Managed to get the solution sans VCR to work. Via Elgato:
1) Make sure you have Analog - Antenna channel 3
2) Make sure you can see the video from the cable box on channel 3
3) Configure ZephIR - give your downloaded IR set a name like "ComcastDCX50"
4) Make sure ZephIR can control EyeTV
5) Use Configure Set Top Box in EyeTV. Name you setup "ComcastDCX50" (or whatever, at long as it matches your ZephIR setup name)
6) Choose Built-In Tuner, and Channel 3. Do not select "use built-in tuner for analog channels".
7) Make sure to delete any previous channels (a la Step 7 in the the main part of this write-up) or you will experience the errors, I first encountered.
After, the image quality is pretty poor, but it works and does not require the VCR step. This improved audio but experienced similar channel switching problems with one fewer device needed. Still a hack -- and I still recommend avoiding this approach.