Cisco STA1520 SDV tuning adapter impressions

Cisco STA1520 SDV tuning adapter

Cox grabbed some early SDV headlines by promising to supply its Phoenix-area TiVo customers with free tuning adapters, but it only recently made good on the deal in our central Phoenix location. Since the initial announcement, other cable markets -- both Cox and other providers -- have already delivered tuning adapters to users. Based on our poll, it seems the Tuning Adapter rollout is still in the early stages even though we feel like we've been waiting for a long time. Better late than never, though -- last week we got a letter indicating that our Tuning Adapter was ready for pickup at the local Cox office, thankfully still gratis. For our troubles, we got a Cisco (Scientific Atlanta) STA1520 that the Cox representative made abundantly clear was free only as long as we stayed a customer. Follow us past the fold to see how the rest of our Tuning Adapter experience shaped up.

Hookup of the STA1520 couldn't have been easier -- we routed the cable through the box to the TiVo, plugged in the included USB cable to an open port on the TiVo and powered the STA1520 up. Right off the bat, the green LED on the STA1520 started blinking and the TiVo put up a notification screen. The TiVo diagnostic screen for the tuning adapter, however, indicated "No channels available." Time to call the cable company.

As is always the case with phone support, the CSR (customer service representative) is the biggest factor in how successful your call will be. Thankfully for us, we got paired up with a knowledgeable CSR on the first attempt. After a little account management that amounted to associating the cable card in our TiVo to the Tuning Adapter, sending "hits" from Cox down to our STA1520 made the green LED stop blinking. We'll admit we think we got lucky in this round of CSR roulette, but to be fair, Cox is doing the right thing with a "no service fee" policy on getting the Tuning Adapters up and running -- even if it involves a truck roll.

Once the initialization of the tuning adapter was complete, the TiVo diagnostic screen allowed us to change channels through the STA1520, confirming that everything was working correctly.

So, installation was straightforward, but whether you really need a Tuning Adapter is entirely dependent on a combination of your service provider and the programming you really want. In our particular locale and at this time, Cox has moved about 40 channels to SDV, with about half of those channels in its "Paquete Latino" tier. Our own subscription only saw seven channels move to SDV, including some religious programming, a local real estate channel and C-SPAN 2 and 3. All in all, nothing that even constitutes a small morsel of our TV diet, and chances are even if our Tuning Adapter totally failed, we'd never notice or miss those channels.

Which brings us to one thing we really like about the Tuning Adapter -- it has a passive passthrough of the cable signal -- even when switched off, the non-SDV channels can be tuned in from the TiVo. Also, we were happy to see that the Tuning Adapter didn't produce any noticeable degradation in picture quality, which was more than we could say for some of the cable set-top boxes we've had experience with.

SDV is here, and even if your favorite programming hasn't been moved into and SDV channel yet, it just might in the future. Based on our experience so far, the Tuning Adapter and our TiVo has been getting along just fine. Perusing some discussion boards around the internet, however, does turn up some complaints of adapters needing restarting, which can be really annoying if you lose signal right in the middle of a recording. While the TiVo will receive non-SDV channels even when the adapter is turned off, it does require about 30 seconds to re-tune.

If we've got any nits to pick with our experience, it'd be the sheer presence of yet another box in our AV setup -- consider what programming a Tuning Adapter will open up before you decide you absolutely must have one. While it is annoying to pay the cable company for channels you can't receive, the hour or so spent in getting set up and the hassle of finding a nook to stuff the adapter in might not be worth the effort.