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ViRGEdx

join:2002-10-25

3 edits

Digital Transport Adapter Unboxing Photos

As far as I know no one has done a proper unboxing of one of the new DTAs, so I've gone ahead and done one with one of the units that arrived today. I've photographed just about everything, so there shouldn't be anything left uncovered. And I apologize in advance for the so-so photo quality, all I had on hand was a Sony Cybershot. These are just a few of the shots, the rest are on the Picasa album I set up.









As for the installation process itself, there's not much to say. I hooked the box up to one of my TVs and programed in the TV codes in to the remote using the included remote manual. The box does not come activated and Comcast's online activation service is not yet operational, so I had to call it in.

This was part of a 3 box installation (2 DTAs and a regular STB) since Comcast is removing the analog expanded basic tier in my area. In this case Comcast had the DTA serial numbers on-hand already, so once I told them what I needed it only took a moment to activate them. Presumably once they start doing this on a national level, the website will be working and this will be even easier.

The DTA itself is a Pace DC50X; I have been told that Motorola is making DTAs too, so I'm surprised that it wasn't a Moto unit. The DTA only offers RF out, so the image quality isn't anything to write home about. Clearly if you have a bigger SD TV, Comcast wants you using a STB.

It's all very unimpressive, but if anyone does have a question, I'd be glad to answer it.

Edit: First Q&A section

Edit 2: We've been EngadgetHDed. I guess this is interesting after all, who knew?

Edit 3: There's a hidden diagnostics mode



rv65
Premium
join:2008-08-02
USA!!!!
kudos:1

Looks nice, but a composite output should have been added as well. That would have made an improvement.


Drumtrip1
Root

join:2003-01-12
Missing

said by rv65:

Looks nice, but a composite output should have been added as well. That would have made an improvement.
I think the point of the DTA is if you want/need composite, you should order a normal box


cypherstream
Premium,MVM
join:2004-12-02
Reading, PA
kudos:3

1 edit
reply to ViRGEdx

Is there any sort of on screen display? I notice an Info button on the remote. Does it simply tell you the time and channel name?

Is the audio from Ch 3/4 RF out still in Mono like current digital boxes, or did they figure out BTSC Stereo encoding like the old analog boxes?



Greg2600

join:2008-05-20
Belleville, NJ
reply to ViRGEdx

Great work on those pictures. FWIW I believe the Cisco and Motorola DTA's also have only RF output. That is definitely unfortunate. While there is no noticeable difference IMO between Component, S-Video, and Composite under Standard Def, there is absolutely a worse picture with RF. Although the ability to receive ALL your digital channels is a huge plus, and the reception is 100 times better than straight analog. You can receive all the premium channels right? I appreciate the IR sender, that's handy! The power supply is very thin, which means it will only take up one spot in a surge protector, also good. If Comcast would commit to pushing these to Northern NJ in the next year, I might stay with them come April.



Travelfan1
RIP Analog Go Digital

join:2005-08-23
Woodbridge, NJ
reply to ViRGEdx

said by ViRGEdx:

...
The DTA only offers RF out, so the image quality isn't anything to write home about.
...
It's all very unimpressive, but if anyone does have a question, I'd be glad to answer it.
Great pictures, thanks for sharing with us.

Re all being very unimpressive, well, the main point was something really cheap that allowed Comcast to free up the analog bandwidth. And this DTA dongle delivers it.

One interesting point that you made: You said the picture quality isn't anything to write home about. You made this comment compared to what? Like, say, were you to plug a S-Video out from a regular digital cable box to the same TV, the picture quality would improve? Or comparing apples to apples, i.e., RF out from the DTA compared to the RF out from regular digital box?

Now, if Comcast "Freedom" area/NYC metro were only to move their... and start moving the non-broadcasting analogs to digital only and give the subscribers the DTA... Yeah, that will happen here around year 2020, maybe 2050...
--
COMCAST of New Jersey II(Union) - Dead last in HD channels in NY metro area! Only 26 HD channels, compared to 102 for Fios and over 50 for Directv, Dish, Time Warner and Cablevision!
Verizon DSL


cypherstream
Premium,MVM
join:2004-12-02
Reading, PA
kudos:3
reply to ViRGEdx

Another question,
Hows the channel tune performance. When you quickly push Ch up or down, is it relatively fast? Does it lag or hang up on you?

The only problem with the DTA solution is manufacturers are going to have a hell of a time getting enough made and shipped on a timely basis.

There's a huge delay with getting these units in, especially if even only 20% of Comcast's footprint tries to order them. The time waiting for the DTA's to arrive could of been spent swapping out 750 MHz amplifiers with 1 GHz ones.



Greg2600

join:2008-05-20
Belleville, NJ
reply to ViRGEdx

cypher, great question on channel changing. Although without the guide to pop up all the time, it must be faster? Also, since there are three different manufacturers, and Comcast already started orders back in July, will there be a delay?

Travelfan1, yeah the PQ must be better than a straight Analog connection, particularly on the 2-11 channels. It's not as good as any kind of AV cable, but if you use a high quality Coax, the RF should be fine.


plat2on1

join:2002-08-21
Hopewell Junction, NY
reply to ViRGEdx

wonder why it has a MAC address



psujim

join:2007-10-10
Reading, PA
reply to ViRGEdx

Looks good for the cheap alternative it is to provide for those who don't want the STB on their TV.


svengali84

join:2008-07-22
Waltham, MA
reply to ViRGEdx

Is this something available for purchase from Comcast or do you still have to rent it, and if so, what's the price difference between this and a STB?



miscDude

@comcast.com
reply to ViRGEdx

From my understanding about these boxes, they are basically designed to be a cheap QAM tuner that will also apply the traditional channel map. (So instead of getting channel 113.2 you see channel 45 like every other box and traditional analog). They are not really designed and intended to replace the traditional cable box for digital cable, but to instead bridge the gap for old-school "cable ready" TV's as those cable ready analog signals are pulled and replaced by digital versions of the analog lineup. As just a QAM tuner designed to go replace the analog going straight into the back of a TV, don't really think the added output options are really that big a deal.

Some things to note.... No cablecard. because of the price point I do not expect these boxes to decrypt your currently encrypted QAM signals, so your premiums, digital classic, and other advanced teirs don't expect to get on this box. Likely they will just unencrypt the standard "expanded" lineup to allow these boxes to tune them. If they are really paranoid about pirating, I don't know if these boxes are capable of doing the simple "privacy mode" encryption that is currently done on the VOD streams... but that may also require a FCC waiver so it may or may not be activated.

The MAC address is probably there in part because most electronic devices, especcially those connecting to a network, have one these days. Beyond that, I wouldn't be surprised if there was at least some sort of simple way to authorize these boxes on the cable plant, ether thru a "keep alive" message or some other indirect way they can shut one down. Considering the number of stolen cable boxes you see on Ebay, It wouldn't be too much of a jump to assume when these things were designed they included a way to prevent a box from activating or working on a foreign system as a security measure and deterrent.

From what I've heard, the on screen display consists of just the channel number when flipping channels. Since there isn't a front LED display, and no guide, you just receive a simple channel number (and maybe channel call-letter short description deally) to let you know what channel you are on.

As for the shortages issues.... I wouldn't be surprised if that's another reason for the slow roll out so far. Not so much because they have a shortage now, but maybe so they can figure out what kind of demand they might expect in a live system so they can then properly ensure they have enough in stock once they get more agressive. "Let's see.... for every XX number of digital boxes, we had requests for XX number of DTAs. Therefor, we should make sure we have XXXXXX number in inventory and available before we yank these channels."

Theoretical forecasting is one thing.... having some hard data to work with can make that forcasting much more accurate.



polo

@comcast.net
reply to ViRGEdx

What is Comcast charging/month for the box and what channels does it receive?


ak3883

join:2005-08-20
Portsmouth, RI
reply to ViRGEdx

Great writeup and pics, thanks!

Basically this thing is a QAM tuner, there is NO encryption used(for now). Any channel that an HDTV with a QAM tuner can pick up all of the channels that this thing does, except this DTA calls them by their old channels, like ch 40 is CNN, not 87-3 or whatever.

They could not put a cableCARD in these because it would be way too expensive. Removable security/conditional access cards are now required if you want to use any form of encryption. This was an FCC mandate back in the summer of 2006. Verizon won an exception by eliminating all of their analog signals, so new STBs that they deplay CAN have integrated security. Comcast applied for an exemption for these DTAs, and the FCC denied their request.

I think it has been said that the first 2 DTAs are free if you subscribe to at least digital starter, or something like that. They are designed for bedroom TVs, or TVs that don't get as much use, that you want to continue to be able to watch cable TV on, but don't use it enough to justify paying the few bucks a month for a regular cable box.



Greg2600

join:2008-05-20
Belleville, NJ
reply to ViRGEdx

No premium channels? That definitely stinks. I wonder if Comcast will also charge their lovely "digital outlet" fee even if the box is free?


Da Man

join:2008-05-08
Hanover, PA
reply to cypherstream

MTS is hard to do at the box from what I read. The analog boxes just took the channel and moved to it Ch 3/4 (no re encoding). 100% digital picture&sound now means RF modulated picture with mono sound. I can get that on YouTube for free.


dishrich

join:2006-05-12
Springfield, IL

1 edit

said by Da Man:

MTS is hard to do at the box from what I read. The analog boxes just took the channel and moved to it Ch 3/4 (no re encoding). 100% digital picture&sound now means RF modulated picture with mono sound.
+1 - of course, they could have put in a stereo mod; YEA, THAT'S going to happen on a box of this caliber...

They would be better off spending .25 to have put in composite A/V jacks - I mean really, if those cheap OTA digital tuners can ALL have them, there is NO reason these shouldn't have, too!


cypherstream
Premium,MVM
join:2004-12-02
Reading, PA
kudos:3

Yeah because internally there should be baseband audio and video feeding an RF modulator. Tap the lines prior to the RF modulator and you may be able to extract a composite signal.

Not impossible, they are just keeping things cheap.



Greg2600

join:2008-05-20
Belleville, NJ
reply to ViRGEdx

I can say unequivocally that most people only use the RF cables to connect to a TV. Only on HDTV's have they not, because you can't get HD without Component or HDMI. While I see Comcast putting the term "Bedroom" TV into their manual for this device, they are not treating it as such. Clearly the aim is for the many people who have no box whatsoever. In the past, all the providers have had no problem mandating STB's to receive channels, and later moving Premiums to digital to force you into Digital cable more or less. This is to satisfy those you currently have only Analog on one, maybe two TV's.

Here's my question though, if before you had just basic or expanded analog, not digital, and now get this box, will you get all the non-premium digital channels? Or will you have to be forced into buying expanded digital tier? This box does not de-encrypt so Comcast can't separate those packages anymore, no?



rra
Advice

join:2008-09-19
Kingsville, MO
reply to ViRGEdx

It seems that everyone here is confused as to what this device does. Customer's that have cablecard installed on their tv or tivo haven't been able to get SDV (switched digital video) This tuning adapter resolves that.

You still have to pay for the channels. It's only purpose is to provide authorized channels a way to be viewed without a cablebox. This makes cablecards and Tivos functional again.

Why would this device need any output but coax. It goes between the tv and the wall or between the wall and the tivo.

The only reason it has a mac address is prolly for tracking/stocking purposes. You get it for free but I'm sure there's a cost if you lose/damage it.



miscDude

@comcast.com
reply to Greg2600

said by Greg2600:

Here's my question though, if before you had just basic or expanded analog, not digital, and now get this box, will you get all the non-premium digital channels? Or will you have to be forced into buying expanded digital tier? This box does not de-encrypt so Comcast can't separate those packages anymore, no?
My understanding is that these DTAs are designed, and marketed to fill that spot for the "extra" TV's a customer has. The idea is that there are a LOT of customers who have digital cable with a regular STB, but may have multiple TV's in the house plugged in to just straight analog to pick up the analog channels. With the Analog reclaimation projects they were doing, they were pissing off a large number of customers who suddenly would see thier bill increase dramatically for those extra boxes for each TV.

Customers who are currently analog only would be served by existing promotions like the Digital Starter (or new Economy services) that provide a single traditional box free for the year and give them access to VoD and music choice, but there was no such "free box" offers for existing Digital Classic/premier/premuim customers who already get the full service digital packages on a TV but actively used 3 or 4 additional TV's with regular analog cable. These DTA's would provide those TV's with the ability to keep those old "analog" channels as they move to digitial.

This is kind of supported by the pricing I've heard on the DTA's where you can get 1 or 2 free with an existing digital package and only maybe $1 for additional boxes.

If you figure your "average" digital customer only maybe has 1 digital outlet in the living room, but takes advantage of the analog cable in the kitchen, kids bedroom (Don't need to give the kids access to skinamax or PPV after all), or master bedroom, This allows them to continue receiving the same basic services with no increase in overall cost, and still allows the MSO to do the bandwidth reclaimation they want/need to do.

The Analog only customers there has been a steady effort to try and get them to at least an entry level digital service for quite awhile, and I don't see that strategy changing. (And with the recent announcements and launching of the Economy tier which includes a standard box, cheaper than your traditional analog expanded basic, that strategy isn't changing, it's just evolving).

Then you get those people with 8 tv's who complain about the analogs going away because they would need 8 boxes vs. the 2 they may have now. I'd say this is probably easily a minority of cable customers, and while they may have a valid argument with having a $60-$100 increase in monthly cost with traditional boxes, The $1 per extra after 2 boxes, that arguement loses a lot of teeth when you are looking at only an additional $4/mo. (if you can afford 8 tvs, $4 ain't gonna kill ya).


miscDude

@comcast.com
reply to rra

said by rra:

It seems that everyone here is confused as to what this device does. Customer's that have cablecard installed on their tv or tivo haven't been able to get SDV (switched digital video) This tuning adapter resolves that.

You still have to pay for the channels. It's only purpose is to provide authorized channels a way to be viewed without a cablebox. This makes cablecards and Tivos functional again.

Why would this device need any output but coax. It goes between the tv and the wall or between the wall and the tivo.

The only reason it has a mac address is prolly for tracking/stocking purposes. You get it for free but I'm sure there's a cost if you lose/damage it.
There is a difference between the DTA (Digital Transport/Tuning Adapter) and the TiVO SDV tuning resolver.

One key difference you will notice out of the box....The Tuning resolver for Tivo's isn't going to include a remote because the TiVO will communicate with it directly when it attempts to tune an SDV stream to allow the resolver to handle the SDV request.

Beyond that, I have yet to hear of any Comcast site's actually deploying SDV, so beyond that test market in NJ that was starting to distribute them in anticipation of a SDV trial (and recently received notice that trial was put on hold because of some FCC decisions), I don't know why Comcast would be still handing these out.

Joe12345678

join:2003-07-22
Des Plaines, IL
reply to miscDude

It's not the $1 per box it's the $6 - $7 per box plus the digital cable outlet fee and you should be able to buy the basic boxes not pay forever on a $50 box.


miscDude

join:2005-03-24
Hendersonville, NC

said by Joe12345678:

It's not the $1 per box it's the $6 - $7 per box plus the digital cable outlet fee and you should be able to buy the basic boxes not pay forever on a $50 box.
A "Standard" cable box costs much more than just $50. Pricing I've heard says that the cablecard (the decryption components) cost more than $50 alone, and that doesn't include the extra hardware needed in a standard box, plus the monthly guide licensing fees the MSO pays for the guide information on your cablebox. These are the boxes you pay $6-7 per box for (plus digital outlet fees....depending upon market).

The DTA's are the $50 "box's" that they are saying you can get 2 free with a digital package that includes a "standard" box, and then pay $1 per extra. I'm also going to assume that the digital outlet fee isn't going to be in effect for the DTAs since technically it's not a digital outlet in the traditional sense.

Hmmmm... Ya know, I'm thinking someone needs to put together a FAQ that includes some sort of (semi)official terminology to refer to the different box types now. With DTA's, Tuning resolvers, "Legacy boxes" (DCT2000s), standard boxes (Non-dvrs), DVRs, Advanced setop boxes, Tru2way/OCAP devices, TiVo's, etc etc etc.... It may not hurt to try and establish some sort of mutually agreed upon terminology so everybody knows exactly what type of box you are refering too. It could help eliminate some confusion for people.


sansri88
digital is here
Premium
join:2005-12-17
New York, NY
kudos:1

I'm up for doing that with other people that are more knowledgeable than me (like cypher, cabletool, yourself, etc).


miscDude

join:2005-03-24
Hendersonville, NC

said by sansri88:

I'm up for doing that with other people that are more knowledgeable than me (like cypher, cabletool, yourself, etc).
IMHO... someone who isn't as knowledgeable would probably be better to at least start the list. Why? because the goal would be to make it easy to understand, and those of use who know a lot more have a tendency to overthink or make things more complicated then they should be.

Part of the idea is to make it easier for newbies or casual people to know what we are talking about. The last thing we want would be to have more secret techy terms that make it harder for them to understand what's going on.


sansri88
digital is here
Premium
join:2005-12-17
New York, NY
kudos:1

Definitely true. We would want people to understand the boxes, not to be lost in a myriad of unknown cable terms.

Probably should take this discussion to another thread though, we're going a bit off topic with this.


ViRGEdx

join:2002-10-25
reply to ViRGEdx

Alright, Q&A time.

First, just so we're clear (since I thought everyone knew what a DTA is, my bad), a DTA is a scaled down cable box stripped of virtually all functionality other than tuning channels - there's no HD, no On Demand, no music channels, etc.

Comcast is going mostly digital in my area, so they're scrapping the expanded basic analog channels(32-71) as of January 14th, leaving just the limited basic analog channels (2-31, and even then some of that is used for digital today). Although I understand some markets have already been given the same treatment (Chicago?) we're the first widescale DTA deployment, as Comcast wants to try these things out here in Oregon before going national.

Being the Luddite that I am, I'm still on expanded basic cable (I had no need for digital beyond picking up the HD locals with my HDHomeRun) so I'm part of the 15% affected by this. Comcast is moving all of its expanded basic customers to the Digital Starter tier, and giving us 3 devices for free for the transition: the 2 DTAs, and a standard STB (I received a Motorola DCH70). As near as I can tell from Comcast's site, new digital customers still only get the first STB for free, so the free DTAs are only for people Comcast needs to move to digital. Clearly something will change in the future, either Comcast will charge me for the DTAs in a year, or include them for free in all of the digital packages.

Additional DTAs can be ordered from Comcast for $1.99 a month. For reference, I have no clue what additional STBs go for (Comcast doesn't list a price on their site), SD DVRs are $8.95, and HD DVRs are $13.95, and apparently you need to upgrade to Digital Preferred to be able to order the DVRs. Package prices are $55.40 for Digital Starter (the same as expanded basic was), $69.35 for Digital Classic, $70.35 for Preferred, and $119.99 for Premier.

I should also add that in preparation for this, Comcast ceased encrypting all of the Digital Starter channels. I have heard that the DTAs have a security module, but since it's not a separable module the FCC won't allow its use. As it stands it can only pick up unencryped channels, so it can not pick up any premium channels. The whole unencrypted thing is fine by me, since this allows me to continue to use my HDHomeRun on my main TV.

Is there any sort of on screen display? I notice an Info button on the remote. Does it simply tell you the time and channel name?
As you can see in the following screenshot, you only get the channel number and the station callsign. The box doesn't appear to keep track of time, and it has no further features (programming guide, etc).



Is the audio from Ch 3/4 RF out still in Mono like current digital boxes, or did they figure out BTSC Stereo encoding like the old analog boxes?
I think it's stereo, but the TVs my DTAs are hooked up to are mono, so I have no quick way to test it.

You can receive all the premium channels right?
No, only unencrypted Digital Starter channels.

One interesting point that you made: You said the picture quality isn't anything to write home about. You made this comment compared to what? Like, say, were you to plug a S-Video out from a regular digital cable box to the same TV, the picture quality would improve?
Compared to being able to use something other than RF.

Hows the channel tune performance. When you quickly push Ch up or down, is it relatively fast? Does it lag or hang up on you?
Tuning performance is pretty poor (I'm new to digital so I have no idea how it compares to other devices, but compared to analog it's poor), I measured it at 2 seconds. There is no lag in trying to flip through channels quickly however, if you switch again while it's tuning a previous channel, it simply stops and moves on to the next one. Basically it doesn't start to tune a channel until you stop flipping channels.

Is this something available for purchase from Comcast or do you still have to rent it, and if so, what's the price difference between this and a STB?
Rental only. I have no idea what renting a STB costs, so I can't give you a price difference. Sorry.

Beyond that, I wouldn't be surprised if there was at least some sort of simple way to authorize these boxes on the cable plant, ether thru a "keep alive" message or some other indirect way they can shut one down
That's more or less on the dot. In spite of only being able to tune unencrypted channels, it did not tune anything until remotely activated. I have no idea what would happen if I tried to move it somewhere else though.

What is Comcast charging/month for the box and what channels does it receive?
Beyond the 2 free DTAs, it would be $1.99 for each additional one. It can receive all of the Digital Starter channels.

Here's my question though, if before you had just basic or expanded analog, not digital, and now get this box, will you get all the non-premium digital channels? Or will you have to be forced into buying expanded digital tier? This box does not de-encrypt so Comcast can't separate those packages anymore, no?
All expanded basic customers are being automatically converted to Digital Starter at the same price. This box can pick up those channels and nothing else (whether the channels that you get with Proffered are "premium" or not, I guess depends on the definition). This box does not currently decrypt anything, so the Digital Starter tier is unencrypted.

Hmmmm... Ya know, I'm thinking someone needs to put together a FAQ that includes some sort of (semi)official terminology to refer to the different box types now.
The worst part is that no one (even Comcast) seems to be able to remember what DTA stands for. Apparently it's Digital Transport Adapter, but we'll see how long that lasts. Personally, I'm all for calling them Luddite Boxes and leaving it at that.

Anyhow, any other questions?


psujim

join:2007-10-10
Reading, PA

Thanks for the information about the DTAs!! It's a great tool. If they went all-digital here, I would probably only need one in our bedroom, since the main TV has a HD/DVR...

Very cool! Thanks!



cypherstream
Premium,MVM
join:2004-12-02
Reading, PA
kudos:3

2 edits
reply to ViRGEdx

Thanks for the answers. It's cool that they at least give you a channel number and call sign in a nice font and contrasting color. Hell, that font's better than Motorola's font you see when typing channel numbers in the top center of the screen!

Now only if we could figure out if there's some sort of diagnostic mode...

Do you get any channels over 100? Like Weatherscan is on 101 here and a few free subchannels like ABC News, ABC Weather, NBC Weather, etc... are in the upper 200's. What about Music Choice? That's unencrypted here. If it does get channels post 100, does it SKIP to them, or do you have to scroll through a bunch of "NOT AUTHORIZED" channels?