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Fios and CableCards

This weekend's Help File column will probably cover a lesser-known feature of Verizon's Fios TV service: The ability to tune into the fiber-optic service without renting a tuner or digital recorder from Verizon, so long as you already have a tuner or DVR that includes a CableCard slot (say, the new TiVo HD)

A frequently-asked-questions page on Verizon's site explains how this option works, what kind of hardware you need and how your service would be set up. It also notes the usual limitation of existing CableCard technology:

Current one-way Digital Cable Ready TVs will not be capable of receiving two-way interactive services without the use of a set-top box. Certain advanced features of the Service, such as FiOS TV Interactive Programming Guide, Pay-Per-View (PPV), Video-on-Demand (VOD), FiOS TV weather and traffic Widgets, and Parental Controls are not provided through the one-way CableCARD. A set-top box is required to access these advanced Service features.

That might be a lot to give up, but many HDTVs and all DVRs include their own interactive programming guides. And Verizon's $2.99 rental fee for CableCards is much cheaper than the company's normal equipment charges: $9.99 a month for a high-definition tuner, $12.99 a month for a high-def DVR.

It all sounds like an appealing option. But before I write up this Help File item, I'd like to know if there are any gotchas in using a CableCard with Fios TV. If you have such a setup, did you get any kind of runaround before you hooking the service up? Have you seen any glitches in reception or picture quality since then? Please tell me how things have worked out in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 14, 2007; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Video  
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Comments

Tried a cable card set up in a Sharp Aquos 26inch TV. Should be fully compatible. After three visits and endless hours of trying I am using OTA to get a signal on this bedroom TV. Verizon could never get this to work and really had no idea how to trouble shoot the problem. Lots of comments about how they have no experience with them. All they did was to keep plugging in different cards and hoping it would work. However when working FIOS TV is simply the best service available in this area. Unfortunately you cannot say the same thing about their billing department, it is appalling.

Posted by: Rob | November 14, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I have been using a Tivo Series 3 with FiOS since June. The Tivo Series 3, like the Tivo HD, has slots for two cable cards, which is required because it has two tuners. So, I have to pay $2.99 times two per month because my Tivo uses two cable cards.

I had absolutely no problem getting Verizon to come out and install the cable cards. The installer had never installed them in a Tivo before, but it really wasn't much trouble. I had done a lot of research and have some friends that had it done, so the installer and I worked together. Once piece of advice: don't let the installer stray from the instructions that come with the Tivo.

Before my Tivo, I had the awful Motorola HD-DVR that Verizon supplies. I have seen no difference in picture quality or reception since switching to the Tivo. It's perfect.

FYI: Tivo supports two kinds of cable cards, single stream and multi-stream. As far as I know, Verizon is not offering multi-stream cards yet. With multi-stream cards, you only need one cable card instead of two because one multi-stream card can support both tuners.

Posted by: Jed | November 14, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I have a TiVo Series 3 with two cable cards from Verizon.

I didn't so much get the runaround. They were more than willing to happily agree to my request when I signed up.

It was when the tech arrived that it all went south. She showed up with only one card because why on earth would anyone need 2?!

Then she was scared to death to actually install the card into the TiVo. She wasn't convinced it would work and she didn't know how to do it.

Literally, she was at our house for over 10 hours before it was all said and done (she did hook up our other televisions and our Internet at the same time).

Another Tech came out and eventually it was all squared away.

Other than the headache of a set-up and the ridiculous trouble of having to convince my tech that the TiVo wouldn't bite, I've loved it ever since.

The picture quality has been excellent and I've had no problems with the TiVo interactive guide. I haven't needed to get any on-demand or pay-per-view things because TiVo has unbox which is just as good.

That's my story.

Posted by: Josh | November 14, 2007 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Rob, one question I've had about the CableCards (this doesn't just apply to Verizon) is whether they'll be able to work with the next generation TV services that are planned, like IPTV and Switched-Digital technology?

If a person goes out an buys a TivoHD ($300) and signs up for a 3 year contract with Tivo ($299), are they going to be able to use it with the local cable co or Verizon when these companies change their infrastructure by 2009 (as some have said)?

Everything I've read makes it seem like cable cards will be obsolete once switched-digital and IPTV become more common place, Perhaps there will be a CableCard upate to fix this, but would that require a whole new Tivo box?

Posted by: Arlington, VA | November 14, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I bought my TiVo Series 3 HD Box with upgraded hard drive (107-hr capacity in HD or ~1000 hrs std defn) and had it ready when Verizon came to my house in Fair Oaks in July (Aug?) to convert me from DirecTV (and DirecTiVo) to FiOs. The tech had never seen an HD TiVo before, but was willing to try it. I am pretty experienced with TiVo and home electronics to begin with, and had already gotten the low-down from a TiVo Master Expert friend who had signed up for FiOs a month earlier at his house in Columbia MD with the same make/model Series 3 box. The tech called a co-worker, got some quick instructions via cell phone, we surfed the TiVo setup menu to get the appropriate cablecard identifying numbers and it was a snap - worked great from first attempt. Agree with earlier post - follow instructions exactly. One tip that may not be obvious but is crucial: insert and fully complete the setup of the first cablecard BEFORE INSERTING the second cablecard. With FiOs, the tech has to phone in a certain cablecard-identifying number so that the system will recognize it (i.e., you the user can't do this entire process by yourself) but it really was largely painless.

Posted by: deepblackhole | November 14, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Rob - while it isn't CableCard, have you seen any specs on what stations are available from Comcast and FIOS in ClearQAM/encrypted QAM?

A lot of new devices are coming with QAM tuners, but not sure what to expect with Comcast in DC.

Posted by: David | November 14, 2007 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Completely off-topic, but here's Dave Barry (yes, that Dave Barry) on Why People Hate Windows. Note that he's running Vista.

Posted by: wiredog | November 15, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone installed a FIOS cable card in a media center PC? I am considering buying one, but I'm not sure if it's all compatible (waste of money).

Posted by: Sean J | November 15, 2007 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Wiredog....Barry is a hoot

Posted by: tina | November 15, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I've had a terrible experience with Fios and cablecards. I have a series3 tivo which I had the fios folks install 2 cable cards into. The local HD channels are horribly pixelated and have audio dropouts every couple of seconds -- complete unwatchable. The techs tried to blame it on the tivo, then we popped the cards directly into the tv and had the same problems. They came out to the houose 3 times before the final guy just levelled with me and said "you will always have problems with these cable cards"

I tried to switch to comcast and 3 times they have scheduled an appointment, showed up, and claimed they were out of cable cards. Instead of putting me on a waitlist, I'm supposed to call their warehouse every few days to see if they are back in stock. What a joke.

I've grown to hate both of these companies thanks to this experience.

I hope you have better luck!

Posted by: Wade | November 17, 2007 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Rob

Running an LG Plasma with cable card, originally with Time Warner, now with FIOS. First install for the techs, and they had problems. Still wasn't right the next day, so I called tech support. They sent a refresh signal out, and that cleared it up. It's important the techs get the right info from the TV when they are doing the setup. So far everything's going well with FIOS out here in Hermosa Beach. Combined package of TV, Internet and Phone is less than what I was paying (with more features) with Time Warner.

Posted by: Pat | November 17, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

A REALLY IMPORTANT QUESTION!

Everyone knows that with digital cable and fios, the channels change slowly as compared to regular analog service which is instant. Do the channels change faster when you have a cablecard in your tv? or tivo? I would get a cablecard only if the channels change faster with a cablecard in your tv, then they do with the verizon fios box. THANK YOU

Posted by: Joe | November 17, 2007 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Joe, channels always change slowly on DVRs, including Tivos, because they need to buffer to the hard drive.

Posted by: Dennis | November 18, 2007 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Dennis, ok, but then how fast does it go when you have a cablecard in your tv? wont it go faster when you just have a cablecard in your tv?

and by the way, channels even change slow when you have a regular digital cablebox.

Posted by: Joe | November 18, 2007 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Channels change slower on CableCARDS. Not a big deal.... You get used to it.

The biggest problem is that ALL cable companies hate CableCARDS because it is lost revenue ($2.99 per month rental vs. $10+ for a box).

So basically they hide the fact that they even offer CC on their web site. The only reason they offer it is because the FCC requires them to.

Install was absolutely horrible for me. They did everything they could to try and sell me off of CC.... No program guide, no VOD. I said I do not care (my TV has built in EPG anyway).

So when they were forced to do it, they did it wrong and I mean painfully wrong.

They did not know how to refresh the system even after calling their own tech support.

We wasted hours trying to fix static and noise issues.

When push came to shove, I finally found someone knowledgeable at Toshiba.

They said I feel your pain too. But they had all the answers and contacts.

Simply put, they had names and phone numbers for all the cable companies to get the card working lickety split.

It turned out all they had to do was get a hold of a certain guy at Verizon's "Video Transport Group @ the DAC" and send a "cold emit" (don't ask me what that means but it worked).

All this was accomplished in a matter of minutes.

The 1st line installers, their supervisors and their support has no idea what all this was (cold emit/Video Transmit Group, etc.).

SHAME on Verizon for your lack of training your field staff/front line people.

You are wasting so many people's valuable time and money.

My gut tells me that they are trained to do this so the consumer gets annoyed and ends up wanting a cable box instead - After all, compared to 3 years ago (CC inception) look at at how many new TV's come with the CC slot now.

Toshiba & Panasonic dropped all CableCARD offerings this year as it seems that the cable weasels have succeeded as the number of CC activations are less than 5% of the units.

CableCARD is a wonderful invention.... Saves space and money.

Let's hope the 2nd generation that arrives on certain 2008 sets goes smoother (as they will become two way CC's that will now offer the same EPG and VOD that the boxes offer).

I am sure the cable companies will still badmouth 2nd generation by offering poor training/installation, but they will not be able to claim that you lose features anymore.

Posted by: Jonathan | November 21, 2007 2:24 PM | Report abuse

so it changes slower on cable card, then it does on a regular cablebox?

Posted by: Joe | November 22, 2007 12:47 AM | Report abuse

I used a cable card with Comcast, certain channels would get choppy video really quick, but it allowed me to use the TV Guide built into my Toshiba DLP TV.

I switched to Verizon FIOS, for many reasons, cable card quality being one, and the Verizon service is not compatible with most TV Guides as they are broadcast in Analog, and FIOS is 100% Digital, so my only choice is to use a set top box for more $$$. By complaining though, I got a $100 AMEX gift certificate.

Posted by: JOHN SHEPHERD | November 26, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

joe - with regard to channel changing speed; this is based primarily on the hardware and how the data is handled. this is like asking whether a mustang or camaro is faster, it is wholly dependant upon the year, engine, tires etc ie a 2002 camaro v8 is faster than a 1980's mustang 4 cylinder while a 2006 mustang v8 is faster than a 1980's camaro 4 cylinder. In general dvrs are slower than a simple qam tuner. It is possible for a cable card equipped tivo to be faster than some dvrs provided by the cable companies and vice versa.

Others - the largest issue affecting cablecards, dvrs, etc is the signal quality getting to the tuner box (tivo, dvr, tv, etc). It is the same sort of issue that affecting the analog hardware but for some reason with digital people tend to neglect signal quality. If you have a noisy -15db signal hitting your dvr, you will have LOTS of problems. Have your tech check your signal quality or log in to your cable modem to check the signal quality. also check for splitters hidden in your existing wiring, wiring problems at the box outside your home, etc. Some splitters / boosters may inhibit the Fios Moca arrangement. Also, most of the current fios installs do NOT have to use Moca! My install tech feverishly denied the ability to run network over ethernet so I later called the fios number (use 888-get-fios) and had to go through several people and a terrible phone system before someone could change the ont so i could run ethernet directly to my router, then feed the router output to the fios router which then dumped the signal back on the coax.

Posted by: james | November 26, 2007 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I have the same problem with Fios and cable cards/Tivo regarding pixelation. So bad it is unwatchable. Verizon has been out 4 times and pretty much said, "it will never work with these cards". The odd part is that the problem is intermittent and mostly seems to happen in prime time...If the software and the HDMI connection worked this Verizon's box I would use them but I switch to Tivo because their box is total crap.

Posted by: Ken | December 2, 2007 8:47 AM | Report abuse

I want thank the following person:

Posted by: Jonathan | November 21, 2007 02:24 PM

Your post was very helpful in getting my Toshiba TV to work. It took three service visits and the tech reading this blog to get them to figure out what a cold emit was - after they did the cold emit the cablecard worked almost immediately.
Has anyone had any luck with the "TV Guide on Screen" through Fios?


Posted by: Charles | December 16, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Verizon does not let the TV Guide data flow through like Cox does. This is a known issue and it does not appear they are very anxious to fix it (surprise, surprise!).

The only way to get the EPG to work with Verizon is to have an actual antenna and tune to PBS to receive the data.

Posted by: jonathan | December 16, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Jonathan - THANK YOU! I switched from comcast to verizon fios recently and have spent an enormous amount of time waiting for verizon to get the cable card on my tv to function correctly. many of the comments above rang true for me... lack of competence by the techs who are not familiar with them and how to troubleshoot both at the house and over the phone. after the 5th time out to my house and no resolution i started looking around on-line and found the "cold emit" suggestion above and called verizon. magically the cable card now works. i am convinced that if i would not have come across this post and made a suggestion to a tech over the phone to try it that i would still be in the previous place i was (a non-functioning cable card). to be clear there are good reasons to use them - of course space and aesthetics but also some tv's including my 50" LG plasma have built in DVR's that i could not use with a cable box. again thanks, and to all thinking about cable cards approach the install and set-up process expecting that it will not go without issue.

mike

Posted by: mike | January 10, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

I just had Verizon Fios installed in my home. I did not have a single problem with the install. I had phone, tv and internet installed and all three worked great. After reading some remarks about TIVO I decided to do some research. From what I found, you still have to pay for the unit itself which ranges from $99.00-$599.00. In addition there is a monthly fee of 12.95 for the dvr service. For me it was better to go with the unit's that Verizon offers.

Posted by: Troy | January 11, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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