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Television Communications Network Technology

Comcast's New 'Xfinity Instant TV' Streaming Service Charges $18 For What Antennas Offer For Free (exstreamist.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Exstreamist: Comcast announced this week that they plan on rolling out their streaming service, "Xfinity Instant TV" as an option for broadband-only customers. At our very first glance, it seemed like a pretty good deal, a live-streaming service for $18 a month, not bad right? But once we actually looked into the offering, we noticed something funny. Almost the entirety of what they're planning on charging $18 a month for could be viewed free with an antenna. According to the Wall Street Journal, the antenna as an option is apparently a long lost TV option for many consumers. Variety is reporting, "Xfinity Instant TV" intro packages, the ones that are $18, will only include a handful of broadcast channels, and a few "freebies" like the Home Shopping Network, and CSPAN So we're not exactly talking about getting access to ESPN, CNN, FX, or other more desirable channels for cord cutters, those will cost you at least $45 more a month, so basically the cost of your current cable television package. The report notes that the service is only available to Comcast internet subscribers and does include access to on-demand services.
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Comcast's New 'Xfinity Instant TV' Streaming Service Charges $18 For What Antennas Offer For Free

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  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @07:10PM (#55273385)

    Some people live in low-lying areas and can't get a signal, and HOA rules, or the nature of the type of dwelling (apartment, rental house), prevents them from putting up an antenna in a way that gets around those issues.

    • Some people live in low-lying areas and can't get a signal,

      My signals have improved from "just four channels of OPB" to a handful of others after installing an outdoor antenna, but I still don't get any CBS affiliates and NBC varies from day to day.

      It sounds like the channels being offered are the must-carries or contract-carry broadcast (that Comcast has a contract to carry on cable) plus the profit-making shopping channels. C-SPAN is often (is in my area) the hub for the EAS system*, so that's why it is there.

      I'd also assume that if it is an Internet offerin

    • I live in a condo with a HOA - I just put a period log dipole into the attic ;).

    • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @07:54PM (#55273597)

      An HOA does not have the authority to block or prevent the installation of an antenna designed to receive television signals:

      https://www.fcc.gov/media/over... [fcc.gov]

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        My HOA prohibits sand.

    • by sremick ( 91371 )

      We own outright and no HOA, but it doesn't matter what size antenna we put up: digital signals don't make it here. Trees, hills, and distance work against us. You wouldn't think it looking around, but the one digital channel that does come in poorly sometimes isn't even worth watching.

    • by timholman ( 71886 ) on Friday September 29, 2017 @06:34AM (#55275503)

      Some people live in low-lying areas and can't get a signal

      In my case, the "low-lying area" is right in the middle of midtown Nashville. There's a hill to the north of my house, blocking reliable reception of two of the main network stations. One of the other stations can only be picked up reliably in the fall and winter, after the leaves fall from the trees surrounding my house. I suppose I could get around these problems by putting up a 40-foot tower, but my wife and my neighbors would probably not be pleased (cost and legalities aside).

      Digital broadcast TV is a wonderful thing if you live in Phoenix like my in-laws, and can just stick up an indoor antenna to pick up 30 broadcast channels. In flat terrain with all the local towers on the nearby mountain, it's great. For me, it's nearly useless, and I'm in the middle of a fairly big urban area. I can only imagine how much worse it is for people in the suburbs.

      So yes, Comcast is making you pay for "free" TV, but what they're also doing is providing a reliable signal. For the price, it may be worth it to some.

    • Some people live in low-lying areas and can't get a signal

      Also, in urban centers there are numerous areas where you can't get a signal.

    • by DewDude ( 537374 )
      FCC has rules that protect OTA reception antennas as well as satellite dishes under 1m. They are part of the telecommunications act and are therefore federal law. An HOA is powerless to over-ride those laws and I have, in cases involving satellite dishes; have been able to get aggressive HOA's to back-off after they get threats from the FCC of lawsuits for violating federal code.
  • Unlike 1971, in 2017 most people actually live in cities and they get high quality 1080p HDTV over the air signals.

    Inside of buildings.

    It is specifically because people are waking up to this, and only need high speed Internet, that cable companies are losing customers fast.

    If I could get a good CBC HDTV signal, I'd do the same.

    • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Thursday September 28, 2017 @07:24PM (#55273459) Homepage Journal

      Unlike 1971, in 2017 most people actually live in cities and they get high quality 1080p HDTV over the air signals.

      Unlike in 1971, most people think that everyone else is in the same situation they are.

      • No. We just don't care. Use your power lines to get high speed internet and stream the channels if you live in a rural area.

        They do this in Canada.

        • by DewDude ( 537374 )
          So they tried using power lines to deliver internet here. It failed. I don't know if anyone is physically using powerline transmission for internet anymore. My city was the first large-scale in the world of BPL. It no longer operates. The other issue is the technology violated the FCC's own laws...even as they were promoting it. It caught resistance from ham radio operators and even some utility companies who suffered interference from the system. Blasting RF down unshielded lines in the range of 2mhz - 80m
    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Unlike 1971, in 2017 digital signals degrade instantly from great to nonexistent, whereas in 1971 with analog systems and rabbit ears you could get a descent signal and watch through the occasional bit of static, since analog signals degrade gracefully.

      • Again, as I said, most people live in cities with good 1080p HDTV signals. You can buy a good quality set of antennae for around $50 from Amazon.

        Which part of most people don't you get?

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          "Most" means "more than 50%". That still leaves the other 49%.

          Fun fact: the US Census Bureau defines urban areaas any cluster of people as as few as 2,500. That's some really small towns.

        • I lived in Philadelphia, had a good rabbit ear set ran to my second story.

          I had to adjust it to change channels sometimes, and would lose about ten percent of anything I was watching to static.

          I assume it was proximity to a church (I read that was a problem), but whatever the cause, we would have happily paid $18/month for the major networks (in fact we did, that was the very basic cable price).

        • by DewDude ( 537374 )
          No one that lives in a city has good 1080p HDTV signals. No body. Nobody has 1080p.

          ATSC standard is limited to 1080i.

          But moving past that inaccuracy; just becuase you live in a city doesn't mean you'll get great reception. We have these things called buildings...and they can actually cause the RF signals to reflect. When this happens, you get multi-path; basically reflections of the signal. In the analog days...these weren't a huge problem; they were either weak enough to not be seen or just caused slight
      • by sremick ( 91371 )

        Unlike 1971, in 2017 digital signals degrade instantly from great to nonexistent, whereas in 1971 with analog systems and rabbit ears you could get a descent signal and watch through the occasional bit of static, since analog signals degrade gracefully.

        This, basically.

        Before, we could've gotten 6 channels watchably well. Now we don't even get one (it sort of comes in, sometimes, but it's one of the crap stations vs. one of the big ones you actually want)..

        Got tired of paying Dish $85/yr for a diminishing line-up of channels of diminishing quality. Was $40/mo when I started with them 15+ years ago or so. Back then "Discovery" actually had science, "History Channel" actually had history and "The Learning Channel" actually taught you things. Now they're all

      • by DewDude ( 537374 )
        Digging deeper, you need to take the modulation scheme in to account. ATSC uses 8VSB; which does not tolerate multi-path. If the signal bounces off something and hits you a ms or two after the main signal; the receiver just doesn't decode anything.

        The biggest problem people have in rural areas is signal-drop off; but the biggest problem people have closer to cities is multi-path.
    • by sremick ( 91371 )

      Figured it was only a matter of time before we got a post from someone in the smug, elitist urban reality distortion bubble. So many people, living so close and up in each others' shit, but no one gives a flying fuck about each other, let alone all those non-people who don't live in their precious cities which is the only place any civilized human would think to live. So rural peoples' problems don't count because they don't really exist.

    • Unlike 1971, in 2017 most people actually live in cities and they get high quality 1080p HDTV over the air signals.

      It depends on where in the city you live. Cities are full of shadow areas where digital reception is pretty much impossible.

    • I can't speak for most, but I live in a high-pop area (phoenix) and I can only pick up 2-3 channels and those come in badly. It's not like I'm on the edge of the city or something. my guess is the walls are too insulated (to keep out heat) for a good signal to get though, no idea. At any rate I can't get real OTA programming, tried multiple TVs and antennas including powered and passive.

    • It isn't free to them. They have to pay the networks to provide it to you.

      • It isn't free to them. They have to pay the networks to provide it to you.

        And to put the blame for that where it belongs: it could be free to Comcast IF the network affiliates did not invoke their exemption to the must-carry rules and demand payment. You see, there is a law that says that cable operators must carry locally available broadcast signals (with certain limits on size, IIRC) without having to pay the broadcaster anything, UNLESS that broadcaster opts out. If they opt out, they can demand payment for retransmission rights.

        Right now in my area Comcast is displaying a C

        • OTA TV is on its way out anyhow.

          Back in the early days when most people had 3-4 OTA channels and few people had cable, more than enough people were watching each network to fund their operations. However now that it's not uncommon for a show on a broadcast network to "go fractional" - that is, get a Nielsen rating below 1.0 - OTA is no longer sustainable. Ad revenue alone isn't enough, and on top of that you have the heavy costs of operating a 1 megawatt broadcasting antenna.

          The broadcast networks are slowl

          • I think it might depend on the area. Last time I ran the TV through "setup" it picked up 17 channels OTA. Of course, most are crap, but besides the networks there are a few specialist channels (the oldies channel, horror channel scifi channel (which is not the syfy channel)) which you'd think would be cable channels but are available OTA. We don't have cable at all, haven't for years. If we can't get it OTA, we largely do without. (Caveat: I don't watch much TV, so YMMV. And wife does have Hulu on he

  • This is technically true. It's also irrelevant: Cable companies started out as ways to make it easier to obtain TV stations that were difficult to get via an antenna, and it remains the base that the lowest tier on offer from cable companies are, essentially, the broadcast channels and a few self-funded channels like HSN.

    If you look at the actual product [xfinity.com], what they're offering is a base price of $18 (which only includes antenna channels and self funded), plus packages you can add to that of channels you

  • Comcast is weird, you need to stay on top of it and jump between promotional plans none of which have contracts. I only want internet, I added this and my bill went down $30. It wasn't mentioned in the article but they also severely limit what you can view if you aren't on your "home WiFi". And by home WiFi they mean home network, a VPN bypasses this limitation.

    Overall the application works just fine, and they threw in HBO as well.

    • by smartr ( 1035324 )
      That's what the offer looks like for me too. Currently on the internet only plan, I was on 'limited basic cable" as part of a bundle before. For the same internet speeds, plus "limited basic cable" which amounts to less channels than I can get on my antennae, and HBO or Showtime, I can pay $10 a month less than I am currently paying for a year - and then will need to cancel because I really don't want the limited basic cable - and I can alternate HBO now with HBO go...
  • For example, I regularly get snail mail from Cox Communications asking me to re-up for Contour service. Sure it's only $15 but I know that it's just going to go up from there. They've done it before, they'll do it again.
  • I cut the cord years ago, and I've experimented with various computer-as-a-DVR and network DVR devices. (Elgato EyeTV on a Mac, Windows Media Center on Windows 7, Tablo, and now HDHomerun.) They are all very expensive, and they are all a pain to use. HDHomerun's DVR software is extremely stable and easy to use, but it's still rather feature incomplete. I don't think Silicon Dust has enough cashflow to make HDHomerun's DVR a complete device.

    For the money I've spent on bad devices, $18 a month is a great deal

  • Comcast offered this before for less $ with more stations. About a year ago they did a trial in Illinois for $15 a month. Same station line-up, plus it included HBO. Now it costs $3 more without HBO. We only used it for a couple of months to watch Silicon Valley and Game of Thrones. Once their seasons ended, we dropped it. Still more content available to watch than we have time for on youtube, netflix, amazon. PBS is the only thing we can get with an indoor antenna.

  • Is that thanks to Sony vs Betamax, it's legal to record OTA TV with a DVR.

    Bet that's not true for the same material transmitted any other way, such as cable.

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      Is that thanks to Sony vs Betamax, it's legal to record OTA TV with a DVR.

      Not really. I'll cast aside the fact that Betamax is from Sony, and move on to the real point: At least in the US, we all owe a debt to Mr. Fred Rogers [wikipedia.org], who testified before Congress that some kids couldn't watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood because it was aired at times the kids couldn't see it. A VCR let parents record Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and those kids could watch his show.

      The eventual SCOTUS decision in 1983 included a quote from Mr. Rogers's testimony:

      Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the "Neighborhood" at hours when some children cannot use it ... I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the "Neighborhood" off-the-air, and I'm speaking for the "Neighborhood" because that's what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family's television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been "You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions." Maybe I'm going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.

  • At our very first glance, it seemed like a pretty good deal

    What are they smoking? At first glance, it looked like a terrible deal.

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      First glances are often misleading.

      It's important to consider the first Cable TV systems [wikipedia.org]: A lot of people live in areas where they couldn't receive broadcasts off the air -- they were out of range, had mountains in the way, etc.

      Generally enthusiasts in the area built a own high performance antenna system in a good spot for reception, and ran the necessary wiring. They built a distribution network, and shared with their community. Adding the cable & maintaining it isn't free, so they started charging th

      • I know a few nearby areas where there is no OTA reception, in spite of being within 20 km of a transmitter that's on top of a 3,000 m mountain top.

        Me too. I live in such an area right now (actually, since the digital switchover, most of the places I've lived have been unable to get OTA signals).

        Nonetheless, it still sounds like a terrible deal. $20/mo to get broadcast stations is far, far too expensive even if the alternative is not getting broadcast stations at all.

  • OTA TV is based on RF signals. Traditional cable is based on QAM signal transmission. Newer cable and streaming services use a regular IP network connection. If you're in an area that has poor RF reception, these should provide a significant quality increase since they're using an IP network connection. It would be great if it were free like RF, but someone has to pay the bandwidth and infrastructure bills.
    • by DewDude ( 537374 )
      It's not necessarily the bandwidth and infrastructure bills as it is retransmission consent for OTA broadcasters.

      You actually pay for local channels with a normal cable subscription....and if the provider and channel do not come to an agreement; they can cut that channel off...meaning if you're in a rural area or an area with horrible HDTV reception (becuase 8VSB is a joke)...then you flat out lose that channel. There's no FCC law that says the cable company has to provide local channels and more laws sayi

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