Remember Cable Card? It's still around, quietly allowing owners of TiVos and Home Theater PCs, via devices like the HDHomeRun Prime, to get the full complement of cable TV programming without having to use the company-issued DVR or cable box.
At CNET we've tested a few Cable Card products, including TiVos and the now-defunct Moxi DVR. The latter product was still hanging around the CNET offices so I decided to test it out for myself at home.
I called up Verizon (I'm a Fios TV subscriber) last week, told the rep I had a third-party DVR and that I needed a Cable Card for it. After trying to convince me to stick with the Verizon DVR, the rep calmly informed me I could pick up a Cable Card at a local Verizon Fios retail location and activate it myself online without having a tech visit my house.
I almost couldn't believe my ears. A DIY Cable Card install? Yeah, right.
"You'll need to schedule an appointment"
I always thought Cable Card device installation necessitated a visit from a cable company technician. When my colleague Joshua Goldman had a TiVo Premiere installed for his review in fall 2011, he said Comcast had to send a tech to his house. The process was quick and relatively painless, but still required the hassle of scheduling the visit and waiting for the guy to show up.
The 2010 install for his Moxi review on Fios was more difficult:
Cable companies seem to make CableCards a hassle to have installed, but they are required by the FCC to make them available. However, don't expect your cable company's sales and tech support to know any specifics on the cards it uses; it took us multiple calls just to verify that our provider's cards were in fact M-Cards. In our case, the install took about an hour; things were made somewhat difficult because the cable installer was unfamiliar with the box. (He had installed TiVo DVRs before, but this was his first Moxi.) Once we finally got a picture, he was quick to get our signature and leave. The message was clear: our cable provider was happy to set this thing up and guarantee service, but it didn't have any real interest in providing tech support for a third-party box--especially one that doesn't offer its revenue-enhancing video-on-demand programming.John Falcone, who is served by Time Warner Cable, also needed a service visit to install the Cards for his TiVo HD review in 2008. The process took about an hour, but still seemed unecessary. "We're still not sure why this can't be a do-it-yourself process too, because the only thing the tech has to do is slide the cards in and make sure they're up and running," he said in the review.
My easy DIY install
These stories in mind, I picked up the Verizon card from my local Fios office in Hauppage, New York last weekend. The woman behind the desk handed me a slip of paper with my activation code and assured me, yet again, that I could easily activate it myself at Verizon's dedicated web site.
Arriving at home I swapped out the Motorola DVR I rent from Fios and slid the Moxi into its place, new Cable Card resting in its slot on the back panel. I fired up the box and the Verizon web site, input the activation number and my zip code, selected my state and hit the big red button (I didn't even need to sign into my Verizon account). After about a half hour of a spinning status icon, I was informed that my box was active. All of my channels were available and life was good.
For what it's worth I'm still keeping my Fios DVR. My wife and I find Moxi too slow to respond, its interface too confusing and cluttered, and its lack of access to Fios' great free video-on-demand content borderline unacceptable. Only the latter problem can be blamed on Cable Card. VOD support for TiVo is coming soon for Comcast customers, however, so Fios and other providers may eventually enable VOD from Cable Card devices too.
How was yours?
Missing the birth of Linsanity is enough make New Yorkers with Time Warner Cable even more jealous of those of us with access to Fios, so I won't rub in how nerdy-cool activating my Cable Card over the Internet feels.
I'll just ask you guys the questions in the poll above, and to leave a comment about your Cable Card experiences, for good or ill. If you comment, please include your cable provider.