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Old 12-19-2008, 10:16 PM   #1
matt@thehickmans
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Comcast Houston Switching to SA CableCards

Got a letter from Comcast today telling me to bring in my Motorola cable cards to my local service center and get new ones (SA M-Cards apparently).

To install the SA cable cards, all I need to do (according to the letter) is:
1. insert the new cable card
2. Wait 3-5 minutes for the "TV" to define channels once installed

Considering the multi-week ordeal required to get the Motorola cable cards (in now) working, I am a bit skeptical that this will go smoothly.

If/when anyone in Houston exchanges cards I would like to hear their stories. I'd like to hear any clue as to how they do pairing (Comcast is painting this as an automatic process). Do you have to put the new SA card in a specific TiVo? (I have three that take CCs) .

I was also thinking of getting the new SA cards first, switching them at home, then when (if) they ever actually work, taking the Motorola card back to the service center. Not sure how that would fly.

Thanks
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Old 12-19-2008, 11:50 PM   #2
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Comcast "process"

I went to the midtown Comcast today and asked if I could get new CCs and bring the old ones back later. I was told no. I insisted that this would be best, the (very rude) lady said absolutely not. Then I acted like I needed new cards for a new device, she said no.

Supposedly when you take in your old cards they will update the information in their systems and activate the new cards while you are in the store. This is why you should be able to go and just "plug and play". I have my doubts.

I guess they already have the information for your Tivos in their system and since the CCs are unidirectional (data sent from Comcast to you), maybe it will work.

If I feel brave enough, I may give it a shot on Saturday.

It is my understanding that the Series 3 will not support Multi cards and that I will need two Single cards. I will be searching the forums tonight for this answer as well.

Wish me luck!

Brian
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Old 12-20-2008, 12:20 AM   #3
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It is my understanding that the Series 3 will not support Multi cards and that I will need two Single cards. I will be searching the forums tonight for this answer as well.
Correct, the Series 3 needs S cards, while the TiVoHD can use M cards.

If I get the letter I'm making them come get it. Not taking a cab just to swap cards.
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Old 12-20-2008, 12:39 AM   #4
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What I have found in the forums is that the S3 needs two CCs, either S or M (a M card will act as an S card in the S3).

I'm guessing the clerk at the Comcast office will have a set of steps to complete and will not actually know what they are doing--as long as I leave with two cards, S or M, I'll be fine.

I am curious on what the changes are that require all the Motorola CCs to be replaced by SA CCs. Earlier this year, they forced people to replace the Motorola HD cable boxes with SA HD cable boxes or SA HD DVRs. If CC is a standard, why should one card work when the other doesn't.

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Old 12-20-2008, 01:21 AM   #5
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SA and Motorola use different encryption standards.
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Old 12-20-2008, 05:23 AM   #6
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Keep us updated, please, regarding whether this "works". Thanks.
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Old 12-20-2008, 07:35 AM   #7
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Very interesting concept. They will update the information in your account when you exchange the cards. Seems like, if done properly, it should work. However, it seems that this would mean that they need to tell you when you get the new cards which card goes into which slot on the TiVo, assuming they use the card serial number in the pairing process. If they don't specify which is which you may have to swap them in TiVo if the first try fails.

The poster with three TiVos may have a little more of a control issue. May want to do one TiVo at a time if they aren't properly controlled. Before going in to get the cards I would check the Host-id on each TiVo and them ask them which cards are for which Host.
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Old 12-20-2008, 01:29 PM   #8
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Keep us updated, please, regarding whether this "works". Thanks.
This swap has been a real mess for me, which unfortunately is what I expected. I have an S3 and an HD, so took in my 3 Moto cards yesterday to swap for SA. I asked the rep how this was going to work when they didn't have my Host ID or Cablecard ID, and she said all she needed to do was put the new serial numbers into my account and everything would be fine. I could just plug the cards in, wait for 5min, and I would be good to go. I asked her if she was sure I didn't need to call in ID numbers and she said not anymore.

I knew this wasn't going to work, and sure enough it didn't. I waited a couple hours and of course no encrypted channels. So I called tech support and they indicated I would need to wait at least 24hrs for Cablecard activation. Now, the three other times I went through this process in the past it did not take 24hrs and I was certain they needed my HostID, but I could not get anyone to listen after calling back 2 more times to 2 more techs. Late last night I checked in the Cablecard menus and sure enough the cards were still not activated.

So...this morning I sent a tweet to http://www.twitter.com/comcastcares and Frank hooked me up with a local (very polite and apologetic) corporate rep. He confirmed they do indeed need HostID and took all my info once again. Then he called back to tell me he forwarded info to their tech department, apologized that they were swamped but promised to have me fixed up by the end of the day. He called back once more after that to confirm that the techs had the info and would be working it soon. (By the way, the absolute best way to get help from Comcast is to send a tweet to Frank@comcastcares. This is the third time I've used him and I always get top-notch help that goes way beyond what I would get with a normal phone call to support.)

So...hopefully they get this process fixed but as you can see it's definitely not going to be as simple as just taking cards in and swapping them. I will expect to have my encrypted channels on line by the end of the day, but we'll see! At least the local rep gave me his direct number so I won't have to go through a bunch of nonsense if I have to get support on the line again.
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Old 12-20-2008, 05:35 PM   #9
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How do you send a tweet? Don't they actually have to be following you?

Thanks.
Brian

PS I am in the middle of "the nightmare", will update soon.
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Old 12-20-2008, 05:59 PM   #10
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I just sent an email and got a response from Frank, but I am not optimistic that my nightmare is over.

Brian

Frank said: "I have reached out to our contacts in Houston to see if they can assist. I also shared your email with the leadership staff because I have seen a few people having trouble with the conversion. Obviously we would not want to see them have this difficulty. There is a specific are that is handling setting these up so I am hoping our team we deal with will be able to make sure this is cared for as quickly as possible."
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Old 12-20-2008, 06:26 PM   #11
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So, emailing We_Can_Help@cable.comcast.com did get me a email reply and a call from a Corporate response person here in Houston named Micheal (on a Saturday evening).

From what I understand, what they do at the Comcast store is not going to work, because they need your host id. Of course, they should have this information for your prior cards. For the new cards, they need the serial number of the card and its mac address, both of which they already have. Customer support can only submit this information to Engineering via some kind of message/email. Then you wait. Some promise 24 hours, some promise 48 (the letter promised 3-5 minutes, the rep at the store promised 2 hours). I have talked to reps in Houston, "not in Houston" and in Mexico today. All different stories. If they could train all the store reps what to do, don't you think they would have sent some kind of memo to the telephone people?

I'll get a $5 credit out of this, yet I have lost a day of time AND I have not been able to watch programs that I really wanted to see (priceless?)

As I wait now, I have been told "by midnight tonight".

More updates later.

Brian
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Old 12-20-2008, 06:33 PM   #12
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SA and Motorola use different encryption standards.
I have heard of places where SA cards are used while the boxes HD,DVR where from Motorola and vice-versea
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Old 12-20-2008, 06:40 PM   #13
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I think in Houston it all has to do with HD encryption/compression. They are keeping Motorola boxes for non-HD boxes. All HD DVRS, boxes and cable cards will have to be SA. The letter lists the channels you will not be able to get if you keep your Motorola CC or box.

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Old 12-20-2008, 06:49 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blibman View Post
It is my understanding that the Series 3 will not support Multi cards and that I will need two Single cards.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Langree View Post
Correct, the Series 3 needs S cards, while the TiVoHD can use M cards.
The series 3 works just fine with M Cards. You just need two of them two record two things at once on a Series 3.
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Old 12-20-2008, 07:39 PM   #15
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The series 3 works just fine with M Cards. You just need two of them two record two things at once on a Series 3.
ok, so you can't use one M card for 2 tuners like you can on the HD.
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Old 12-20-2008, 07:55 PM   #16
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Right but it's important to note, because some cable companies only offer M-Cards...
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Old 12-20-2008, 09:28 PM   #17
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I swapped my cards today and they aren't working (Went to the office in Katy off of Mason Rd). I'm only getting a few channels 2-60 and then a few others like BBC and the locals. I waited about an hour and then called Tech Support. The tech I talked to said that I should at least be getting all 2-80 and the locals (~305 - ~311) and the music channels. She took down all of my info but seemed a little clueless.

They had a really good system in place earlier. I have no idea why they just didn't stick with that. When I moved here from Dallas in June getting set up was virtually painless. I went to the office, picked up my cards, installed them, called support and gave them the card # and Host ID. About 2 days later everything worked fine.

Dallas was a nightmare. Took 2 months and about 6 service visits and everytime it was the same story "I don't know cable cards going to have to get a superviser". You'd think after a while when you say "Cable Card" and "Tivo" they'd send somebody that knew how to set it up. Finally found a "Comments to The President" form on Time Warner Dallas's Web page and within 24 hours everything was working fine. I have no idea why these companies make this so difficult.
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Old 12-20-2008, 09:52 PM   #18
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It is my understanding that the Series 3 will not support Multi cards and that I will need two Single cards. I will be searching the forums tonight for this answer as well.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Langree View Post
Correct, the Series 3 needs S cards, while the TiVoHD can use M cards.
Incorrect. The S3 requires 2 cards. They work fine with M-cards, but regardless of the card type, the S3 requires 2. The THD can handle either 1 M-card or 2 S-Cards.
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:02 PM   #19
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I think in Houston it all has to do with HD encryption/compression.
No. Whether HD or SD, Cisco gear will not work with Motorola gear, period.

Quote:
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They are keeping Motorola boxes for non-HD boxes. All HD DVRS, boxes and cable cards will have to be SA. The letter lists the channels you will not be able to get if you keep your Motorola CC or box.
This is no doubt transitional for a staged rollout. HD customers represent less than half the total subscriber base, so by moving just the HD channels first, they can reduce the load on their deployment - not to mention their wallet - by doubling up the SD channels on both SA and Motorola QAMs and rolling out the upgrade for only HD customers first. Since SD channels only use 1/6 the bandwidth of HD channels, doubling up on SD channels on their new equipment is not technically or financially burdensome. Eventually I am sure once the HD deployment is complete, they will begin to roll out a staged SD deployment, perhaps in large measure through simple attrition. The turnover in STBs is huge.
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Old 12-20-2008, 11:20 PM   #20
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So, emailing We_Can_Help@cable.comcast.com did get me a email reply and a call from a Corporate response person here in Houston named Micheal (on a Saturday evening).
Michael is the guy that called me also, though it was around 11am this morning. Guess he is working late! And he was definitely able to help, as 2 of my 3 cards were indeed activated as of about 5pm tonight. One card in my S3 and the card in my HD. The other card in my S3 is still not working...guess maybe they made a mistake entering the info or something (hopefully I don't have a bad card). I have Michael's office phone number so I'll call him tomorrow or Monday.

Quote:
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They had a really good system in place earlier. I have no idea why they just didn't stick with that. When I moved here from Dallas in June getting set up was virtually painless. I went to the office, picked up my cards, installed them, called support and gave them the card # and Host ID. About 2 days later everything worked fine.
I completely agree...their previous system was stellar. I activated cards 3 times in the past and had no trouble at all. Called a direct line and got a tech who knew exactly what he was doing and had all channels up and running in no time. Why in the world they would screw this up so bad knowing they are going to have to do this with many people over the next 30 days is beyond me!
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Old 12-21-2008, 12:16 AM   #21
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Supposedly when you take in your old cards they will update the information in their systems and activate the new cards while you are in the store. This is why you should be able to go and just "plug and play". I have my doubts.
The need to train their people better. Cable cards DO NOT WORK LIKE THIS. Until it's placed in the host device that's going to use it, the information for "their systems" doesn't even exist. If they're doing things like TW does, there's a phone number on the pairing screen -- call it and give them the numbers.

For an OCAP (bidirectional) device, yes, all they need is the CC serial / MAC because it can send that information to the headend by itself. But nobody has OCAP devices. The only 2-way hosts out there are cable company STBs -- where you, the end user, aren't allowed to remove the CC.
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Old 12-21-2008, 12:19 AM   #22
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Got a call from the cable card group at 9:40 pm. I had given Host ID and CableCard ID, but what they really need is MAC address and Host ID. They have nothing that cross references CableCard ID with MAC address. Of course, I was not at home and did not have the information with me. I asked her to just activate anyway and I would have a 50/50 chance of service. She said no. I asked her if I could call her back directly. She said no (this is the biggest problem with the "new system for activation"). She said she would call me tomorrow at 1 pm. I asked if someone could call sooner, but she was non-commital.

After we hung up, I realized that had she activated and it did not work, I would have just had to switch the cards in the slots and it would have worked. How frustrating!

Anyone who exchanges cards will need to call in and give the HostID/MAC address combinations to be forwarded to the engineering group.

This is based on some very bad decisions against customer service buy Comcast, IMHO.

More later,
Brian
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Old 12-21-2008, 01:00 AM   #23
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I sent this to Frank (Comcastcares):

Do you realize that this is a change from how it used to work? There used to be a phone number customers could call--this was removed in the last few months. A step backward.

And to give you a summary of the required steps.
1. Customer must go and exchange the cablecards.
2. Customer must call technical support and give them the combination of Host ID and MAC address.
3. Tech support must get this information to Engineering (this is what used to be a direct call).
4. Customer must wait up to 48 hours for Engineering to get the information and act on it.
5. If some info is wrong, go back and start at step 2 and wait ....

The Engineering lady, Xxxxxxx, called me tonight 4.5 hours after I talked to Michael and he talked to Engineering. Of course I was not home to provide the info in step 2. I had been asked for the wrong information by technical support several times earlier in the day. Xxxxxxx had all the info she needed, but did not know which host ID went with which MAC address. I asked her to activate it anyway, since I would have had a 50/50 chance of getting my service back. She said no. Had she guessed wrong, I would have just had to switch my CableCards and I would have had service. I think this is an indication that she doesn't know how CableCards work, just steps to an end.

To summarize, neither the clerks in the store, the reps that answer the phone, nor the individuals in the pairing department are trained or understand steps 1-5 above.

In the end, I will get some $2 credit, and I will have lost the chance to see some once-in-a-lifetime television events today. In addition, I have wasted an entire 2 days trying to get this done. My time is worth more than $2.

Thanks for listening.

Brian

Last edited by blibman : 12-21-2008 at 01:20 AM.
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Old 12-21-2008, 04:46 AM   #24
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...After we hung up, I realized that had she activated and it did not work, I would have just had to switch the cards in the slots and it would have worked. How frustrating!...
Wouldn't that very action of swapping the cards generate a new Host ID, hence unpairing the cards?
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Old 12-21-2008, 06:48 AM   #25
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Hmm! No letter here. I have pretty much all the channels except International and Sports packages. Everything still seems to be working!

Oh! we just recently got TWC in HD , that's it for the last year.
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Old 12-21-2008, 08:35 AM   #26
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If we got tuning adapters with the new SA CableCards, we would have bi-directional communications. Couldn't the pairing -- at least theoretically -- be automated?
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Old 12-21-2008, 09:19 AM   #27
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Andyf--do you have SA or Motorola CCs/Boxes? If you only got HD this year, you may have gotten an SA card to start with. You also said TWC, this is a Comcast issue.

matt--I'm hoping we don't end up requiring Tuning adapters. You would hope that they would work better than one-way cablecards in terms of activations.

Another part of Comcast called this morning (automated call) to see if my new services were working. I pressed 2 for "No", now I'm going through it all over again. He said he did not need the host ids, so I do not give it much hope.

Also, last night I got a new phone number to try, but have not yet. It is called the digital activation line. It is 888-270-6445. I would have called it this morning, but I received the automated call first.

More later,
Brian

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Old 12-21-2008, 11:01 AM   #28
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I'm not surprised.

And I think this really points out a point of value that a lot of people routinely and grievously fail to acknowledge and therefore fail to factor into their conclusions when comparing cable/satellite service providers: If what you have is working, there is a value that comes from not taking a chance and trying to change to a new provider, attributable solely to the fact that you'll probably deal with some problems associated with switching. The advantage associated with switching (more HD channels, lower cost, better PQ, etc.) has to be so firmly proven by sufficiently compelling objective evidence, so it more than trumps the problems you are very likely to encounter just in the process of switching providers. That's not to mention the likelihood that there will be certain inter-interoperability differences that may preclude using the new service in some of the ways you used the old service.

For me, it really has me figuring that it isn't worth switching to FiOS. I don't see enough evidence to indicate that what they are offering is so much better than what Comcast is offering to trump the specter of problems in transition. By the same token, it seems very clear to me that if Comcast announces the kind of transition described by the OP here in this area, then that will be an invitation to me to seriously consider switching to FiOS at that time. I might even consider making the switch once Comcast goes all-digital here, since that will render two of my three televisions unusable without the kind of changes that could cause the same type of trouble.

Best of luck, y'all, getting things straightened out.
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Old 12-21-2008, 01:42 PM   #29
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OK, my nightmare appears to be over. Here is my suggestion for the rest of you.

Advanced/Complex/Faster method:
1. Know that this is not an instant process and that it is going to take up to 24 hours.
2. If possible, get your Host IDs before you go to the Comcast store.
3. Go to the Comcast store. The rep is going to fill out an electronic form for each new card. Make sure that they include one of your host IDs with each card as well as the card's MAC address (printed on the card). These are the two numbers that the system needs to pair and activate your card. Make sure you know which Host ID goes with each card before you leave the store.
4. Go home and install your cards asap. Once the activation department activates your card, they may have to send a "non-standard hit" to it to get it going. You will want it available to receive this hit.
5. Wait up to 24 hours for the activation to happen. If it doesn't work, or you get impatient, email We_Can_Help@cable.comcast.com

Simple method:
1. Know that this is not an instant process and that it is going to take up to 24 hours.
2. Go exchange your cards at Comcast store.
3. Go home and install your new cablecards.
4. Look up the MAC address and Host ID pair(s).
5. Call 713-462-9000 and get the rep to submit the form.
6. Wait up to 24 hours for the activation to happen. If it doesn't work, or you get impatient, email We_Can_Help@cable.comcast.com

The activation line I mentioned earlier cannot help you at this moment (it is only for Motorola boxes with M-cards).

Suggestion to Comcast: Make Advanced Technical Support Personnel available to answer the phone and receive calls for customers, as we previously could. There should be a cablecard activation line, open every day of the week (not necessarily 24 hours).

Thanks.
Brian

Last edited by blibman : 12-21-2008 at 01:45 PM. Reason: grammar
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Old 12-21-2008, 10:13 PM   #30
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Thanks for the advice & ideas (esp blibman). I rec'd the letter last week, and figured I would wait until after NY to start this process. I have two S3s, so I will do one first while the other records any *essential* TV shows (do I have my priorities right in life or what?). Then the other.

Luckily it's the slow season. And I have y'all for guinea pigs!
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