After fighting since July 9th, my two Series 3 Tivo's are finally working with all four Cablecards. It took almost a month.
Here are some observations:
1) My first and worst problem was that the sales department had somehow not gotten my correct package of premium channels entered into their database. My advice: if you're having problems getting premium channels that are scrambled, verify that they have the correct lineup in their system before launching into troubleshooting of hardware. I got three of four cablecards working after this problem was identified (but it took 9 or 10 days to finally figure this out). The fourth cable card was strictly a hardware issue and the Motorola cards are very hit or miss. I finally requested that they give me four additional cards in hopes of finding one good one without repeated trips back to the store. They gave me all they had in the cabinet (three cards) and the second one worked.
2) Level 3 technicians were pretty polite. Although problem 1 made things get pretty testy. Initially they were trying to convince me that I had four bad cablecards or that my Tivo's were both bad. Luckily I was confident enough to stand my ground since I had been successfully using both Tivo's in another region for the past 8 months.
3) Because of a switchover from Time Warner to Comcast due to the acquisition, anyone who tried to do something complicated like troubleshoot a tivo/cablecard had to put up with the additional frustration of very long hold times.
4) Comcast in Houston requires that you pickup the cards at their local office and self install. This was fine with me, I just wish their office wasn't 15 minutes away and that they had Saturday/Sunday hours. Also, because of Item 3) above, lines were very bad in early to mid July. It's been better.
5) The process that is used here for activating cards makes troubleshooting very slow because you have to wait for 24 hours for their system to "hit" the card to activate the premiums you are supposed to be able to see.
6) When you pick up your cable cards, they give you their level 3 technical support phone number. These people deal only with cable cards and, while you will still encounter hold times, once you get a technician they are pretty savvy (although issues like described in 1) can take far to long to resolve). Write this number down, don't lose it. I have it on speed dial. They will answer calls on weekends and before 8 am in the morning (hold times seem to be less at these times) but I think they are restricted to following through on troubleshooting during these times rather than initiating new installs.
I came very, very close to giving up and switching from Comcast to OTA or telephone wire based digital TV. When I first installed cablecards it was with a copmany that required technicians to handle it. It was very annoying to have to wait at home for technicians to come in and pay for a truck roll for something so simple as sliding a card into a slot and reading numbers off the screen. This time with the self-install was also frustrating, especially because of Comcast's process of waiting a day to hit the cards with authorization codes.
In summary, the cablecard issue is going to be a real problem for Tivo. I'm a reasonably tech savvy person who is comfortable enough with opening computers up and moving jumpers on cards etc. So this should have been very simple. The problems I see are:
1) About 1 out of 3 or 4 cards are bad. Technicians mumbled that the Tivo seems to be pickier about cards than the televisions, but I suspect the real story is that Tivo owners are more insistent upon getting the functionality right whereas TV owners give up much more readily on cablecards.
2) It is ridiculous to have to verbally communicate four strings of numbers per cable card. Add it up, it comes to 53 numbers that have to be recited and recorded in precise order for each cable card. (Not including the serial number adds another 12 numbers.) This is way overkill and will frustrate and intimidate customers. Not to mention the small potential of error introduced. Not as big an issue as the hardware reliability of cablecards themselves.