Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich

Taste of the future

April 22nd, 2002 · No Comments · Uncategorized

For reasons to be disclosed shortly, I now have a compelling reason to have a second cable box. I was ready to pay for a second cable box. I wanted to give my cable company more money every month, something you’d think they’d encourage and make as easy as possible.

You can see where this is going, right?

First, let’s examine the primary purpose of a cable box: to control access to content. It is a gatekeeper and toll collector. There is nothing wrong with this. The cable company has every right to charge for their service.

But a cable box, in restricting access, reduces convenience. Dramatically. Do you have a wonderful television, with a great remote, and the ability to label channels in the TV? Too bad. Turn it to channel 3, and use the dubious remote that the cable company gives you. Have a VCR and want to record a program? Since your VCR can’t control the cable box, you can’t program it to record as easily and automatically any more. You’ll have to manually set the channel, and you can only program the time to record. If someone in your family comes along and changes the channel, well…

Remember that a cable box is built for the cable companies and not the end user. Cable companies don’t care if you can’t use all the bells and whistles of your expensive gear. All they care about is making sure people pay for what they use. Period. There’s no market pressure or competition for more user friendly and feature laden cable boxes. All cable companies want is easy administration, good security and low cost.

Now that cable boxes are a given, you’d think the boxes would evolve more features and better integration. Instead, televisions and VCRs have added features to work around the stupid cable box. This is because cable boxes are sold to a select group of companies which are granted local monopolies, and televisions and VCRs are sold to end users in an open market. Now there are gadgets to simulate someone using the cable box remote control to set the channel so your VCR can once again be programmed. In all these years, there’s still no adoption of a less kludgy interface for audio/visual gear to communicate to a cable box. There’s zero incentive for it because cable companies don’t have to compete. Cable boxes are good enough for cable companies, no matter what headaches they gave cable customers.

In spite of the limitations of typical cable box technology, at least it’s simple stuff. I figure I could get my second cable box by just calling my cable company, upgrading my service, picking up a new box, and plugging it in.


I was informed a technician has to come out to install it. To put a splitter in, attach some coax, and plug in a box, I would have to wait several days, stay home from work, and pay for a service call of $40. To me, this is like having ConEd come to my apartment to install a new lamp. This is not customer friendly, it is not convenient. Either my cable company has a stupid policy in insisting one of their technicians has to make a service call, or the technology is seriously whacked if it really needs a technician to install it. I self-installed my cable modem, and that’s a hell of a lot more complicated

So I’m not doing it. I’ll feed the cable signal without a box to my TV, and settle for the non-premium analog channels. So I lose, and the cable company loses. We all lose. Opportunity lost. Welcome to the new millennium.

This is a prime example of how things break down when technology to control access to media is created with complete disregard to the consumer, and it’s what we can come to expect more and more of as Hollywood and the record industry start to dictate how our televisions, computers and MP3 players should work. And the stupid thing is, it ends up being bad for business. When things aren’t convenient, people just don’t buy.

And I can say that if I had a chance to buy a pirate cable box at a reasonable price, I would do it. It’s not about the money, it’s about the convenience. And if you’re running a company where you make it easier to steal from you rather than transact business, you’re being stupid, stupid, stupid.

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