This is the 10th in a series of articles about my recent quest to replace a broken VCR in this era of DVDs, DVRs, and other newfangled gadgets. Click here for the beginning of the series.
I think the thing that bothers me most about this tunerless VCR situation is that there wasn’t any warning about this change. On the contrary they said repeatedly “Satellite and cable users have nothing to worry about.” For satellite users that’s pretty much true because everything comes through a satellite box that is already converting your digital satellite signals into something your TV or VCR can use. You typically connect to a satellite box by a composite video cable using red, white, and yellow RCA-style cables. Note however that some satellite systems are setup so that you can share a single satellite box with two or more devices (and presumably one of those could be a VCR). Typically these secondary connections use an RF coaxial cable and analog channels 3 or 4 or sometimes even old-fashioned UHF channels. If you are relying on such a system to connect your satellite box to a VCR and that VCR breaks, you’re going to have a hard time replacing it.
However the situation is much more complicated for cable users. When they said “Cable users don’t worry” I always presumed that it also meant that cable services would continue to transmit at least some of their channels via analog cable. For example I get my cable TV from BrightHouse Cable. For example local channel WTHR which is the local NBC affiliate is currently broadcasting in standard definition signal on Channel 13 and its new high-definition signal on digital channel 13.1. Over my cable system the HD version can be received on Channel 713 and the standard definition version is on Channel 12. I presumed that after February 2009 when the station stopped transmitting its older standard definition signal, the cable company would down-convert the HD signal and continue transmitting it on cable Channel 12 so that “If you subscribe to cable or satellite, you have nothing to worry about.” Your old obsolete TV can still be used.
If indeed cable services are going to continue to provide analog cable for the foreseeable all future, then the elimination of cable ready VCRs is especially problematic.
However some of the people who replied to my question on the AVSForum said that some cable systems are already beginning to phase out analog cable completely! Although internet discussion boards aren’t really 100% reliable sources of information, one of the posters said that Comcast cable in Chicago is already planning to phase out analog cable this summer. That means that the sentence “Cable users have nothing to worry about” really means “analog cable users will have to begin renting digital cable boxes for all of their televisions and VCRs.” There has been a very slow migration of channels from analog to digital but most of them have been relatively unimportant channels. I wouldn’t be surprised if more of th of em moved because, as I said earlier, you can get many more digital channels in the same bandwidth as a single analog channel. However I had no idea that analog cable was on its way out entirely.
I have 6 televisions in my home. Two of them have dedicated cable boxes and the other 4 are connected to analog cable. I have 4 VCRs connected to analog cable. If analog cable goes away I don’t think renting 6-8 additional cable boxes is my idea of “cable users have nothing to worry about”. Okay so 6 televisions is extreme but one of those is a little 9 inch set on the kitchen counter that my mom watches while she’s fixing dinner and mom and dad both watch while eating breakfast at the counter. It’s going to be totally impractical to the cable box in the kitchen given all the other appliances and limited counter space there. If analog cable does disappear it’s going to be a real hardship for avid television watchers such as us.
I sent a lengthy e-mail to one of the local TV stations to suggest that they cover this issue and encouraged them to ask Comcast and Bright House win and if they were going to discontinue analog cable anytime soon. I’m not gotten any reply from that station. I may try writing to a different reporter or perhaps to the other local TV stations. If I get any response, I will report it here.
That basically concludes the story of the disappearing VCR and tuners for now but my struggle to replace my broken VCRs wasn’t over yet even though I had found in older VCR that still had a cable ready tuner. I discovered that my old remote control which I had specially adapted so that I could use it could not be reprogrammed for the new Sony VCR.
In my next installment I will begin a lengthy story about adapting my remote controls so I could use this new VCR.