|If they are going to go with Motorola boxes here, is my SA8000 going to work?
No, SA products are not compatible with Motorola head-end equipment, and Motorola products are not compatible with SA head-end equipment.
|2) Comcast says here that DVRs are currently "in testing" and should be available "by the middle of the summer". Do DVRs have to actually be supported before I can use an SA8000 if I purchased it from E-bay.
If your MSO is using Motorola hardware, then you'd need to wait for them to offer the Motorola 6208 or dual-tuner Motorola 6412 DVR. The single-tuner 6208 is available in a number of Comcast markets now, with the 6412 slated for deployment this fall. Alternatively, you could purchase your own CableCard DVR, when those become available (see below).
|1) Does Comcast have to be giving out SA8000 boxes for this to work?
Generally, COs won't activate current boxes supplied or purchased by the end-user. These SA and Motorola cable DVRs won't work without specific hardware or software supplied by the cable company; in some cases, this software is sent to the boxes over the cable connection, and in other cases, it is preloaded from a computer at the central office.
|3) Is there any other charge from Comcast for service fees beyond the increased box rental cost that would be associated with being able to use my DVR?
Comcast does require a digital cable subscription in most areas before they will lease you a DVR. Aside from that and the monthly lease fee (typically, $9.99/mo), there are no incremental charges. The DVR replaces your standalone digital set-top box.
You can always buy your own DVR, like a Tivo or a ReplayTV. These boxes include built-in analog tuners to support the extended basic cable tier (typically, channels 1-99), but generally rely on built-in IR transmitters to control digital cable boxes for digital channels (typically, channels 100+). Whenever there is a scheduled recording from a digital channel (say, 121), the Tivo would send an IR signal, like that from a remote, to change to the appropriate channel at the appropriate time, which it would then record using a s-video (or composite) connection to the digital cable box.
Relying on remote IR signals to control and record content from a separate digital cable box is obviously not the best solution, as this method doesn't support native HDTV or Dolby Digital 5.1 recording. If you only subscribe to the extended basic cable tier, and don't watch HDTV or DD5.1 channels, then a Tivo or ReplayTV is probably your best bet. However, if HDTV or DD5.1 recording is important than you, then you would do best to wait for the DVR supplied by the cable company (Motorola 6208 or 6412), or buy your own CableCard DVR, when they become available.
Unlike current Motorola and SA DVRs, CableCard DVRs are intended for resale directly to the end-user. These DVR products will support and record all digital cable television signals (including HD and DD5.1) directly--without a digital cable box. Authorization will be provided by a plug-in "CableCard" (similar to a PCMCIA card) supplied by your cable company. These access cards will be offered for rental at $0/mo to $2.50/mo; cost will vary by area and provider. Cable companies are required to make these cards available to all customers that request them, effective July 1, 2004.
For an overview of some popular DVR features, you may want to read this post
. Not all DVRs are equal in terms of the functionality they offer; some offer all of the features listed in that post, while others operate just like a VCR, except they store recordings to disk, thereby eliminating the need to swap tapes.