Comcast here hasn't had any analog scrambled premiums since perhaps 03'. Smaller cable outfit by us "Service Electric Cablevision" dropped all of their analog's even before that. They used to have Jerrold analog boxes for premiums, but they switched to Motorola digital boxes back in 98 or 99'. Why are they changing it to digital? Well here's at least three reasons:
1. Analog signals take up a ton of space.
1 Analog channel can hold 12-16 SD Channels or 2-3 HD Channels. A Typical 750 MHz cable plant has 115 Analog channel slots. Minus one or two for cable modem/digital voice, 5-8 for video on demand, and 70 for analog TV, you don't really have much more space to fit all of the upcoming HD and SD Channels.
Back when we used to have traps on the line, anyone in an MDU or with underground service could just go out and remove the traps. Simple, cost free way to get HBO, Cinemax, Starz. Then when they did away with the traps and went to analog scrambling, anyone could just go to e-bay and buy a 'hotbox' for $100 or so. Wam, free premiums, including every PPV event. This was all way too easy. When moving to digital, the bitstream is encrypted via high security computer logic. To date it has been proven the most secure way to protect a cable companies assets. Less theft is better from a buisness perspective no matter what the business is.
3. More for your money.
Instead of getting 1 HBO for the same price, you might get 10 or more HBO's. HBO2, HBO3, HBO Family, HBO Zone, HBO Comedy, HBO Latino, plus all of the west cost versions and HBO on Demand.
So what's the benefit from getting a digital box in your area? Well Comcast has completed ADS (All Digital Simulcast). With a set top box, you will receive every channel you subscribe to with 100% digital quality, just like DirecTV and DishNetwork have been touting for years now. You also get access to 100's of titles to on demand, plus 45+ free digital music channels and a helpful on screen guide that allows you to search for programs and see what's coming on and when.
Ok so the downside is..... the price. I agree with you there, but here's something I have done. I have a DVR box in the living room, connected to component cables to that TV. Using the RF out, I ran a cable to the basement and tied it into the line that runs to the bedroom. Since we only watch TV in either the living room, or the bedroom (never at the same time), we have the same DVR output in two rooms. I purchased Jensen IR Extenders on ebay for $18 shipped to handle sending the remote commands from the bedroom to the living room. This works great for me. With digital service the first box is free, so this allows us to use two rooms under the same digital service package. Also I have a DVR, which is great since I can access recorded programs in both rooms. YMMV.
As far as getting a box with no guide on it, I don't think Comcast supports that. All Motorola boxes require an OS on them. And to the guy in NJ who has a crummy picture quality... well you can call and have a tech come out and fix that, or just pay an extra $3 or so for a digital box and you'll receive all of the channels in digital quality. AFAIK
, All Digital Simulcast is completed in most of PA/NJ/DE region.