jacmyoung, nightowl & others:
I hear what you are saying and you each have made good points. At least we seem to have a definitive answer to the question of how long Comcast expects the analog-to-digital service transition to take, and Comcast subscribers can make service decisions accordingly. Based on the latest information, our familial experiences as Comcast customers, and other AVS Forum reader reports, my conclusions are these:
Currently, Comcast Cable probably provides the very best HD picture at full resolutions, but offers less than the half the number of HD channels as the market leader, DISH Satellite. DirecTV offers a number of HD channels and is competitive with Comcast Sacramento's offerings, but reduces HD resolutions on some channels to save bandwidth and this may be noticable to the most discriminating viewers. As of today (August 6, 2006), only Comcast offers the two regional sports networks (RSNs) in HD. Comcast Sacramento is transitioning their local network from all-analog to all-digital, but in the metropolitan Sacramento area, we can expect the company to offer fewer HD channels than DISH network, at least through the end of 2007 (many terrestial cable companies are grappling with similar bandwidth capacity problems as they switch to digital technology). Some outlying suburbs, and other regional cities served by Comcast Sacramento may receive more HD channels than areas in Sacramento County.
While the HD quality is unsurpassed, the quality of Comcast digital and analog channels can be inconsistent. For instance, the image quality of some Comcast analog channels can be surprisingly good (such as CNN and FOX News), but other popular analogs, such as the USA Network, FX, and Sci-Fi channels, may be mediocre at times.* Comcast customers share bandwith in neighborhoods, and the picture quality may change from day-to-day or throughout the day. Even the quality of some Comcast digital channels may not meet expectations, as some are degraded by low bandwidth. These criticism's aside, Comcast currently is managing the ADS conversion as quickly as possible, and by being very aggressive in offering reduced interim prices to new and existing customers for both Cable TV and Internet services. We expect at least some ongoing technical issues and bandwidth limitations to affect Comcast service until the analog-to-digital transition is completed and all analog channels are removed from the local system, which could take another two-to-three years.
* Comcast analog channel quality can be affected by how your TV processes and scales analog signals. Consequently, your HDTV may have better internal processing for 4:3 analog signals than the Comcast digital box. If so, turn "off" the 4:3 Override setting using the setup menu on Comcast's Motorola DCT-6200 or DCT-6400 series boxes.
HD Sports fans:
Stick with Comcast until the Satellite services (particularly DISH) begin to offer the two regional sports networks (RSNs) for this area in HD. Rumor is that Comcast Sports Net and Fox Bay Area Sports Net in HD may soon be available on DISH and/or DirecTV, but the status for SureWest is unknown.
Widescreen movie, documentary and home improvement/lifestyle programming fans:
As of August 6, 2006, it is difficult to ignore the 29 HD channels available from DISH Satellite. Several of these channels are the old Voom Network channels, which may not necessarily provide the best programming, but DISH still offers twice as many HD channels as Comcast and probably will remain ahead in HD offerings for the next couple of years. For the most part, DISH offers full HD resolutions. If DISH adds RSN's, many more Comcast Sacramento HD-customers may be tempted to bolt to satellite. Some current customers staying with Comcast rely on DVD rentals to affordably supplement widescreen/enhanced resolution viewing. Four of Comcast's Premium channels are available in HD, but the programming is limited and the rates may be deemed too expensive by some. Comcast's much hyped "On Demand" service largely recycles 4:3 content, and to date, offers little in the way of widescreen and HD programming.
Roseville's SureWest is expanding in the area (laying fiber optic cable in Elk Grove for instance), and is a wild card. Locally, both SureWest and DirecTV offer about the same number of HD channels as Comcast, but to date, no regional sports networks in HD.
Finally, expect these companies to become more competitive as they battle to hang on to existing customers and expand their base during the next year or two. Watch for incentives and special offers. Others may want to comment of the strengths and weaknesses of DISH Network, DirecTV or Surewest, in the context of choosing a service. Rumored new, downloadable content services from companies such as Apple Computer may change the competitive landscape in the near future. Ironically, it is conceivable that this could benefit cable TV, if a complementary download service is offered and if current Comcast subscribers choose to supplement their existing cable service with downloadable, widescreen movie content. However, if Apple's rumored new video content service is focused on iPod playback, the impact would be minimal.
Perhaps we need to set up a sub-forum called Broadband Sacramento, so that we can discuss the differences between all the services, and leave this forum to discuss Comcast only.