television – Stay N Alive

Howto: Getting the Logitech Revue (Google TV) to Work With Comcast Cable Boxes

As I’ve Tweeted, Facebooked, and Buzzed about recently, Google sent me a Logitech Revue Google TV unit shortly before Christmas which I will probably be using to write apps for.  There are many things I like about it, many I don’t, but I’ll save that review (no pun intended) for another date.  I did want to post briefly on an issue I came across that had me really frustrated, as there were no answers on the web.

The issue stems with Comcast Cable Boxes (mine was the HD PVR unit with HDMI out) not working well in receivers that have more than one HDMI cable input connected at a time.  I have the Harman Kardon AVR-247 and when I would connect the Comcast Cable box to my Logitech Revue unit, I would get Content Protection errors each time (HDCP – Google it, with “Logitech Revue”).  I tried every means of connecting, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get it to display TV without the HDCP error, a big green message on top of the screen from the Comcast digital cable box.

I Googled it, and came across issue after issue of Comcast customers having similar problems with the Comcast Cable boxes, with no answers, and no response from Comcast (Many were complaining that Comcast was sending them back to Motorola, some saying Comcast was blaming Google, etc.).  The only answer I came up with was that the AVR (your receiver) did not work well when it had more than one input in the box, something that was necessary in my situation because I also have an Xbox, an Apple TV, along with a Blu Ray DVD player.  The Apple TV and Logitech Revue only have HDMI ports, while the others I prefer to connect via HDMI where possible.  The only solution I found was to connect the output of the Logitech Revue unit out to the TV’s HDMI input port, and the Comcast Box into the Logitech Revue, then using the Optical out port of the Revue to connect to the Optical input of the receiver, giving me the sound I need (you may have to read that a few times to get it).  My problem was that my TV is still pretty old (but can you argue with 65 inches???), and only has one input HDMI port, which is already being used by the receiver.

So I thought about it, and realized the problem was because I had 2 HDMI cables connected to the receiver.  I also happened to have an HDMI hub, which I purchased from Best Buy for about $100, but is also available in various forms starting at around $30 or so on Amazon and elsewhere.  I was using this already to power some of the other HDMI devices I was using.  So I disconnected the second port completely, and put everything into the HDMI hub.  Voila!  It worked!  No more content protection errors!

So if you’re seeing the HDCP Content Protection errors with your Cable box on the Logitech Revue, you may want to consider going out and purchasing an HDMI hub, get rid of all but one HDMI input into your receiver, and connect everything to your hub.  I’m pretty sure this method will work for almost everyone.  In the meantime, Comcast told me on Twitter that they are aware of the issue, and they’re working on a firmware fix to hopefully fix the issue on their Cable boxes.  It’s good to know they are now recognizing the problem, although they can’t give any ETA on a fix.

It was actually this problem that convinced me to just go get rabbit ears – with a Google TV, an Xbox and Windows Media Center, and an Apple TV, do I really need cable TV any more?  Assuming you do, well, here’s the answer.

Comcast, Where’s the Block Button for My TV?

Around College Football Season every year my family bites the bullet and orders cable for several months in order to both take advantage of the latest Cable deal, and allow us to see my two Cougars (University of Houston and BYU) try to make it to a Bowl game.  Every year we get a digital box, HD service, and occasionally a premium channel or two and some times a Sports Package to make sure we don’t miss a game.  Especially if you’re only doing it for a few months a year, it’s a great deal, and you can often get free DVR, free premium channels, etc. as a result.  Add that to the 50Mbps downstream internet I’m getting and I’m a pretty happy guy.  Comcast’s lineup continues to improve as we go year to year, providing more HD channels, online DVR scheduling, and more.  There’s one piece that never seems to improve though – the ability to remove the channels you don’t want to watch from your line up.  Why?

For instance, today I was upstairs working on the computer when I hear my 10 year old daughter yell up the stairs, “Daddy, JJ (our 2 year old) just ordered Avatar!”  I run down the stairs, and sure enough, Avatar was sitting on the screen (in standard def, unfortunately) on pause, waiting for us to watch it.  My 2 year old was sitting there, proud of his accomplishment.  Before you say, “that’s a smart 2 year old!” (which he is), keep in mind that this same boy regularly steals my iPad and iPhone, and thoroughly enjoys trying to call Mike Arrington every chance he can get when I’m not watching (thus far I’ve caught him every time).  In fact, as I write this, I hear he’s up stairs yelling to my wife, “Computer!”, I’m sure as he hits all the buttons he can on his – er, I mean her – laptop.

So you can see how easy it is for a 2 year old to purchase things on the Cable box (I won’t even get into how my 8 year old can guess our pin codes like any 1337 h4x0r).  Comcast does have parental controls, but, at least in the last on-and-off 3 years I’ve had their service (or more – can’t remember), their parental controls have always just been a series of “enter your pin number to watch the Rated R show”.  I do notice you can hide shows marked as adult, and you can set a pin number on the main On Demand (which by default is free unless you go into the purchase section).  However, there’s no way at all you can completely block an entire channel or completely block purchases on the device.

I called Comcast just to verify.  Their answer was that my only choice was to set up parental controls, something I’m very familiar with.  They had absolutely no way for me to completely turn off a channel, even by calling them to do it.  It simply isn’t possible.  Why?

On Twitter and Facebook we have a simple solution to this.  If you don’t ever want the chance to see something you don’t want to from a particular user, you can just block them and you’ll never see them again (unless you’re really looking).  Blocking a channel ought to be even easier than that.  Why can’t I hit “info” on a channel just like I do to favorite the channel, and hit “block”, completely turning the channel off forever?

Comcast, let’s face it – I’m never going to watch the adult channels.  There are other channels you have that I’m never going to watch.  I’m never going to purchase an on-demand movie from you guys.  I know you want to tempt me to do so, but frankly, you’re just ticking me, and thousands of other customers of yours off by not giving us a way to turn these things off.  Right now Comcast is like a casino, tempting you every step of the way to put your money in and take a gamble, only there are no people watching to see if the kids are the ones doing the gambling.  Let my people go!

Comcast, you have an opportunity here – I know your competitors in the satellite and cable space do the same (if you know of a service that allows full channel blocking, let me know in the comments).  You have the opportunity here to target every single family in America right now and make them feel good about your company.  Be the hero.  Please, let us block these channels, and especially the pay-per-view if we don’t want to see them!  Keeping them in place is ridiculous, and frankly, you risk each and every 2 year old in America being exposed to this stuff by not enabling a simple “block channel” on your service.  It’s time to innovate.  Free the parents across America!

UPDATE: Per the comments, I’m going to list services here that do allow the removal of channels entirely:

My Favorite Technology of CES 2010

CESOverall the Consumer Electronic Show of 2010, while amazing and overwhelming and definitely worth my time, has been a disappointment when it comes to innovation. The big things of the show have been 3D, new consumer video devices, and, well, that’s about it. So I’m at a bit of a conundrum as to who or what my favorite technology at the show is. If I were to pick one though, it would have to be the demo by TCL (The Creative Life) of their 3D TV Technology that doesn’t require glasses.

Passing by the booth you can’t miss it – they’ve surrounded 4 TVs by mirrors (no relation to the technology), and when you look at the TVs, you do a double-take. You’re seeing 3D, just as you would in traditional 3D glasses, but without the glasses! I never knew this was possible!

The technology revolves around basically mimicking the 3D glasses technology right on the TV screen itself. That, and an optical illusion of just the right flicker with the speed your eyes process information, and they’re tricking your brain to thinking there’s full 3D objects inside those monitors!

I saw a lot of 3D technology at CES. Some are special 3D TVs that you have to buy the TV to get the full 3D experience, but they require glasses. Others are adapters you hook up to your Sony PS3 and you can play games in 3D (due EOY 2010 Sony told me – I’m actually excited for that one and may buy a PS3 because of it). I talked to a guy in the elevator at my hotel that works with devices you put right up to your eyes like glasses to get the experience.

However, no one wants to buy a new TV right now. I just can’t see consumers buying a TV just so they can put on glasses and watch TV through those glasses. These new 3D TVs without the glasses enable you to do that, no glasses required, and I think they make much more sense.

While the TVs aren’t available for probably at least another year, there are still a few issues though. For one, you can only watch 3D on the TVs. They’ve either got to make a dual mode so you can watch either/or, or consumers will have to get used to watching nothing but 3D television, something not everyone in the industry is sure consumers will want. Also, the videos they were showing had to be custom-made for the TVs. They don’t yet work with traditional 3D movies and I think that will be required.

What I liked about this technology though is that they were showing what could be. They’re thinking to the future. That’s what I wanted to see at CES this year. Everyone else is looking to the present and past from what I’ve seen so far. Kudos to TCL for making me think forward this CES.

Here’s some video I shot – of course you can’t see the 3D in the video, but at least it gives you an idea. You can follow all my raw, unedited footage on my personal Youtube channel.