Letter: Comcast Cable TV quality problems?

Letter to the editor

Posted by on Mon, May 1, 2006

Did anyone else try to watch the A’s game Monday night on Cable 13?  For the second A’s game in a row, the picture was unwatchable.  Did anyone else have the problem, or is it just me?  Your answers may help me get past Comcast’s stonewalling.

Picture quality for the local stations, in particular, 3, 4, and 5, has degraded.  Ever since NBC transferred to San Jose, channel 3 has been nearly unwatchable.  More recently, the snowy picture quality has taken over channel 5.

In the past, Coastside Cable/Comcast cited that they are receiving these local signals over the air and then piping them into the cable.

I’m interested in knowing if anyone with DirecTV has experienced any problems with local station picture quality?

Yes, we have Comcast and we have the same problems.  We have noticed quality issues for months now.

Yes, the A’s game on channel 13 was simply unwatchable.  It’s very upsetting because that was the only program I wanted to watch at the time.

Hey, you’ve been ‘comcasted’! I am surprised that anyone would put up with this or after the slide bungle, their Internet non-service.

DSL was up faster, [especially if directly using IP addresses rather than going through their DNS Servers]. 

I receive local stations OTA [Over The Air] with an antenna at roughly 50’ above sea level. The antennas that Comcast uses are in the hills. So anything I receive would definitely be available to them. From what has been said, there appears that little improvement was made to the system in the past 25 years. It also sounds like Comcast has not re-aligned their antennas.

Cable 13 - KICU, broadcast 36, should look as good as any station they offer. I normally watch local stations only in HDTV format and it is a great quality picture and sound. I can receive OTA at HDTV: most are at 1080i, some at 720p and some of the 6 KQED PBS stations are at 480i.

Cable 3 KNTV NBC, 4 KRON and 5 KPIX CBS should look perfect.  It would take an effort not to receive KNTV NBC as beautiful; their signal is so strong and broadcast height! KNTV NBC moved their broadcast transmitter FROM San Jose TO San Francisco months ago.

It sounds like your best alternative, if you want to stay on cable, would be to go to a HMB City Council meeting and address the City Council in mass from the podium with your problem.  And remind Council Person Naomi Patridge of her personal debt on this problem.

Eleven years ago, the cable system and contract was up for a complete re-write. Then Councilmen Mr. Larry Patterson and Mr. Stan Pasterino sided with me and Mr. Roger Goodrich to hold the cable operator and new contract to greater accountability for performance, etc. Mrs. Patridge deferred to trusting the cable operator rather than accountability!  Mrs. Patridge is the only member on the City Council today who voted then for the Cable Operator.

Well, back to the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC for a few minutes – its beautiful, just like being there, if you are not on Comcast!


Where are you located that you can HDTV OTA? I have been consistently told that getting HDTV OTA anywhere on the coastside is impossible.

Brian Dantes
El Granada


Glad to help. Casa del Mar / Imperial Bay has great signal strength. A great percentage of the coastal area should also be true. Don’t know who you have been talking to. Do they have any conflicting financial or political interests?

The last time I surveyed was before HDTV general broadcast availability; but the coastal plain to just the sharp general elevation rise should be good.  The area between in the south, HMB Magnolia, and the harbour north and east to past HMB downtown had general LOS capability. Also south of Ocean Colony. I can’t speak to Ocean Colony since the CC&Rs; preempted antennas at the time we looked at it. I would anticipate a significant part of El Granada should offer the same opportunity. Ideal is at the top of the hills where the cable antennas are.

The FCC at one time had some maps available. The harbour and airport area was originally chosen to link with Sunnyvale, etc tracking capability, dependent upon elevation above sea level, because of LOS capability e.g. not dependent upon ‘bounce’.

The primary broadcast transmission locations are at the highest elevations in the bay area. LOS [line of sight] is a somewhat misunderstood term. It is not can you visually see it. The goal is to see if a ‘straight’ physically unobstructed line can be constructed in space between the broadcast point and the elevated receiving point. The generated signal strength, location of interference patterns, etc. and the amplified discriminated received pattern determines quality. TMI, huh.

OK, a couple of suggestions, if you are interested in checking out if your location might offer sufficient signal capability. Use a topographic map and find your home location to determine true elevation (above sea level) and determine bearings. [The visual appearance from your ground location will probably mislead you in determining elevation and true north. Remember the sunrise and setting point angle is determinate on time of year. A compass will give you true north.]  FAA flight maps will give you minimums transiting to HMB airport [adjust accordingly] and also give you exact topographic coordinates for the airport. You can easily obtain the location, elevation, etc of the transmission locations and towers. From there it is a simple and quick geometry problem.  A visual azimuth will tell you if there are any near hard targets between you and the signal. It may also indicate your the best locations on your property / house for antenna location. 

If you are analytically oriented, you can do all this sitting at your computer and then look out of the appropriate window.

If you are not an analytical, print hard copies of the maps. Use a kid’s protractor, pencil to draw lines and a compass. Then look out of the windows in the indicated directions.

If neither of the above is for you [for a rough idea], buy or borrow an antenna of say 2 metre size, a good small portable B&W TV [hard to find today], and see if you can receive broadcast VHF channel 11, KNTV NBC, antenna directed in the true direction of SF Sutro Tower from any part of you highest unobstructed part of the house. If that is ok, buy a pre-amp (about $60) and see if you can ‘detect’ the HDTV signal [11.1, 11.2].

Hardware requirements depend on what you want. I pick up: HDTV in the Bay area (SF, OA, SJ); VHF/UHF to a radius maximum including Sacramento. I haven’t had the time to play with amplifying the reception sufficiently for HDTV from Sacramento, yet.

I’m still using the same hardware I installed over a dozen years ago as a protest against the actions of the then cable operator. I brought the cable cutter and the end of the cable that I had literally cut to end my cable service, to the City Council meeting as a ‘visual aid’.  I had verified that OTA and satellite were viable before the protest. Afterward then, I couldn’t imagine giving up full stereo sound.

I had the first demo of HDTV roughly twenty years ago by Sony – today it is real and growing! Today, I couldn’t imagine not having complete HDTV.

Ken Johnson

We have both DTV and Comcast in our household. We will be watching the same channel (local or otherwise) on both systems and the difference in picture quality is startling. Comcast will have ghosts and all the quality issues being discussed; while DTV is crisp and sharp. Don’t even get us started on the joys of Tivo.


I was told HDTV OTA was impossible more than once by the good folks at Strawflower Electronics. They have given me lots of good and impartial input in the past - in this it sounds like they are just misinformed (which is still discouraging, of course). I never questioned what they said because it seemed logical given all the surrounding mountains. I am still not sure I understand how anything but an antenna on the top of the mountains could have LOS to Sutro Tower. Is there a repeater or something rebroadcasting down to us? I am in El Granada near the bottom of El Granada Blvd, i.e., somewhat up a slope, but not high up. I’m not sure of my elevation.

We have DirecTV and love it. But with them we have only two options for local HDTV broadcasts: 1) via the satellite and no DVR integration (yet), or 2) OTA and Tivo integration. We did not think #2 was a possibliity for us. And #1 doesn’t work because we are unwilling to give up our Tivo.

Can you recommend a good local shop/person that could come out to our house and test the signal strength for us before we get into the DTV bureaucracy of mounting an HDTV antenna and getting a new receiver? Barring that could you recommend some *specific* components I could get at Radio Shack to test this myself? Preferably something I could do by myself while sitting on my roof?

Brian Dantes
El Granada

Brian -

FWIW, we have the DirecTV HD DVR.  It records HD shows to the DVR.  So, it is possible to get HD and the DVR in one receiver unit from DirecTV.

Hope this helps clarify…

And speaking of being clear, we tried Comcast cable for about 3 hours a long time ago.  That’s all it took to show me it would never measure up to the quality of DirecTV.  And then there’s that customer support.  No thanks. 

The trade-off, of course, is that we can’t watch the A’s or the Giants in HD unless the game happens to be broadcast on ESPN.  Oh well…can’t have it all :)



Thanks for the feedback. So you are getting local HDTV broadcasts OTA and they are being recorded on your HR10-250 (the only HD-DVR DTV has that I’m aware of)? Are you getting all the major networks in HD: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX? What about others like UPN, WB20, KQED, etc.? Any HD broadcasts you tried to get and could not?

Where are you approximately? Did DTV do the install for you? Any particular antenna? More than one?

Brian Dantes
El Granada

P.S. I don’t know how bad Comcast Cable customer support is (although if it’s as bad as their Internet support, that’s pretty bad) - but DTV support is not all that great either.


Glad to hear you shop on the coastside. May depend on who you spoke to at Strawflower Electronics. I stopped in there looking for a separate HDTV receiver for another monitor in another room that doesn’t have an internal HDTV receiver. There were two guys working there, which I didn’t know – I was the only one in the store that knew anything about HDTV. Radio Shack, at that time, offered a receiver with the specs that I wanted. I didn’t know at the time that they were no longer a Radio Shack dealer.  Anyway, the guys were nice enough to give me the number for Radio Shack over the hill. (Radio Shack, 870 Ralston Ave., Belmont –592-3318 Lewis (I don’t have his last name) seemed to know his stuff). The receiver was out of stock.

(I still have a JVC D-VHS to use till new (chip) HDTV separate receivers in volume production.)

But don’t give up on Strawflower Electronics. Out of the owners of Strawflower Electronics, the guy who was on the Fire Board, use to do installs. I don’t know if he wants to do the test that you want and / or the install, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask – except maybe the wallet. 

OH, I don’t get WB 20.1 (just WB 20) but they are merging with UPN and going to use UPN 44.1 transmitter and I do get UPN 44.1 .

Doesn’t much matter what specific components to use for a test as described in previous post. Radio Shack stuff is what I used for the testing from Strawflower Electronics just to make certain the data and my math was right. [I could have used a meter for a test but a real picture is still more assuring before installing antennas.] The other owner at Strawflower Electronics also told me it wouldn’t work, even back then!
I believe the small B&W portable TV came from Fry’s – doesn’t much matter as long as it will produce a great picture when connected to a known good signal source. All that was more than a dozen years ago. OH, the cabling IS important! Use top quality RG/6 coax!

I did eventually use a Pre-amp, currently in use, for a test before final install. Just like you described, Strawflower Electronics guy kept telling me it wouldn’t work. It worked!

Here is what I am using now:

= Antenna; - describe as greater than 200 miles VHF [bigger the better] - more than a dozen years and still working!
Radio Shack as a minimum, hy-gain as a top end
[Strawflower Electronics would order from hy-gain]

AVOID Radio Shack models
(from Fry’s) – Channel Master model 9521A (I probably will replace with hy-gain)
hy-gain as a top end

Radio Shack (ANTENNA Mounted!) more than a dozen years and still working

Radio Shack and hy-gain both have web sites. If Strawflower Electronics can’t do the test / install you want; the Belmont Radio Shack should be able to help you. Frys Sunnyvale is better informed than Fry’s Palo Alto.

Well Brian, you have ALL the info you need to follow through.

Ken Johnson

I’m probably a little late to the game on this so excuse me if I’m stating the obvious or sounding like a whiner.

I have comcast cable digital cable in Montara. I can’t get DirecTV as the trees (not mine) block the satellite line of site. So I’m really stuck with no choice since I can even get regular antenna tv.

The quality of the cable has been horrific since I’ve moved here in 2000 and the lack of cable services (OnDemand,HDTV etc) is really frustrating. What is their reason as to why we can’t have these additional services? The cable lines are there? Can’t they just flip a switch? A friend of mine said he read some where that they could but were waiting for an environmental report. The crazy thing is that it’s an environmental report for a line that already exists with this new “signal type” running through it. They were behind on the environmental report so it’s delayed. Is it me or is this insane? Just flip the switch already.

Granted the quality may still be poor but at least we should be getting same services that everyone else has. Lord knows we are paying enough for it.