I Fixed the Chanel Switching on my Comcast Cable Box

I used to be a happy subscriber to the good old analog cable from Comcast. I would simply plug my TV into the coax cable coming out of the wall and that would give me a bit under a hundred channels. I was getting pretty much everything I wanted to watch: HBO, Comedy Central, History Channel, SciFi Channel and Cartoon Network (for Adult Swim). And I was happy. Then Comcast decided not to carry HBO over the analog connection because it was to easy to unscramble or some shit like that.

So I reluctantly bought their cable box to get the digital service. I figured that having more channels probably won’t hurt, and they even thrown in few months of free Showtime a few other premium movie channels along with the deal. And there was their On Demand service which pretty much clinched the deal. For example, you could use the service to watch most of the original HBO shows and specials the next day after they aired for free.

So I was pretty happy with the switch. One thing has always bothered me though – entering a single or two digit channel number on the remote did absolutely nothing. Most normal cable boxes, and TV remotes will usually give you a short time window to enter the number so if you for example just enter 72, and then skip a beat it will automatically tune into channel 72. Not the Comcast cable box though. If you wanted to go to channel 72 you had two choices:

  1. Enter it as a full 3 digit number: 072
  2. Enter 72, then press OK

WTF? Why would they do this? What is this shit? Initially I was annoyed, and I wanted to hate Comcast more, but I quickly realized that I have no more hate. It’s true, I’m not a hateful person, and I don’t hold grudges. I can only intensely hate few things at the time. And there is oh, so much things I hate these days. I mean, I’m already pretty committed to hating Microsoft, MPAA, RIAA, the Jack Thompson, Senator Stevens and bunch of other politicians that piss me off, lolcats, whoever owns the 2girls1cup domain and of course Comcast for their shitty ISP service. It’s like, I already hate them with a passion so it’s not like I could hate them more.

So I got used to it. I mean, what are you going to do. I could switch to another cable service, but that’s a lot of work and I figured that funky channel switching was one thing I could live with. Many moons have passed, and I completely forgot about the issue, habitually pressing OK after 2 digit channel numbers.

Few weeks ago I was sitting in some waiting room. I don’t remember what it was, but it was one of those places that has a magazine rack so you can read stupid shit while you are waiting. Since I had no interest in celebrity gossip, cars, body building secrets or restaurant reviews and fine dining tips, I grabbed some old crumpled up computer magazine that was sitting lonely in the corner. In fact, I’m guessing that this particular magazine was probably abandoned there by one of the patrons because it was like a 2 year old issue and there was no other tech-related magazines on the rack. I flipped around it, and flipped to the editorial section where some guy was ranting about Comcast switching their digital service software from a Microsoft box top set, to the shitty software they are using right now overnight.

Now, I never saw that old system (which just tells you how old that magazine was) but from what this guy said it was pretty sweet, at least compared to the current setup. More intuitive, with many more features and with a non retarded channel switching. The guy actually mentioned that this issue could be fixed by switching on the “auto tune” feature in the box top setup menu. No wai, I thought. I made a mental note to check it out when I get home.

Unfortunately the way my brain works is that as soon as things leave my short term memory, they go through a rigorous sorting process. Stuff like internet memes, geeky news, video game related stuff, programming tips, hax and stupid crap get placed on the high priority, fast access long therm memory sections. All the unimportant stuff like remembering to buy toilet paper, picking up clothes from the cleaners and other mundane real life shit gets filed under “Misc & Sundry” section which is conveniently located in my brain’s equivalent of the /tmp folder.

Translation for normal people: I immediately forgot about it. Geez, how do you people read this blog if you can’t follow my analogies.

Anyway, I was watching TV the other day and this random memory just popped into my mind. So I pulled up the clunky on screen menu, and found the Main Menu and went into Setup. Now you would think that the “Auto Tune” feature would be in some logical place like “Cable Box Setup” but no. It’s hidden under “Program Guide Setup” but whatever. The entry itself is very non descriptive to – it looks something like this:

Channel entry behavior: No Auto Tune

Now, unless I read about it in that old magazine I would probably not know what this thing meant. But that is not the weirdest part. What really disturbs me is why is this feature set to off by default? Initially I thought that this was just a silly quirk of this cable box – that some weekend programmer or engineer just did a half assed job and decided that adding that timeout and auto tune logic was not worth the effort. But no. The feature is there. The problem is that someone decided that it is a good idea to have the box behave differently than EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TV RECEIVER EVER MADE by default.

I know, I know – I’m complaining about a single key stroke here but come on guys. This is like basic design stuff you want to release a product that behaves in a way that your customers expect, and are used to. Most usability experts will tell you that you should strive to reduce required number of key strokes and button presses, not increase it.

I mean, the only reason why I didn’t go hunting for this feature in the menu when I got the cable box was that I did not think that someone would actually implement this feature and then leave it off by default. But I guess you just have to leave it to Comcast to do the unthinkable. :P

[tags]comcast, comcast auto tune, auto tune, cable, cable service, channel switching[/tags]

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7 Responses to I Fixed the Chanel Switching on my Comcast Cable Box

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I got the analogy :P

    I also agree that having that implemented, but turned off by default is about as stupid as it comes. I’m trying to think of a reasonably geeky analogy for how stupid it is, but nothing quite feels right.

    (Having rm -rf as a cron job or running Windows without an antivirus or any patches would be pretty damn stupid, but either of those would feel like I was exaggerating the dumb-level – they’re just too stupid to be a proper analogy)

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  2. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Hey nice find! I’ve recently switched to a digital set-top box for my cable TV too, since my mum wanted to subscribe to a channel but it was only available on the digital tier. :P And yes, the OK button is quite a pain too in the beginning (but the idea is slowly sinking into my other non-geeky family members).

    I guess I’ll be looking for “Auto-Tune” buried somewhere in the settings. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    What does perfume have to do with cable boxes? ;)

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Teague – shhh. I’m doing subliminal advertising. ;)

    @Muhammad – oh wow, so you are telling me that there is another cable company that is doing this auto-tune thing? Or do you also have Comcast?

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  5. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Err, I’m waaaayy on the other side of the world (in Singapore if u wanna be exact, see the flag? :D ), so no Comcast there. My cable company is StarHub.

    Previously I was using their analog cable box. No “OK” button to be found on their remote. But when I switched to the digital set-top box, “OK” seems to be the “left-click” of the remote. :P

    Probably all digital cable users face this need-to-press-addition-OK-button issue?

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  6. Deb UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    You rock! My cable service was recently reset and since then I’ve had to push 0 or OK to change to a 2 digit channel…So annoying as you know. My kids kept telling me the batteries were dead in the remote! Haha. I finally had to google it to find a solution and came upon your post. I had seen auto tune in the menu but had no idea what it was! Thank you!

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  7. Terry Washington State UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    You are the absolute best!! Years of this aggravation and it still annoys me to no end. I simply followed you directions, changed it and I’m a happy man. You know they say, “simple pleasures are the best”… well, considered me pleasured. I’ve called and asked the “cable people” no less than three times to be told, NO… nothing you can do to change this, sorry. Sorry my back end! It’s fixed… and all I had to do to fix this is a quick Google to find your board. Who’d have thunk it?! Thanks!

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