Ask The Consumerists: When Is Hi-Def, Not?

Like many others, Andy’s not getting that amazing hi-def signal on his hi-def TV. His 42 inch, plasma, 2 grand plus, hi-def TV.

Ouch.

After running a long and useless troubleshooting gamut with Panasonic, TimeWarner and Scientific Atlanta (the cable box makers), he finally got a TWC tech who found the problem. The cable box is failing HDCP authorization, a new copy protection standard, resulting in substandard image quality.

This was apparently a “known” issue, though nobody else at the trifecta of companies knew about it, nor were any solutions available.

As we make great pains to point out, we know jack all about anything, especially techno-gadgetry.

Is there anything Andy can do or buy or is he totally screwed until TimeWarner feels like doing something about it?

Andy’s letter, with all the relevant product numbers and such, inside.


    “Hi, I read about your site in my local news paper. I’m hoping you can publicise a problem I had with my new HDTV and the hdmi (digital) connection to the cable box.

    I recently bought the Panasonic TX-42px60U. My cable tv provider is Time-Warner. The cable box I rent from Time-Warner is a Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300 HD. This is all new equipment.

    I was disappointed to find that the hdmi connection did not work reliably. That means the high def picture is not as high def as it should be.

    The service folks were pretty much clueless.

    Time-Warner sent someone to the house with component video wires to hook me up and make me happy. That didn’t make me happy. I already had it hooked up with component video. But I’m a computer programmer and understand that requires a transformation from digital to analog back to digital. I can see the difference in the picture quality. I want the HDMI connection to work reliably.

    I called Panasonic support. They offered to come pick up the TV at my house to take it back to their lab to troubleshoot the problem. I told them it was not my particular TV. It was the entire line of TVs. They could shoot the problem without taking my new TV away from me.

    Eventually the Time Warner technician and I found a diagnostic that indicated its a copy protection issue. The cable box reports that its blocking hdmi because HDCP authorization failed. HDCP is a new protocol that enforces copy protection.

    Eventually I reached someone at Scientific Atlanta who indicated it was a known problem. He didn’t know when a fix might be available. I was running the latest software for the cable box. Other people I spoke to at Scientific Atlanta were unaware of the ‘known’ problem.

    Time Warner and Panasonic are both unaware of the problem even though I reported it to both of them.

    Its nasty because you have 3 companies all claiming their product works and its someone else’s fault.

    I’m basically very annoyed that I’m paying extra for digital cable and not getting the full service I signed up for. I’m also annoyed that I payed a lot for the hdmi cable and it doesn’t work.

    Its been a few months and there’s no fix available yet. There’s not even general acknowledgement that the products are flawed.

    I hope that if you publicize this they’ll feel the need to fix it. As it stands, the cable operator is a monopoly and doesn’t feel the need to respond by fixing the problem.”

Comments

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  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    1. Time Warner /Roadrunner are bitches. Even Comcast would be better than them.

    2. You’re lucky you can get a box that does HDMI at all. I have RCN and they sure aren’t offering it any time soon.

    3. All these new buzzwords and acronyms are confusing enough for regular people, and for the most part the majority of cable customers don’t bother with them, so the majority of tech support doesn’t bother reading up on the problem, and the majority of the people people who have a hand in the problems resolution don’t know enough to say yes or no to getting it fixed.

    Odds are that you need a new TV. Panasonic might be willing to take it back, even exchange it for one that’s HDCP compliant. Unfortunately, it seems that everything in the nearish future will be leaning towards HDCP copy protection, and if you’re hardware doesn’t fit, you’re SOL. This is why 6 months ago we were all in a tizzy about it, and this is an unfortunate example of new broken copy protection in action.

  2. Kluv says:

    FWIW, I have the verysame 42-inch Panasonic Plasma, and haven’t had any problems with DirecTV HDTV (thru HDMI). Don’t know if switching away from Time Warner is an option in your situation, though.

    (Also, many folk consider it a waste to get that uber-expensive HDMI cable — since it’s only transmitting the digital 1′s and 0′s, the $25 Radio Shack version should do just as good as the $130 Monster cable. I’ve used both and not noticed a difference in signal quality — but it should be noted that if you’re using one longer than 4-6′, higher quality is better, since the signal can degrade with a very long low-quality one.)

    Best of luck.

  3. Kluv says:

    Also — forgot to add that a friend of mine also has this model plasma, and is using an HDMI connection with his Time Warner (NYC) box. I don’t know the model number, and I believe it’s a DVR as well; but I just spoke with him and he hasn’t had any problems with his (about 5 months in) yet. He’s going to check the box model and number when he gets home.

  4. Ben Popken says:

    Jon writes:

    “Odd, I have the exact same set up (same TV, same cablebox, same cable company) and I have no problems with my HDMI connection. Is he sure it isn’t his particular cable box or TV?”

  5. desonos says:

    The fix for this is easy: use the component cables they gave you. If you can see a difference, it is in your head. Unfortunately, the only place where you would see a difference (if there even was one) would be with native 1080p material (like from BluRay or HD-DVD). All OTA and cable material is 1080i or 720p, for which you can get great (i.e. as good as DVI or HDMI) pictures over old-school RCA cables. That’s how I’ve got my 52″ RPTV set up, and the OTA picture is very pretty.

  6. desonos says:

    Oh yeah, and if you’re upset that you bought an expensive HDMI cable, caveat emptor; you could have bought a cheap one from monoprice (probably ~$8, like the DVI cable I use for my HTPC to RPTV), and not notice the difference.

  7. This should be the signal for all of us to start writing to Congress to get the DMCA repealed and to force manufacturers to open “TV” back up to the consumer.

    You realize that this problem is due to the elaborate and delicate copy-protection software contained in every SA box and every HD TV? Now multiply this times every TV in America.

    We need to demand that Congress give the people ultimate control over how signals like this are “protected”, lest honest people be locked out of important news and events on TV. They’re our airwaves.

  8. Ben Popken says:

    Michael writes:

    “I suggest that the tipster try this device which will supposedly “amplify” (i.e. spoof)

    http://www.spatz-tech.de/spatz/hdmimax.htm

  9. pete says:

    1- replace the cable box.
    2- if that doesn’t work, replace the HDMI cable.
    3- if that doesn’t work, switch to component cables.
    4- if you don’t want to do that look into having Panasonic check out your TV.