Sound Advice: Comcast change confuses subscribers

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Question: Comcast is now encrypting basic TV subscribers plans in our area. We now must have a cable box for each TV, and it ruins our new HDTV. Not only does the little box convert the digital signal to analog so it's no longer high-def, the picture now is smaller than the TV screen, with big black areas on both sides of the picture. You can zoom the TV picture to fill up the screen, but this distorts the picture even further.

What options are there for whiteheads like us who only want or need basic TV channels, other than paying more for an upgrade? Are there any good indoor/outdoor TV antennas you would recommend?


Blaine, Minn.

Answer: I went through something like this years ago when my aunt had one of these boxes installed on her TV, ruining her high-def reception. I wrote a column about it and received a deluge of email from unhappy Comcast customers dealing with the same thing, which led to Comcast getting in touch with me and sending A/B switches to customers so they could receive the unencrypted high-def signal as well as channels from the box.

A company spokesman in Western Pennsylvania said after the Federal Communications Commission approved encryption for all cable providers not long ago, Comcast began providing digital adapters for free to basic TV subscribers, including those that needed different versions for high-definition TVs. FCC rules require free digital adapters for up to two television sets without charge or service fee for two years from the date a cable operator begins to encrypt, while Medicaid recipients qualify for the free adapters for five years from the encryption date.

Another option is to go to where you can enter your address and get antenna recommendations for your area. Also check out,, and for a few possible alternatives for TV programming. I'm sure they would love to have you!

OontZ XL deal returns for the holidays: A few months ago I wrote about the OontZ XL Bluetooth speaker and how it wowed me with its room-filling, high fidelity sound and long battery life. Since my column, Sound & Vision magazine reviewed it as well and said they preferred the OontZ XL to the Big Jambox, independent of price. This is quite an accomplishment, given the Big Jambox lists for $299 and the OontZ XL lists for $149. That's the kind of product I like to write about in Sound Advice: a quality product that outperforms competitors twice its price.

I received a few emails from readers who were disappointed they missed out on the OontZ XL Bluetooth speaker introductory sale. During the sale, the OontZ XL speaker could be purchased for $99 instead of the regular price of $149. If you want to get in on the deal or buy some for the holidays, you can now use the code XLSALE99 at to get the OontZ XL for $99.

You can see the new $29 OontZ Curve there as well. I've tested one, and it is neat. It's a tiny speaker that looks like a metal mushroom small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. The sound doesn't wow me like the other OontZ models, but -- for a tiny speaker -- it works fine and the speakerphone function is great.

Correction (Posted Dec. 19, 2013) An earlier of this version incorrectly characterized Comcast's fees for providing digital adapters to basic TV subscribers.

Read product reviews by Don Lindich at

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